Smooth Moves

Walking and swimming are two great ways to stay in shape all nine months.


Since I’ve been a competitive swimmer for the past quarter century, I knew I would keep stroking after I became pregnant with my son Corey (who’s now 4). If I needed further impetus, I just had to look at my lane buddy, who kept swimming until the day she delivered. She convinced me that the pool workout would give me a mental boost and relieve both fatigue and my aching back. Exercise and pregnancy just seemed a natural, healthy pairing.

The preeminent researcher in the field, James F. Clapp III, M.D., agrees. In Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (Human Kinetics, 1998), he outlines numerous benefits that exercise bestows on both baby and mother. His research shows, for example, that women who continue to do weight-bearing workouts at least half as hard as they did prepregnancy can expect to deposit and retain less fat, feel better, control gestational diabetes without insulin, have shorter and less-complicated labors, and recover postpartum more rapidly than nonexercisers. Active pregnant women also report fewer incidents of low-back pain, leg cramps and pelvic discomfort, according to physical therapist Ann Swayne, director of Highland Park Hospital’s Fit Beginnings prenatal exercise classes in Buffalo Grove, Ill. Well-conditioned women have been shown to have less risk of early delivery than low- to moderate-LEVEL exercisers, a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows. No less important are the psychological rewards. “The women I have worked with who exercised during pregnancy reported improved self-esteem and a better sense of control during a somewhat unpredictable time of their lives,” says Swayne.

Common Concerns Laying to rest several common concerns, Clapp found that women who continue regular, vigorous exercise throughout early pregnancy do not increase their chances of miscarriage or of having a baby with birth defects. Recent research also indicates that regular exercise during pregnancy does not make a woman more likely to go into early labor.

But while exercise can be an important adjunct to an uncomplicated pregnancy, common sense should prevail. Now is not the time to set any personal speed records, and you should stop exercising immediately if you experience injury, illness, pain or bleeding.

Clapp offers three good rules of thumb: 1. Follow each hour’s workout with an hour of restful activity; 2. Remember, exercise should make you feel relaxed, not noticeably stressed; and 3. When in doubt about the vigorousness of your workout, use common sense, and slow down if you’re tired. Also, avoid activities in which you could take a hard fall, such as biking, horseback riding and skiing (either downhill or water). Before you get started with a workout program, discuss it with your health care provider and check out the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists exercise guidelines.

Two of the best forms of prenatal exercise are walking and swimming, and we offer programs for both. Mark Fenton, editor at large for Walking magazine and author of The 90-Day Fitness Walking Program (Perigee, 1995), is your walking guide, while water-fitness expert Linda LaRue, R.N., M.Ed., designed the water workout. You can do either or both programs as you choose.

Walk This Way “Walking offers benefits no matter what your fitness LEVEL is when you become pregnant,” says Fenton. “If you are a moderate or beginning exerciser, 5–10 minutes gets your body moving; if you are hard-core, a 30-minute power walk is a great workout.” Even the most hard-core athletes often end up walking (or swimming) toward the end of pregnancy.

That’s because walking offers aerobic benefits, without the jarring of jogging and running. “When you walk, you strike the ground with just your body weight,” Fenton says. “When you run, you strike with three times your weight.”

Fenton’s program allows you to choose the routine most appropriate to your fitness LEVEL, stage of pregnancy and how you are feeling on any given day. A pair of walking shoes with good arch support is key, along with a supportive bra.

Water Work LaRue’s workout uses the water to your advantage. “The magic of the water’s buoyancy makes swimming a safe, refreshing, nonjarring activity,” says World Masters swim champion Jane Katz, Ed.D., author of Water Fitness During Your Pregnancy (Human Kinetics, 1995).

If you’re not a swimmer, now is not the best time to learn, but you can still reap all of swimming’s benefits with water exercises alone — the “dry hair workout.”

As your pregnancy progresses toward its wonderful conclusion, you’ll probably need to adjust your pool routine by decreasing swimming distance and reducing your speed. You’ll also have to give up the butterfly stroke, diving and flip turns. If one stroke (such as freestyle) is uncomfortable, switch to breaststroke, backstroke or sidestroke. Also, do not become fatigued. “After a swim, you should feel energized, not enervated,” says Katz.

Walking Workout Guide

The program You can walk every day, but you should modify your goals and workout as your pregnancy progresses (see last page). Level You’re a novice if you were not previously active on a regular basis. You’re a regular walker if you were active prior to becoming pregnant. Pacing An easy pace is like strolling; a moderate pace is more purposeful, but like normal walking; a brisk pace should make you feel like you’re exerting yourself (without overdoing it).

FIRST TRIMESTER Your goal should be to walk every day, as it should help minimize discomfort. Split your workouts (shorter morning and afternoon sessions) if you are experiencing morning sickness and/or fatigue.

