Get your ballerina on with these barre workout moves to get you prepped for life with baby.
You know how important exercise is during pregnancy, but if the idea of sweating it out in the gym while carrying your baby-to-be (and dealing with all the pesky side effects that come along with the nine-month bargain) has you glued to the couch, we've got just the thing for you. Barre—the high-intensity, low-impact exercise technique that's taking the fitness world by storm—couldn't be more perfect for the expecting set.
"Barre movements encourage you to use your own body weight for resistance and focus on proper alignment, technique and control, all of which help avoid injury, a common concern for pregnant women," explains Brittany Bendall, founder and creator of Balance Barre Fitness in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and author of HIIT the Barre. "There's a strong focus on using the pelvic floor, muscles crucial in childbirth and the postpartum period, and on lower body movements that help increase circulation in the lower extremities, an area often plagued by edema or fluid retention and swelling during pregnancy." But, perhaps, the best thing about this ballerina-esque workout is the fact that it's super easy to modify movements throughout pregnancy (plus, having the bar there for a little extra support never hurts, either).
Ready to get started? Here are 11 instructor-approved barre moves you can do just about anywhere.
Developing and maintaining upper body strength during pregnancy is important because it will come in handy big time once baby's born and you find yourself toting her around for hours at a time. "This move also strengthens the back muscles and help improve posture," says Bendall.
How to: Start with light-to-medium weights (3 to 5 pounds) in each hand. Turn your palms to face upward and pull your elbows back so your hands and weights are by your rib cage. Lift the weights up in front of you, keeping your elbows bent so your palms face in towards you. Bring the weights to shoulder-height and then lower them back down again, pulling your elbows back and bringing the weights back towards your ribs. Repeat for 16 reps.
"I love this posture for my prenatal clients because it increases glute strength, which may weaken during labor, and also helps prepare the body for labor," says Jenna Muller, barre instructor at Barre3 in the New York City area.
How to: Stand with your feet wider than your hips, bend your knees, shoot your seat back and hold.
Your feet are at 11 and 1 on an imaginary clock, knees stacked over your ankles and belly pulled towards your navel. Bring your hands to prayer, heart center, relax your shoulders and lengthen through your spine from the crown of your head to your tailbone. Start to move in a small range of motion, down one inch and up one inch. Do about 30 pulses and hold. Move into a large range of motion to flush out the body, pushing your seat back as if you're sitting in a chair and then standing up tall, being careful to not push your hips forward. Repeat 10 times, then hold halfway down for about 10 seconds, being careful to not let your chest fall.
This move also targets your pelvic floor as well as your abdominal wall, muscles that will come in handy big time during delivery and postpartum recovery. Staying low in this move will challenge your thighs, and tucking in your pelvis will create a lower back release.
How to: Stand up straight and hold onto a sturdy piece of furniture with one hand. Take your legs out wide and turn your knees and toes out to the sides. Bend your knees, lowering your seat down towards the floor so you're in a wide second position. Tuck your hips forward so you're curling your pelvis in and then release back to a neutral spine. Continue tucking and releasing the hips forward and then back to neutral, making sure not to arch your back as you release. Stay low in your legs and keep your knees bent to work the thighs. Repeat for 16 reps.
Side Leg Lift
Side Leg Lift
"Side leg lift is very important because it counteracts the effects produced by the relaxin, a hormone that increases during pregnancy and reduces stability in the pelvis and joints, making you more susceptible to injury," says Jennifer McCamish, a former Rockette and owner of Dancers Shape, a barre studio in Austin, Texas. Also during pregnancy, you might notice your hips becoming more wobbly. Lifting your outside leg works the abductors, the muscles that surround the outside of the hips. The more we strengthen them, the better tracking we'll have as your joints get looser.
How to: To do this move, simply lean into a chair and bend your knees. Then, take one leg out directly to the side of the body so your pelvis is stacked left hip on top of the right. Lift directly to the side and lower down. Think about separating your legs apart from one another.
Bent Knee Side Plank
Bent Knee Side Plank
As your pregnant belly expands, your rectus abdominis stretches to allow room for your baby to grow. "The oblique muscles have to work harder to counteract this stretch and help carry the extra weight in the middle," Bendall says. "The obliques are also your waist cinching muscles after the baby is born."
