Stay strong and healthy the whole nine months with our complete guide to walking and running.
Cheryl Kruse Shwe, 34, a running coach, ran between 15 and 35 miles a week in San Francisco until the day she delivered her baby. Juliet Hochman, 34, a former Olympic rower from Portland, Ore., traded running for power walks partway through both of her pregnancies. And they’re not alone.
Not long ago, pregnancy was a time to put up your feet, not lace up your running shoes. But these days, a lot of women are benefiting from staying active through pregnancy. One of the best — and easiest — ways to do that is by walking or running.
The important thing about exercise during pregnancy is to just do it. “During a normal, healthy pregnancy, women who exercise will experience benefits to both mother and baby,” says Karen Nordahl, M.D., founder of the Fit to Deliver prenatal-fitness program. “The benefits are both immeasurable, such as an improved sense of well-being, and measurable, such as a decrease in fetal intervention at delivery.”
Find your groove
Whatever exercise you do, be prepared to adapt your routine to your growing belly: Cut back on the number of days you work out, switch to recumbent bicycling or, if you’re a runner, try walking. “Walking is as effective as running, provided you walk fast and far enough,” says Susi Kerr, who co-developed Fit to Deliver’s programs.
Another good option is water running in the deep end of a pool using either a flotation belt or a pool noodle. “It’s a good alternative if you feel unstable on land but still want that endorphin release, and if you want to keep cool,” says Kerr.
Endorphins aside, whether you walk or run, knowing you’ve helped give your baby a healthy start in life is the biggest high of all.
Walking and Running Program: How much can you walk or run while pregnant?
Your distance, speed and intensity will depend on whether you were a beginner, intermediate or advanced exerciser before you became pregnant (check out the chart below for guidelines). Whatever your fitness level, our guide to walking and running, created by Karen Nordahl, M.D., personal trainer Susi Kerr and physical therapist Carl Petersen of Fit to Deliver (800-511-1225; www.fittodeliver.com), will suit you. An extra perk: In addition to walking and running, the program includes strength, flexibility and balance components.
Beginner 1st trimester
You were new to exercise prior to your pregnancy. Start slowly with a simple walking program: Walk for 30 minutes 2–3 times per week, with a day of rest in between.
You can begin to increase the intensity of your walk. Warm up by walking briskly for 5–10 minutes, then pick up the pace and power walk (walk at a fast pace, pumping your arms) for 25 minutes. Cool down by walking slowly for 5 minutes.
You should be able to power walk for at least 30 minutes. If you aren’t up to it, ride a recumbent bike, use a stair climber or walk on a treadmill. Your hips may not feel as stable as in the second trimester, so stick to level terrain. Continue to exercise at least twice a week and do the strength-training exercises on page 80.
You were walking or running consistently for at least 3 months prior to your pregnancy for 10–15 total miles per week. You can continue the same routine 3–4 times a week, with a day of rest in between. If everything went well in your first trimester and you are feeling up to it, you can continue at the same pace. Continue your routine if you are still comfortable, but stick to flat terrain. Decrease your mileage if running becomes difficult; walk or cross train to maintain your fitness level.
Advanced You were running 15–20 miles a week consistently for 6 months or more prior to pregnancy and occasionally competed in races. You can continue this routine except for the racing. If you feel as if you are overexerting yourself, walk or discontinue the routine until you feel stronger. You can run as many as 5 days a week if you feel comfortable. Work out in a pool on days when you are feeling tired or are not up for a run. You surely are feeling the extra weight you are carrying. If you still feel good and want to continue running, then do so. You may find that you don’t feel comfortable running as long or for as many days a week as you did in the first two trimesters. If you feel unstable, walk or continue your runs in a pool.
Read more about strength training and smart exercising on page 2.
Be Smart, Be Safe
Pregnancy is one time when exercise is not about setting records. Instead, your goal should be to optimize your and your baby’s health. Pay attention to how you feel, and monitor the intensity and duration of your workouts. “Just because you ran for an hour-and-a-half before you were pregnant doesn’t mean it’s OK now,” says Susi Kerr, a co-developer of the Fit to Deliver exercise program. Keep these precautions in mind when doing any type of exercise:
Use the talk test. “If you can carry on a conversation throughout the whole workout, you’re getting enough oxygen for you and your baby,” says Kerr. (See page 115 for more guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)
Stop if you experience pain, fever, bleeding, dizziness, faintness, pubic pain, persistent headache, sudden swelling, difficulty walking, lack of normal fetal movement or an abnormally rapid heartbeat.
Rest if you feel extreme fatigue. Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it.
Drink up. Add 8 ounces of water to your total daily fluid intake for every 30 minutes of exercise. Stay cool by dressing in breathable layers that you can shed. In warm weather, exercise early or late in the day, and ratchet down the intensity.
Watch your back. Back pain is common during pregnancy; if you experience it, make sure your exercise routine isn’t the culprit.
Watch the clock. Don’t work out at a high intensity for more than 40 minutes at a time.
Strength Training Moves
Core and upper-body exercises can help counter the poor posture (rounded shoulders and upper back, exaggerated lower-back curve) that is often associated with pregnancy. Here are 4 great moves that require no equipment and easily can be incorporated into your exercise program. You can even modify some of the exercises as your pregnancy progresses.
For each exercise, do 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps, resting 30–60 seconds between sets. Do them on the days that you run or walk. (You can do Cat Backs and Back Presses daily.)
Face a support, feet hip-width apart, hands slightly wider than shoulders, arms straight. Press hips forward so your body forms a straight line (A). Bend elbows and lean chest toward the support until elbows are about in line with shoulders (B). Push back to starting position and repeat. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps. trimester tip You can do a traditional push-up, with your hands on the ground, during the first trimester. In your second trimester, do push-ups while kneeling, with hands on a bench.
2. Tricep Dips
Stand with your back to a ledge offering horizontal support, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on the edge of the support close to your buttocks, fingertips pointing forward, arms straight. Lift your buttocks using your arms; squeeze shoulder blades down and together (A). Without changing position, bend your elbows, lowering your torso until elbows are about in line with shoulders (B). Straighten arms without locking and repeat. Strengthens triceps. trimester tip If you’re strong enough during your first trimester, keep your legs straight and feet flexed so you’re supported on your heels.
3. Cat Backs
Kneel on the ground with your wrists just in front of your shoulders and knees in line with your hips. Keeping arms straight, inhale, lifting up head and tailbone (A). Using your abdominals, exhale, letting your head relax and rounding your spine like a cat (B). Continue for reps in a rhythmic pattern. Strengthens abdominals and back.
4. Back Presses
Lean your entire back and buttocks against a vertical support with your feet slightly forward, knees slightly bent and arms crossed in front of your chest or hanging by your sides (A). Use your abs to pull your navel toward your spine and tilt the bottom of your pelvis upward (B). Hold for 20 seconds, then release and repeat. Continue to breathe, still using your abs, for the entire 20 seconds. Strengthens abs.
Your Body Will Thank You
Moderate exercise eases many pregnancy-related discomforts such as swelling, nausea and leg cramps. It also reduces your risk of developing gestational diabetes or requiring a Cesarean section, episiotomy or other medical intervention during delivery. Staying active can also help control excessive weight gain and speed your recovery time once the baby arrives. What’s more, exercise benefits both mom and baby by improving blood flow and circulation, according to a study led by James F. Clapp III, M.D., of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.