Simply irresistible

With just a bar and a band, you can take this toning workout anywhere.

The list of benefits that exercise provides during pregnancy may be nearly as long as your baby-shower wish list: Women who stay fit during pregnancy improve posture and muscle tone, have more strength and stamina for labor, are at a lower risk for gestational diabetes, have a better self-image, feel a greater sense of control over their bodies and are less likely to have negative feelings about sex. They also dissipate heat more efficiently than sedentary pregnant women. So does this mean you should scale mountains or run marathons this summer? Not exactly, because researchers don’t know exactly how much exercise is safe for pregnant women. Does it mean that taking a leisurely stroll along the beach once a week will help you reap these benefits? Probably not. So what is the answer?

As the old saying goes, everything in moderation, especially when it comes to prenatal exercise. Working out too much and too frequently could have negative implications, and if you exercise sporadically, you won’t experience all the benefits of regular prenatal exercise. Yet figuring out what moderation means in day-to-day terms isn’t easy. You have to listen to your body, be willing to accept your limits and follow some basic guidelines.

the frequency factor

How often you should exercise depends on the frequency with which you worked out, if at all, before becoming pregnant, according to experts. “If you’re an athlete or worked out regularly three months prior to pregnancy, you can probably continue your same routine, with caution and adjustments, until it becomes too uncomfortable,” says Sharon Zaleski, an obstetrical nurse in Atlanta who has taught aerobics for 17 years. (Before undertaking any prenatal exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor, and read the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Guidelines)

If you didn’t exercise regularly before becoming pregnant, you should begin by working out at a low level two to four days a week. Do a strength-training routine on alternating days, rather than scheduling consecutive workouts. (Of course, you can walk every day.) Zaleski also suggests following a regular exercise plan instead of working out intermittently, which can lead to increased muscle soreness and possible injury.

intensity check

The next important consideration is to determine your moderate intensity level. In your first trimester, you may feel like working out at the same intensity that you followed before becoming pregnant. But as your pregnancy progresses, you naturally will tend to reduce the intensity of your workout because your body’s working capacity will be lower. “You’ll feel like you’re working as hard, but your body is constantly making you slow down,” says Bonnie Rote, R.N., a prenatal exercise specialist in Delafield, Wis.

The best way to make sure you’re working out at a moderate intensity is to monitor your heart rate. (Your heart rate tends to elevate faster while you’re pregnant because of your extra body weight and blood volume.) Rote suggests keeping it in the 60 percent to 70 percent range of your maximum heart rate. (To determine your maximum heart rate range, subtract your age from 220 and multiply by .6 and .7.) After cooling down for five minutes, your heart rate should drop to below 120 beats per minute within four to five minutes, Rote says. If it doesn’t, you could be pushing yourself too hard.

Another way to ensure that you’re working out at a moderate level is to use perceived rate of exertion, which means rating your intensity according to how you’re feeling.

You’ll know you’re working out at a moderate intensity if you can talk in complete sentences. “You should be able to talk, giggle, breathe, walk and have a good time while exercising,” Zaleski says. “If you’re not, you need to slow down.”

compulsive exercise

Consistently exercising at uncomfortable levels — or working out when you don’t feel good or are overly tired — can be signs of compulsive exercise, which isn’t good for you or your baby. “The key is to listen to your body and make adjustments in your workout according to how you feel,” Zaleski says.

While most women listen to their bodies and slow down naturally, others exercise beyond safe limits: “The compulsion to exercise takes hold so much that [these women] can’t slow down until they’re put on bed rest. Even then, they may not listen and may need to be hospitalized,” says Harvey Dulberg, Ph.D., a sports psychologist in private practice in Brookline, Mass. “They’re risking their own lives and the lives of their babies.”

You must accept your limits, which means that activities such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, downhill skiing and contact sports are out. They increase the risk for pelvic or abdominal trauma for you and the baby.

“Pregnancy is a time to maintain fitness, not increase it,” Zaleski says. “It’s only a break. You will get back to your usual routine.”

moderate fitness

The following prenatal workout combines a resistance band with a stick or body bar — perfect tools for maintaining strength and stability throughout pregnancy, according to trainer Lauri Reimer, who designed the workout.

