Leg Work

Exercises for strong, lovely limbs.


Toward the end of your pregnancy, you might still get a glimpse of your legs when you look down, but that big, beautiful belly is likely to block most of the view. That doesn't mean you should ignore them; your legs do important work during pregnancy, even if you can't see them. "Strong legs take some pressure off your back," says Elizabeth Crutchfield, a fitness trainer in New York and owner of Homebodies, a personal-training business.

As your belly grows, your center of gravity shifts, which can strain your back, she explains. "These exercises also get you into the habit of using your legs instead of your back to pick things up," Crutchfield says. This is important since you'll soon lift your baby dozens of times a day, hoist a car seat and stroller in and out of your car, and carry a diaper bag stocked with more "essentials" than you ever knew existed.

Leg exercises like the following three she recommends also increase circulation, which can help reduce the risk of varicose veins, a common side effect of pregnancy.

Do these exercises throughout your pregnancy and, when you can see your legs again, you may be surprised at how toned and fit they look.

1. Squat/Relevé: Stand facing a wall with your legs straight, feet slightly more than hip-width apart and turned slightly out. Place your hands on a wall or other sturdy support, or hold a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand and rest the weights on your shoulders. Keep your weight on your heels and your chest lifted as you bend both knees and lower your body into a squat [A]. Then straighten your legs and rise up onto the balls of your feet [B]. Lower your heels and repeat for 10–15 reps. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves.

2. Plié/Alternating Heel Raises: Stand next to a wall with your feet slightly farther than hip-width apart, toes and knees turned out to a 45-degree angle. Hold onto the wall for support. Pull in your belly and drop your tailbone down toward the floor. Keeping your back straight and toes turned out, bend both knees, lowering only as far as you can without changing your pelvis position [A]. In this position, lift your right heel until you're on the ball of your right foot [B]; then lower it. Repeat with your left foot. Straighten both legs and repeat the entire combination. Complete 10–15 reps. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves.

3. Hip Extension and Curl: Place a 1- to 3-pound ankle weight around your left ankle. Stand facing a wall and place your hands on it for support. Contract your abs so your tailbone points down. Keeping hips square, shift your weight to your right leg; bend your knee slightly. Flexing your left foot, lift your leg behind you without arching your back [A]. Do 10 reps; on the last rep, bend your left knee, bringing your left heel up toward your buttocks in a curl [B]. Switch legs and repeat. Strengthens buttocks and hamstrings.