the big 5
easy prenatal exercise essentials to get and keep you in shape
Exercise Rx: Calf/hip-flexor stretch
Why you need it: This stretch helps release tension in your ankles, Achilles’ tendon and hip flexors. It will improve flexibility in these areas, which should make walking (the cardio element of this program) and squats (the leg-strength/labor-prep element) easier and more comfortable. It may also help relieve leg cramps.
How to do it: Place hands on a wall at chest height. Separate your feet hip-width apart in a lunge position, left foot in front of right with your left knee bent in line with your ankle and right leg extended behind you, feet flat on the ground [A]. Lean slightly forward from your ankles so your belly falls forward and your forearms rest against the wall [B]. Press your hips forward, keeping your right heel on the ground; you’ll feel a stretch in your right calf and in the front of your right hip. Hold the stretch for 30–60 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
3. leg strength
Exercise Rx: The combination squat
Why you need it: Whether you’re holding an infant in your arms or still carrying your baby around in your belly, kneeling and bending will require significantly more leg strength in days — and years — to come. The squat will give your legs extra power, and it’s perfect training for the increasingly popular natural birth-squat position. In fact, the last rep in this squat set is a full birth squat, which also improves hip flexibility for whatever birthing position you choose.
How to do it: Stand facing the back of a chair (or a pole), feet hip-width apart and legs straight but not locked. In the first and second trimesters, hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your shoulders, elbows close to your sides; in the third trimester, forgo the dumbbells and hold on to the top of the chair (or pole) for support. Contract your abdominals to bring your spine to a neutral position (tailbone pointing to the ground). Keeping your body weight over your heels, squat until your thighs are as close to parallel to the ground as possible [A]. Straighten legs to return to starting position, and do 2–3 sets of l0–15 reps. (Pay close attention to your comfort zone as your pregnancy progresses; decrease the sets and weight accordingly.) Finally, do one full birth squat: Widen your legs to more than hip-width apart. Keeping your back straight and shoulders relaxed, drop your hips and lower your buttocks toward the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds and relax your pelvic-floor muscles [B]. To come out of this position, drop forward onto your knees and use the chair (or pole) for support as you stand up. Aim to hold this position for an additional 15–20 seconds each week until you can hold it a full 3 minutes.