“The resistance band strengthens the muscles, while the stick or body bar stabilizes the body to improve posture,” says Reimer, who teaches pre- and postnatal exercise classes at The Sports Club/L.A. and The Chapman Family Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

While this workout is set on the beach, you can do it anywhere, such as in a park, back yard or living room. “It’ll keep you strong for pregnancy and labor, and could help you regain your prepregnancy fitness level,” says Reimer, who has a 6-year-old daughter. “I’ve definitely seen it happen — not only with myself, but [also] with the women I’ve trained.”

the exercises

1. Lat Pull–Down Stand with feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked, pelvis neutral. Hold one end of the band in each hand above your forehead, palms forward, wrists neutral. Arms should be slightly bent and hands a little wider than shoulders. Press shoulder blades down and back. Pull the band out and down in front of you, bending elbows until the band touches the top of your chest just in front of your shoulders. Slowly straighten arms to starting position. Repeat. Modification: Sit in a chair with your back supported. Strengthens upper back and shoulders.

2. Seated One–Arm Row Sit erect on the ground, rib cage lifted. Extend your right leg out in front of you, knee slightly bent. Bend your left leg, and place your left foot against your right inner thigh. Holding the ends of the band in your hands, place the center of the band around the arch of your right foot. Adjust the band so the right side is slightly longer. Hold the longer end of the band in your left hand, arm straight and palm facing in. Hold the shorter end of the band in your right hand and rest it on your right thigh. (The band will be crossed.) Keep wrists neutral. Pull the longer end of the band across your body by bending your left elbow up and back. Your palm should rotate so it’s facing up at the end of the movement. Slowly straighten left arm to starting position. Do reps before switching sides. Strengthens upper back and shoulders.

3. Overhead Press With Triceps Extension Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, pelvis neutral. Hold stick at shoulder level with an overhand grip, elbows bent down, palms facing forward so hands are even with your shoulders. Keep wrists neutral. Press the stick overhead until your arms are straight but not locked. Now, bend your elbows and lower the stick behind you. Press stick back overhead before bending elbows back to starting position. Repeat. Modification: Sit in a chair with your back supported. Strengthens upper back, shoulders and triceps; improves upper back and shoulder stability.

4. Shoulder Rotation Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and pelvis neutral. Hold a stick overhead with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Keep wrists straight. Keeping arms straight, slowly bring the stick down to your thighs (or belly if it gets in the way). Don’t bend your elbows. Repeat. Don’t rock forward or backward as you lift and lower the stick. Strengthens shoulders, back and chest; improves posture.

5. Seated Chest Press Sit erect on the ground with your legs crossed. Wrap the band around your back and hold one end of the band in each hand under your arms at chest level. Bend your elbows up and out, palms facing down and forearms parallel to each other. Without leaning forward or backward, resist the band as you straighten your arms directly in front of you, without locking elbows. Keep your wrists straight. Slowly bend your elbows back to starting position and repeat. Modification: Sit in a chair, your back supported. Strengthens chest and front shoulders.

6. Biceps Curl Sit on a chair or bench with knees bent, feet hip-width apart and flat on the ground. Place the center of the band under the arch of your left foot. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Place right hand on your right thigh and let your left arm hang close to your left side, arm straight and palm facing forward. Keeping your left elbow close to your side and wrist straight, bend your elbow, bringing palm up toward your left shoulder. Slowly straighten arm to starting position and repeat for reps before changing arms. Modification: Shorten or lengthen the band. Strengthens biceps.

7. Standing Lunge With Pelvic Tilt (Wear shoes with this exercise.) Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, right foot in front of left, toes and hips pointing forward. Holding one end of a band in each hand, place the center of the band under your right foot. Still holding the ends of the band in your hands and palms facing in, straighten up. Slightly bend your right knee and lift your left heel off the ground, slightly bending your left leg. Bend both knees, lowering your torso down, not forward, toward the ground. Make sure your legs are far enough apart so your right knee stays aligned over your right ankle, not your toes, as you lower. Resist the band as you straighten your legs without locking them. Then tilt your pelvis forward, tightening your buttocks. Release and perform a set of reps before switching sides. Strengthens quadriceps, buttocks, hamstrings and calves; relieves strain on your lower back and improves posture.

8. Side–Lying Ab Curl Lie on your left side, knees bent at a 45-degree angle from your torso with your head resting on your bent left arm. Place your right hand on your belly, elbow bent. Without arching your back, keep your hips and knees stacked and pelvis neutral. Inhale. Then exhale, pulling your belly in toward your spine. At the same time, curl your upper torso toward your knees slightly. Release and repeat. Strengthens abdominals.