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Women often underestimate the amount of upper-body strength that they will need for pregnancy and afterward. “During pregnancy, gaining weight in your belly and breasts can cause you to hunch over and develop a round-shouldered posture,” says Mary Yoke, M.A., adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Adelphi University in Long Island, N.Y., and a prenatal fitness instructor. “It’s easier to stand up straight if you have strong back and shoulder muscles.”
Proper posture is just one payoff. After your baby is born, you’ll be amazed at how often you need upper-body strength just to get through the day. “Holding your baby to feed her, lifting her onto the changing table a dozen times a day and carrying never-ending baskets of laundry will be so much more comfortable if your muscles are ready for it,” Yoke says. Strength training will also build bone strength, which is especially important during pregnancy, a time when many women lose some bone density.
For now and for later, here’s a simple workout Yoke has designed to give you arms that are made for hugging.
1. Seated high row Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you, knees slightly bent. Lift your chest, keeping your spine in a neutral (straight) position. Wrap an exercise tube around your feet at the arches. Cross the tube so it makes an “X” over your legs and hold a handle in each hand; keep your arms extended, palms facing down. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows until they’re in line with your shoulders; arms stay lifted. Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor, shoulder blades down. Return to starting position and complete 10–15 reps. Start with 1 set and work up to 2. Strengthens middle back and rear shoulders.
2. Overhead press Sit on a chair or bench with your spine in a neutral position. Holding a light dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows so the weights are at head height, palms facing in. Exhale and press your arms straight up and overhead, keeping your elbows straight but not locked. Lower with control. Inhale and repeat. Focus on keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position and your shoulders relaxed; don’t allow your neck to jut forward. Complete 10–15 reps. Strengthens deltoids and triceps.
3. Alternating biceps curl Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, spine in a neutral position. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides, palms facing in. Contract your right bicep and curl the weight up, turning your wrist toward you so your palm faces you as you lift the weight toward your shoulder. Make sure to keep elbows at sides and wrists straight. Return arm to starting position. Repeat with your left arm. Alternate to complete 15 reps for each arm. If you can easily complete 15 reps, use a heavier weight. Strengthens biceps.