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If you’re like millions of other women who enjoy stepping, perhaps you already have discovered one of the best double-your-benefits prenatal workouts available.
“Stepping is a great cardiovascular conditioning exercise, and it strengthens the muscles that support the pelvic girdle,” says Debi Pillarella, M.Ed., adjunct professor of corporate wellness at Indiana University in Chicago and author of Fitness Stepping (Human Kinetics, 1997). The muscles that stepping works — the buttocks, hip flexors, quadriceps, and inner and outer thigh muscles — are used during labor and delivery. They also serve essential everyday functions, such as enabling you to climb stairs with greater ease.
Pillarella has designed a step routine that’s right on target for most moms-to-be. But if you weren’t stepping before you became pregnant, now may not be the best time to begin, as your balance may be off. If you are a step aficionado or feel comfortable enough to give it a try, you can step safely throughout pregnancy and into postpartum with just a few modifications listed with each caption.
In the first trimester (up to 12 weeks), keep stepping at the height to which you are accustomed, and use the same up-tempo music. Pillarella says the first slight trip on the step is a signal to take the height and tempo down a notch, because your shifting weight is causing you to misjudge your foot placement. Hint: If necessary, put the step directly on the floor with no risers. Also, never step higher than the level you were using before pregnancy. Always work within your comfort range, which may be quite different from before. You may get winded quickly, even in your first trimester. If you still are stepping in your third trimester, your step should be no more than 4–6 inches in height.
Another caution: Pregnant women shouldn’t wave their arms overhead as they step. “During pregnancy, limit [continuous] arm movements that reach higher than your heart level or go over your head because they can make you feel breathless and lightheaded,” Pillarella says. Just keep your arms pumping naturally instead.
Pregnant steppers also should note these fashion tips: Keep cool by wearing bike shorts (make sure the waistband isn’t too tight) and other well-ventilated garments that allow sweat to evaporate. Also, as your pregnancy progresses, your feet may swell and flatten, causing shoes to tighten and restrict circulation. Go up a shoe size or loosen laces to stay comfortable.
Once your doctor has given you the green light to return to exercise after delivery, you can get right back into your stepping routine. Just remember to begin slowly — and you’ll be back in step in no time.