>>Whether you run marathons or just walk daily, here's a safe prenatal workout for you.
Staying ultrafit during pregnancy was a given for Juliana Nievergelt, 39, an elite triathlete in Medfield, Mass. “It never even occurred to me to quit exercising,” she says. “I felt great and I found it fascinating to see what my body could do.”
Although Nievergelt raced in a swim meet and a 5k early on in her second pregnancy, she stopped competing after eight weeks because she didn’t feel like pushing herself. Still, she swam, cycled on a stationary bike and ran/walked an hour at a time four days a week. Plus, she weight trained right up until her delivery. Nievergelt, who won a major triathlon 10 weeks after giving birth, says, “Much of society stills thinks that [pregnant] women should severely restrict and limit their activities. But I really doubt that I would have felt so healthy and strong if I hadn’t kept active.”
Even women who don’t enter pregnancy in top-notch condition report that being active helps make them feel good. Naomi Raimon, a 40-year-old elementary reading teacher from Ithaca, N.Y., who is pregnant with her first baby, hadn’t worked out seriously for several years before she became pregnant. Pregnancy inspired her to walk briskly for an hour at least three times a week and take a prenatal yoga class twice a week. “The exercise kept me feeling energetic and limber,” she says. “At work I spent a big part of my day sitting on the floor or in tiny chairs with kindergartners — I doubt I would have been able to get up and down like that if it hadn’t been for my yoga stretching and walking workouts.”
Even though they worked out at vastly different intensity levels, Nievergelt and Raimon are convinced that exercising helped keep them healthy during their nine months of pregnancy. Can they both be right?
There’s little dispute that moderate exercise is beneficial in a healthy pregnancy. According to a variety of studies, recreational exercisers are less susceptible to common pregnancy discomforts such as swelling, nausea and leg cramps. Their risk of gestational diabetes, preterm delivery and Cesarean delivery is lower, too.
But are high-level workouts safe? Yes, says Karen Nordahl, M.D., associate clinical professor of family practice at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine and founder of Fit to Deliver, a prenatal-exercise program. “The studies haven’t documented any adverse effects,” she says, “which suggests that pregnant athletes can safely maintain pretty intense levels of training, providing certain guidelines are followed.”
exercise do’s and don’ts
There is one guideline that both beginners and superfit moms-to-be should heed: Listen to your body. “Athletes tend to have a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. But pregnancy is not a time when you should override what your body is telling you,” says Nordahl. “If you’re feeling worn-out or an exercise feels uncomfortable, you need to be willing to slow down or quit.” Here are some essential guidelines for exercising while pregnant:
- To keep exercising at a high level, find a doctor or midwife who is qualified to advise you about workout issues.
- Consume an extra 300 calories for every hour of exercise.
- Stay hydrated, adding two 8-ounce glasses of water for every hour of exercise. Adequate fluid intake is especially important in the last trimester, since dehydration can trigger premature labor.
- Use the talk test: Slow down if you can’t carry on a conversation while exercising.
- Stop exercising until you see your doctor if any of the following symptoms crop up: pain, fever, bleeding, dizziness, shortness of breath, faintness, back pain, pubic pain, persistent headaches, failure to gain weight, absence of usual fetal movement, sudden swelling, difficulty in walking or abnormally rapid heartbeat after exercising.
Clearly, there are many reasons to keep fit during your nine months, although it isn’t always easy to find exercises that match your abilities. High-level athletes, for example, often find pregnancy workouts woefully easy, while newcomers worry they may be overdoing it. That’s why Nordahl and two members of the Fit to Deliver team — Carl Petersen, a physical therapist who has worked extensively with the Canadian Alpine Ski Team;, and Susi Kerr, a personal trainer who specializes in prenatal fitness — designed the following unique strength-training regimen. It’s tiered to match your particular fitness level. You’ll want to accompany your strength training with some good cardio workouts, too; for that, see “Pregnancy Cardio.”
These exercises are from the book Fit to Deliver: An Exercise Program for You and Your Baby by Karen Nordahl, M.D., Susi Kerr and Carl Petersen (Fit to Deliver, 2000, $22; to order, call 800-511-1225). All were chosen for their adaptability during pregnancy and, because the moves work many muscles at the same time, they give you the biggest bang for your workout buck. You should do the exercises that match your fitness level in the order listed.
1. step-up Use a step 4–8 inches high; lower the height as pregnancy progresses. Make sure your knee is always over your second toe. Do 12–15 repetitions. Recommended weight: 5–10 pounds in each hand. Note: You can also do these exercises on the bottom stair of a staircase. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves.
Advanced SIDE STEP-UP Stand sideways to step, your right leg close to it. Place hands on hips or hold a dumbbell in each hand on shoulders, elbows bent. Step up onto platform with your right foot; then tap your left foot on step. Step down with your left foot, then the right, tapping ball of foot on the floor. Complete reps; switch sides and repeat, leading with left foot.
Intermediate FRONT STEP-UP Face the step, hands on hips, or hold a dumbbell in each hand on shoulders. Step up onto center of platform with left foot, then right. Step down with right foot, then left. Complete reps; then switch lead leg.
Beginner SUPPORTED STEP-UP Do the same front step-up as Intermediate, hands on hips, or place a chair next to the step and hold the chair’s back for support.
2. squat Do 12–15 reps, no weight. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and inner and outer thighs.
