6 Smart Moves

Exercises to keep you in shape during pregnancy and after.


Exercising consistently during pregnancy can help you avoid extreme weight gain and give you better muscle control during labor and delivery, says Lauri Reimer, a prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist in Los Angeles. After you give birth, regular workouts will keep you strong and help you regain your prepregnancy shape.

Reimer recommends a well-rounded fitness program that includes strength, cardiovascular and flexibility components for all women and suggests doing the following pregnancy and postpartum exercises. The pregnancy moves are safe for all trimesters. Do these exercises 2–4 times per week (you won't even have to leave the house); postnatal moves can be started six weeks after you give birth or with your doctor's approval.


1. Hip Extensions: Stand with your left side to a chair, feet hip-width apart. Place your left hand on the chair's back for support. Bend your left knee slightly for balance, then lift your right knee up until it's just lower than your hip, keeping your hips square. Contract your buttocks and extend your right leg behind you without arching your back or leaning forward. Return to starting position and do 12–15 reps. Switch legs and repeat. Do 2 sets per leg. During first and second trimesters, you can attach 1- to 3-pound ankle weights if you like. Strengthens buttocks and hamstrings and increases hip stability. 2. Chair Push-Ups: Place a chair with its back to the wall and kneel in front of it at arm's distance. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width on the seat, keeping your arms straight, without locking your elbows, and your knees hip-width apart. Make sure your body forms a straight line from head to hips. Inhale and bend your elbows, lowering your chest toward the chair until your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Exhale and push away from the chair to return to starting position. Do 5–10 reps. Do up to 3 sets, resting 45 seconds to 1 minute in between. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps. 3. Seated Ball Ab Tucks: Sit tall on a stability ball with your feet hip-width apart; place your hands on the side of the ball for balance [A]. (If you don't have a ball, sit on a bolster or firm pillows on the floor.) Exhale and pull your navel toward your spine; gently tilt your pelvis and tuck your tailbone as if pushing it into the ball [B]. Inhale and release your pelvis by pushing your tailbone behind you. Do 2 sets of 10–12 repetitions, moving rhythmically; rest 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets. Strengthens abdominal muscles and increases hip and pelvic mobility.

POSTPARTUM (6 weeks and after)

1. All-Fours Back Flies: Hold a 3- or 5-pound dumbbell in your right hand and kneel on all fours, knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Pull your navel toward your spine so your body forms a straight line from head to hips [A]. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, lift your right elbow out to the side and up to shoulder height without twisting your torso [B]. With control, lower arm to starting position and do 10–12 reps. Switch arms and repeat. Do 2 sets on both sides, resting 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets. Strengthens upper back and improves posture and pelvic stability.

2. Ball Sit-Squats: Place a stability ball between your lower back and a wall. Leaning against the ball, walk your feet out 2 feet in front of you, keeping feet hip-width apart and arms hanging by your sides. Contract your abdominal muscles so your spine is in a neutral position. Continue leaning on the ball as you "sit," bending your knees to a 90-degree angle. Straighten legs to starting position and do 8–10 reps. On the last rep, hold the lowered position for 15–30 seconds, then stand. Do 2–3 sets, holding the last rep of each set. Rest 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets. Strengthens legs and abdominal muscles.

3. Splinted Ab Curls: Lie faceup with a rolled towel placed lengthwise behind your middle back. Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross both ends of the towel over your abdomen. Contract your abdominal muscles, drawing your hips toward your ribs. Slowly lift your upper body, curling your spine up and forward until your shoulder blades clear the floor. Slowly lower and repeat. Do 5–10 reps. Gradually progress to 2–3 sets of 10 reps, resting 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets. Strengthens abdominal and oblique muscles.