A safe, simple and fun (really!) workout that keeps you strong the whole nine months
Each woman, and each pregnancy, is different, which is why there is no one-size-fits-all exercise prescription to follow if you want to keep working out for the whole nine months. New guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourage pregnant women who have no medical or obstetric complications to do moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more a day on most, if not all, days of the week. Some experts believe that may be too much, while highly active women probably consider these guidelines too conservative. Even if you’re not sure what’s right for you, consider walking. It’s one of the easiest ways to maintain strength and cardiovascular fitness, and it helps boost your mood, too. Read on for our simple program, plus tips for exercising safely throughout your pregnancy.
Why exercise? The benefits of exercising while pregnant are numerous and measurable and include the following: > Improved body image > More restful sleep and less insomnia > Decreased constipation > Decreased risk of gestational diabetes > Better balance and posture > Greater stamina for labor and delivery > Speedier recovery after giving birth There’s also the significant psychological boost that women get from working out. “Physical activity gives pregnant women a more positive approach,” says Raul Artal, M.D., chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “A mother who is healthy also will benefit the baby, because a healthy mother often means a healthy baby.” It worked that way for Gaby Silverstein, a mother of two in the San Francisco area. She continued running until she was eight months pregnant with her first child, and seven months pregnant with her second. Silverstein says running has always made her feel better: “I like to feel fit, to feel strong and to moderate my weight gain.” As a bonus, during the first three months of pregnancy, Silverstein’s morning sickness actually disappeared for a few hours after each run.
walking workout Don’t want to lift weights? Don’t have time for a yoga class? Start walking, using the exercise program below as a guide (as long as you have your doctor’s approval, of course). We’ve included directions for novice exercisers as well as active women (and see our “4 Must-Do Strengtheners”). Note: If exercise becomes uncomfortable or painful at any time, stop and call your doctor immediately.
FIRST TRIMESTER Every morning Take an easy 5- to 20-minute stroll to loosen up, ease stiffness and create a habit of daily exercise. Every afternoon/evening Take a l0- to 15-minute walk at a moderate pace to begin building fitness. If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, take a walk at a moderate to brisk pace for up to 40 minutes. Tip It’s best to do shorter sessions during the day if you experience morning sickness or fatigue.
SECOND TRIMESTER Monday, Wednesday and Friday Take a brisk 15- to 20-minute walk. If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, walk briskly for 25-40 minutes. Tuesday and Thursday Take a 25- to 40-minute moderately paced walk. If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, take a 45- to 60-minute moderately paced walk. Saturday or Sunday Take a 45- to 60-minute stroll. Tip To add variety and build fitness, alternate longer, slower strolls with shorter, faster walks. Enjoy your strength and power!
THIRD TRIMESTER Every day Take three moderately paced l0- to 15-minute walks or four moderately paced 5- to l0-minute walks. If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, take two moderately paced 20- to 25-minute walks or three 15- to 20-minute walks. Tip Stick to familiar routes with smooth surfaces, wear your most supportive shoes, and know where you can stop and use a bathroom if necessary. Remember, physical activity can minimize discomfort, so maintain a daily walking habit throughout your pregnancy. If your energy wanes, go for shorter walks.
stay cool Exercising in hot weather increases your core body temperature, which could cause birth defects in embryos up to 8 weeks old, says Raul Artal, M.D. Later in pregnancy, exercising in very high temperatures could increase the risk of premature labor or miscarriage, he says. In the summer months, do your workouts in the cooler hours of the morning and evening, or in an air-conditioned gym. And drink plenty of water.
stop! Some sports are out entirely during pregnancy. These include scuba diving, soccer, horseback riding, gymnastics, downhill skiing, basketball and any other physical activity in which there is a high risk of falling or sustaining abdominal trauma. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you stop exercising immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- vaginal bleeding n shortness of breath
- chest pain
- muscle weakness
- pain or swelling in the calf muscles
- any signs of preterm labor (watery or bloody discharge; pelvic or lower abdominal pressure; or a constant, dull, low backache)
- decreased fetal movement
- leakage of amniotic fluid.
Women who are at risk for preterm labor or fetal growth restriction must reduce their level of activity in the second and third trimesters, according to ACOG. Also, women who are severely overweight or underweight or who are heavy smokers may need to curtail aerobic exercise during pregnancy.
4 must-do strengtheners Do each of these exercises 4–5 times a week to keep your muscles strong throughout pregnancy.
SQUAT Hold top of chair (or fence) for support. Contract abdominals and bend your knees until you are almost in a sitting position. Straighten legs to starting position and repeat. Do 10–15 repetitions; after the last rep, widen your stance and do one more squat, dropping buttocks toward the ground. Stay in this position for l0–15 seconds. Do 2–3 sets of l0–15 reps. Strengthens legs and buttocks. WALL PUSH-UP Face a wall or other support, feet hip-width apart. Place hands on wall at chest height, hands slightly wider than shoulders, arms straight. Press hips forward so your body forms a straight line. Bend elbows and lean chest toward support. Push back to starting position and repeat. Do 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps, resting one minute between sets. Strengthens the chest, shoulders and triceps.
BELLY BREATHING Sitting with your legs crossed and your back against a wall, place your hands lightly on your belly. Inhale, expanding your rib cage and belly into your hands; then exhale, pulling your navel in toward your spine as much as possible. Repeat. Do 2 sets of 16–20 reps, resting one minute between sets. Continue throughout your pregnancy. Strengthens the abdominals.
KEGELS While standing or sitting, tighten your vaginal-wall muscles as if stopping the flow of urine; pull upward and inward by squeezing the muscles. Hold and count to 3, then relax. Repeat for 5 counts; relax and repeat. Gradually work up to holding each Kegel for 10 counts. Do 5 sets 3 times throughout the day. Strengthens the pelvic-floor muscles, which act as a sling for the bladder, uterus and rectum.