How to: Start lying on the mat in a side position. Bend your knees and stack one on top of the other. Place your right elbow underneath your right shoulder so your forearm is resting on the mat and is parallel with the top of the mat, fingers pointing front. Keeping your left hand on your hip, lift your right hip up off the mat, coming into a forearm side-plank position. Keep the knees bent and resting on the mat. If you're feeling strong, you can lift your left hand up to the sky. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Release and repeat one more time before switching to the left side and repeating the entire combination.
Warrior II Flow
Warrior II Flow
"This was one of my favorite postures during pregnancy," says Muller. "This posture increases core strength, warms up the spine, helps open hips and inner thighs and enhances strength and concentration."
How to: Stand up tall, step your feet wide about 4 to 5 feet, bend your right knee at a 90 degree angle, extend your arms to a T-parallel to the floor, and hold. With your heels aligned, bring your left foot in approximately 45 degrees to the right with your right foot at a 90 degree angle. Your right knee is stacked over your ankle, and your hips are square, with your hip points shining forward. Your core is pulled in, palms are facing down and shoulders are relaxed. You're lengthening from the crown of your head to your spine.
Your doctor may have told you about these exercises that strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor. Not only do they help tighten your down-there area, but they also help support the womb, your bladder and bowel regions. “The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that acts like a hammock to hold your internal organs in,” explains McCamish. “When you engage and lift up to the pelvic floor it helps prevent incontinence and helps support the weight and pressure of your baby coming down on that area.”
How to: In order to do this, think about holding your urine, like you’re trying to hold going to the bathroom. Think about lifting up and in, like you’re zipping up some tight skinny jeans—that’s your exhale. Then scoop your lower belly and that pelvic floor up and into support before inhaling to release and you release your belly out.
Lift and Squeeze
Lift and Squeeze
This move targets and strengthens your pelvic floor and thighs, muscles used most during childbirth. Lifting your heels off the floor will also help boost circulation and send blood to your lower extremities.
How to: Start by standing up straight, resting one hand on something sturdy like a chair or the wall. Bring your heels together and keep your toes apart in a narrow “V” position. Lift your heels off the floor and then walk them together slowly so they’re touching. Bend your knees and come halfway down. Once you’re there, start pulsing down one inch and pulsing back up an inch while squeezing your knees towards each other as best you can. Keep your knees bent the whole time and repeat for 12 reps.
Back It Up
Back It Up
“This move is great for mobility of the spine and still strengthens the lower back and shoulders, Amber Hirsch, Director of Fitness at Local Barre in Hoboken, New Jersey.”
How to: Start by getting comfortable on your hands and knees. As you exhale, round your back up towards the sky (think of making your spine a rainbow). As you inhale extend the spine gently in the opposite direction(think like the letter U). Be mindful that you don't extend too deeply. You can even "wag your tail" side to side a little too to loosen the back if it feels good!
The glutes and hamstrings are often neglected in pregnancy and can become quite weak with the shift forward in weight as your baby grows. “Strengthening these areas and your pelvis will help counteract this imbalance,” says Bendall.
How to: Start by holding onto a sturdy piece of furniture and holding on to it with both hands. Point your right leg straight back behind you with the knee turned out to the side. Lift your lower the leg for eight reps and, on the last rep, hold your right leg up at a 45-degree angle and begin pulsing for eight counts. Turn your right leg to parallel so your right knee faces the floor and lift and lower your leg again for eight reps. On the last rep, hold your right leg up and pulse for eight counts with your knee facing the floor in a parallel position. Repeat the entire combination on your left leg.
A strong core in pregnancy is important to help carry the baby, maintain postural integrity and avoid back pain, says Bendall. This move will target the glutes as well as work the core.
How to: Start on the mat in a quadruped position—on your hands and knees with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Extend your right leg out behind you at hip height and flex your foot. Make sure your knee is facing down to the floor so you’re in a parallel position. Bend your knee in and out, keeping your foot flexed. Repeat for eight reps and on the last rep, hold your knee bent at hip-height and pulse the foot up to the ceiling for eight counts. On the last rep, hold your knee bent, draw it down to the mat and then push back up to the ceiling. Continue for eight reps. Repeat the entire combo on the left leg. “If you have sensitivity in your wrists or suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, common issues during pregnancy, you can place your hands on weights or make firsts to create extension in your wrists or you can come down on your forearms,” suggests Bendall.