Advanced PILLOW/WALL SQUAT Place a large stability ball against the wall behind your lower back. Walk your feet outward, toes facing forward and legs straight. Place a firm pillow between your knees, squeezing it lightly; relax your arms by your sides. Bend into a squat, keeping your knees in line with your ankles. Keeping your back against the ball and your thighs and knees lightly squeezing the pillow, straighten your legs;
then repeat.Intermediate BAND/WALL SQUAT Begin in the same position as in the Advanced move above. Then place a resistance band around your thighs just above your knees. Keeping your body weight back toward your heels, bend slowly into a squat, taking 3 counts to lower; keep your knees in line with your ankles. Straighten your legs in a single count and repeat.
Beginner SUPPORTED SQUAT Stand facing a high-backed chair or a countertop and hold the top for support. Your legs should be straight, but make sure your knees are not locked. Keeping your body weight back toward your heels, slowly bend into a squat as low as you can without shifting your weight forward; keep your knees in line with your ankles. Straighten your legs and repeat.
3. row Do 10–12 reps. Recommended weight: 5–10 pounds in each hand. Strengthens middle back, shoulders and biceps.
Advanced SEATED TWO-ARM ROW Sit on a chair or stability ball with knees bent and in line with ankles, feet flat on floor. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend forward from hips as far as you can. Squeeze shoulder blades together and bend elbows back toward waist, keeping them close to torso, wrists straight. Straighten arms and repeat.
Intermediate BENDING ONE-ARM ROW Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, place your right hand on a chair seat and separate feet, right in front of left, knees slightly bent. Bend forward from your hips. Let left arm hang down in line with left shoulder, palm facing in. Squeeze shoulder blades together; then bend left elbow up toward waist, keeping it close to torso, wrist straight. Return to starting position and complete reps; then switch to the right arm and repeat.
Beginner STANDING ONE-ARM ROW Stand with right foot in front of left, hip-width apart. Hold back of chair with right hand and lean forward from ankles so your body is at a slight angle. With a dumbbell in your left hand, let arm hang straight down from shoulder, palm facing in. Squeeze shoulder blades; then bend elbow up toward waist. Straighten arm and complete reps; then switch feet position and repeat with your right arm.
4. chest press Do 10–12 reps. Recommended weight: 5–10 pounds in each hand. Strengthens chest, triceps and front of shoulders.
Advanced BALL PRESS Place a stability ball against the wall and sit with your upper back against it, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms extended in front of you a little higher than chest level, palms down. Squeeze shoulder blades together; then bend elbows back until they line up with your shoulders. Press dumbbells back to starting position, making sure not to lock elbows; repeat. Note: After the first trimester (week 13), this exercise should only be done in an inclined position. Lying on your back can cut off blood flow to your baby.
Intermediate INCLINE PRESS Sit in a chair with a
firm pillow or two behind your back so you are propped at an incline, knees bent, feet flat on floor, hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended just above chest level. Squeeze shoulder blades together; then bend elbows out and back until they are in line with shoulders. Straighten arms without locking elbows; repeat.
Beginner SUPPORTED INCLINE PRESS Do this variation exactly the same as Intermediate, but prop your feet up on a stool or step for additional back support.
5. midback fly
Do 10–12 reps. Recommended weight: 3–5 pounds. Strengthens upper back and shoulders.
Advanced BALL FLY Sit on a stability ball, knees bent, feet flat. With a dumbbell in each hand, arms at sides, bend forward from your hips. Squeeze shoulder blades together and lift arms to shoulder height. Lower and repeat.
Intermediate CHAIR FLY Do the same exercise seated on the edge of a chair, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place a firm pillow on your thighs and lean forward from your hips until your body is at a 45-degree angle. Let arms hang by sides, palms facing in. Squeeze shoulder blades together; then bend elbows up and out to shoulder height. Lower and repeat.
Beginner ONE-ARM CHAIR FLY Sit on the edge of a chair. Lean forward from your hips until your body is at a 45-degree angle and place your right forearm across your thighs. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand, arm at your side, palm facing in. Lift arm up and out to shoulder height. Lower, complete reps and repeat on other side.
6. core strengthening
Do 10 reps. Strengthens abs and lower back.
Advanced TILT AND LEG SLIDE Lie face-up on the floor, both knees bent and feet flat. Prop up your head and shoulders if you’re more than three months pregnant. Contract your abdominal muscles to bring your spine to a neutral position, tilting lower part of your pelvis upward. Holding the tilt, slide one foot along the floor until leg is straight; then pull leg back in. Keep spine in a neutral position the entire time. Alternate with other leg.
Intermediate CAT BACK AND ARM LIFT Kneel on the floor, knees in line with hips, arms straight, wrists in line with your shoulders. Maintain a neutral spine so your body forms one line from your head to your hips. Once you’re balanced, extend your left arm out to the side at shoulder height, using your abdominal muscles to keep your body stable. Round your spine up toward the ceiling, letting your head drop and relax; then arch your back to slightly lift head and tailbone. Complete reps; then repeat with right arm. Take 5 seconds to round and
5 seconds to release. To challenge yourself further, do the same exercise with the opposite leg lifted at the
same time your arm is lifted.
Beginner STANDING CAT BACK Face the back of a chair, holding it for support. Separate your feet hip-width apart and slightly bend knees. Round your back like a cat, contracting your abs to pull belly in toward spine. Arch the back to lift tailbone and head slightly. Hold position for
5 seconds; then release. Avoid overarching. Repeat.