SECOND TRIMESTER As you enjoy the strength and power many women feel during this time, alternate long, slow walks with shorter, faster efforts to maintain variety and build fitness. Stay hydrated, and to avoid overheating, plan your walks during the cooler times of the day.

THIRD TRIMESTER Choose a course that can be shortened in case you’re fatigued or experience discomfort. Consider multiple short walks during the day. Stick to familiar routes with well-graded surfaces, and wear your most supportive shoes. Note places you can stop and use a bathroom if necessary.

Water Workout Guide

The program This workout includes water moves combined with swimming. You can do the program 3–5 days a week. Level You’re LEVEL I if you have exercised minimally prior to pregnancy. You’re LEVEL 2 if you’re exercising regularly and want to maintain your current level of fitness. Gear For water workouts, wear water shoes with good cushioning and support. For extra breast support, wear a sports bra or triathlete swimsuit bra top under your bathing suit. For jogging/deep-water running, you’ll need a buoyancy belt. When your belly gets large, use a water-jogging belt turned upside-down and worn under your belly, or straddle a large-sized Styrofoam “noodle.”

WATER TEMPERATURE 82–86° F is ideal. WATER DEPTH All moves except deep-water running are done in chest-deep water. HYDRATION Drink lots of fluid before entering the pool. WARM-UP Begin with 2–5 minutes of easy walking. Keep knees soft, and don’t arch your back. Squeeze your buttocks and contract your abs as you step. Pull shoulder blades back and down. Finish warm-up by taking a giant step into a lunge to stretch hamstrings and hip flexors. Hold for 20 seconds; then switch legs. SWIMMING PACE Vary strokes if you can, swimming at a moderate intensity. (You should be able to speak comfortably after swimming a few laps.) Use a full range of motion with your arms for all strokes. If necessary, use a kickboard and flutter kick. COOL DOWN Wearing a buoyancy belt, float on your back for 5 minutes with arms overhead. Then repeat the lunge stretch.

Water Moves

Power Walk by walking quickly while pumping your arms. Increase intensity by upping your pace.

Side Step by taking a step sideways, then bending your knees and squatting. Straighten your legs and bring feet together. Step and squat back and forth across the shallow end of the pool.

Jog letting your heels strike the pool bottom.

Deep-Water Run in the deep end, wearing a buoyancy belt. Lift knees to 90-degree angle, keeping feet in comfortable position.

Cross-Country Ski by jumping forward as you separate legs, one in front of the other. Keep knees soft as feet touch the bottom of the pool. Jump again and switch legs; alternate as you move across the shallow end. Swing your arms opposite your legs as you “ski.” Keep shoulder blades back and down.

Ab CruncheS can be done while floating on your back in shallow water, sculling water with your hands for balance. Bring your knees toward your chest, contracting your abs and tucking your chin. Begin with 2 sets of 15 reps and build to 25 reps. If it’s easier, do these in deep water, wearing a buoyancy belt.

Walking Schedule First Trimester Second Trimester Third Trimester Novice Every morning: 5- to 10-minute easy walk. Afternoon: 10- to 15-minute moderately paced walk. Sample week (take days off as needed): MWF: Brisk 15- to 20-minute walk. TuThuSat: 25- to 40-minute moderate walk. Sun: 45-minute easy walk. Three 10- to 15-minute daily walks, or four 5- to 10-minute daily walks. Choose a pace that’s steady but comfortable. Regular Walker Every morning: 10- to 20-minute easy walk. Afternoon: 20- to 40-minute walk at prepregnancy pace. Sample week (take days off as needed): MWF: Brisk 25- to 40-minute walk. Tu,Thu,Sat: 45- to 60-minute moderate walk. Sun: 75-minute easy walk. Two 20- to 25-minute daily walks, or three 15- to 20-minute daily walks. Choose a pace that’s steady but comfortable. Water Workout First trimester Second trimester Third trimester LEVEL 1 •Power walk (10 min.) •Side step (2 min.) •Jog/deep-water run (5 min.) •Cross-country ski (2 min.) •Ab crunches (5 min.) •Swimming at moderate pace (10–20 min.) Same moves as first trimester, but increase times for each activity if possible. Try deep-water running instead of jogging. Swimming (15–30 min.; don’t use butterfly stroke) Omit jog/deep-water run and cross-country ski moves. Increase power walk to 15–20 minutes, if possible. You’ll probably need to do ab crunches in deep water, wearing a belt. Swimming (10–25 min.; don’t use butterfly and breast strokes) LEVEL 2 •Power walk (10 min.) •Side step (5 min.) •Jog/deep-water run (8 min.) •Cross-country ski (5 min.) •Ab crunches (5 min.) •Swimming at moderate pace (10–20 min.) Same moves as first trimester, but increase jog/ deep-water run to 10 min. and try using a bicycle movement. Swimming (15–30 min.; don’t use butterfly stroke) Same as LEVEL 1.