Stretch and strengthen your legs with these easy moves.
Legs are the unheralded heroines of pregnancy. Not only do they carry the extra weight of the whole nine months with few complaints (unlike, say, your back), but they'll pull their weight after pregnancy, too, as you spend many an hour walking with and soothing your new baby. The more attention you give them now, the better they'll look and feel in the final months of pregnancy and afterward.
"Strengthening and stretching your legs, especially your calves, helps keep them functioning the way they should, even when you're heavier than usual," says dancer and prenatal fitness expert Elizabeth Trindade, president of Strollercize in New York. During pregnancy, your shifting center of gravity can strain everything from your calves and shins to the arches of your feet, but the simple exercises Trindade has designed can help prevent potential discomforts.
Keeping your legs flexible and toned (in addition to drinking lots of fluids) can also help prevent the painful calf cramps that some women experience during their pregnancies. As Trindade says: "These moves will help give you strong, beautiful legs to carry you through pregnancy and into motherhood with confidence."
The following three exercises are safe to do throughout pregnancy. Try to do them every day, in the order listed. The entire workout takes less than 10 minutes, so you should have no problem fitting them into your day. These moves will also keep you in shape for our "Stride Right" prenatal walking/running program on page 76.
1. Calf Pumps: Lean against a wall or hold onto the back of a chair for support, toes pointing forward. Lift your chest and contract your abdominal and buttocks muscles (A). Keep your upper body and shoulders relaxed as you rise up onto the balls of your feet (B). Hold for 10 counts; then slowly lower to the starting position while counting to 5. Repeat 10 times. Once you've mastered this move, let go of the wall or chair to help improve your balance. Strengthens the calves.
2. Monkey Toes: To do this classic dancer's exercise, sit on the floor and grasp a pencil with the toes of each foot. Stretch your legs out in front of you, place your hands behind you on the floor for support and lean back slightly. Flex your ankles while holding the pencils, keeping your legs straight (A). Then, still holding the pencils, try to touch your toes to the floor (B). Relax and repeat 10 times. Stretches the calves and arches of the foot and helps stabilize the ankle joints.
3. Circle of Dreams: Lie on your right side with your right hand supporting your head and your left hand on the floor in front of you, supporting your body. Bend your right leg to 90 degrees and lift your left leg, pointing your toes toward the ceiling. Draw circles with your left ankle, moving 50 times in a counter-clockwise position; then repeat in the opposite direction. Relax and repeat on your left side with the right leg. Stretches and strengthens the calves and ankles and improves circulation in the lower legs to help reduce swelling.