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{Is it safe to lift weight while pregnant? How can I lose the baby fat? Experts in prenatal and postpartum fitness answer these and more of your questions }


What’s the best exercise to do during pregnancy?

Walking is the perfect exercise for almost anyone at any time—especially pregnant women: It provides a cardiovascular workout without jarring or stressing your joints, ligaments, growing belly and breasts. In fact, it’s so gentle that even sedentary women can start walking while pregnant. “Walking is fantastic for so many reasons, including the fact that most of us can walk with ease no matter how big we get,” says Danielle Symons Downs, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the exercise psychology laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.

Consistency is crucial to derive the benefits, which include increased energy, stress release and weight control. Mark Fenton, co-author of Walking Through Pregnancy and Beyond (Lyons Press, 2004), recommends walking 6 days a week, or as many days as you feel comfortable with, for at least 30 minutes. Use the “talk test” to assess your exertion level. The only equipment you’ll need is a pair of well-cushioned shoes (go to for buying tips).

Why is prenatal yoga recommended?

“Yoga works on many levels—physical, energetic and spiritual—to bring about a profound transformation that is unmistakable and potent,” says Patty Slote, a yoga instructor at The Movement Center in Portland, Ore., who specializes in prenatal yoga. The poses focus on pregnancy-related concerns: toning the pelvic-floor muscles, opening the hips and pelvis, increasing breathing capacity, improving postural alignment and encouraging relaxation.

Prenatal yoga includes squats, pelvic-floor exercises, breathing exercises and a number of standing, seated and side-lying poses that will bring about those changes, explains Slote, who created the DVD series Prenatal Yoga: A Complete Home Practice ( Slote’s website also features a printable “practice sheet” of poses.

How intensely can I exercise during these 9 months?

If you’re not having any complications, you can and should exercise every day for about 30 minutes, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. You can exercise at a similar intensity to your prepregnancy level as long as you stay well-hydrated and avoid overheating. A good rule of thumb is to not increase intensity or duration beyond what you are used to doing so you don’t overexert yourself. Stop immediately if you feel lightheaded or have contractions or bleeding. Using the “talk test” is an easy way to monitor your intensity while exercising. Here’s how it works: During the warm-up phase of your workout, you should be able to carry on a conversation with little or no effort. During the most challenging phase, conversing should require quite a bit of effort. While in the cool-down phase of your workout, you should again be able to carry on a conversation with minimal effort.

What activities or sports are off-limits during my pregnancy?

“Scuba diving is a major no-no because of the oxygen considerations. With other activities, you need to weigh the benefits versus the potential risks,” says Renee Jeffreys, M.S., an exercise physiologist in Cincinnati, and personal trainer with Fitness for Women ( After 15 weeks, the risks of falling and abdominal trauma become dangerous, so an aggressive game of basketball—where elbows are being thrown—wouldn’t be a good idea.

As for solo pursuits, take a break from potentially traumatic activities such as surfing, horseback riding, downhill skiing, mountain biking, inline skating and vigorous racquet sports after your first trimester. “When you’re pregnant, your center of balance is constantly changing and you might not be aware of it. Falling on your abdomen could cause some real damage to the fetus, or even miscarriage,” says Jeffreys, who also is the co-author of Fit to Deliver: An Innovative Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Program (Hartley & Marks, 2005). You also should avoid the sudden directional changes that take place in step aerobics and other kinds of aerobics classes, and you may want to limit these activities depending on the progress of your pregnancy and fitness level.

Can I do ab exercises while I’m

pregnant, and if so, what’s the point?

While doing abdominal exercises now won’t give you abs of steel, they will strengthen your core (and back) and make you aware of all the muscles you will use during the pushing phase of labor. Strengthening your core muscles also can help relieve pregnancy-related back pain.

Even if you’re having a complication-free pregnancy, exercise caution as you work your already-taxed ab muscles. “After four months, you have to be more careful about which exercises you do, as you could pull a muscle,” Downs cautions. For this reason, you should avoid twisting movements. (You also should avoid moves that require you to lie on your back in the second and third trimesters; see the question at right.)

Here’s a safe, effective ab move: Sit upright with your hands on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, then exhale through your mouth as you draw your ab muscles in toward your spine. Do 10 repetitions and build up to 20 reps, 3 times a day. This helps strengthen your abdominals, especially the deep transverse muscle, which helps support your lower back throughout pregnancy and assists in the pushing phase of labor.

Is it OK to swim or do aqua exercises while I’m pregnant?

It’s better than OK: Swimming and other water-based activities are among the best things a pregnant woman can do for herself. Because you are suspended in water, the activity is easy on your joints and muscles, and you can maintain a fairly high level of intensity without straining, Downs says. Of course, you should feel comfortable in the water; if you’re at all hesitant, use a flotation device and stay in the shallow end of the pool. Avoid water that’s too hot or cold; a temperature between 80 F and 84 F is ideal.

Not a swimmer? Downs suggests walking or doing leg swings in the shallow end of a pool or taking an aqua-aerobics class. Runners will find aqua-jogging (wearing a special flotation belt in the deep end of the pool) a low-impact yet challenging alternative to pounding the pavement.

A much-welcome bonus from exercising in water: edema (swelling) is reduced. “The biggest complaint in the later part of pregnancy is swelling in the legs,” says Abraham Shashoua, M.D., chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology division at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The increased pressure of being under water tends to squeeze excess fluids into the bloodstream so they can be excreted.

Why shouldn’t I do exercises while lying on my back after a certain point?

After your first trimester, lying supine (on your back) can cause your enlarged uterus and baby to compress your vena cava, the major vessel that returns blood to your heart. This reduces the amount of blood your heart has to pump back out, which can lower your blood pressure and reduce blood flow to the placenta, Shashoua explains. It also can cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated.

“For every supine exercise, there’s an equally good alternative that’s not done lying on your back,” says Lenita Anthony, M.S., an exercise physiologist in San Diego and author of Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness (ACE Books, 2002). For examples, check out Anthony’s book.

What are natural changes to expect while exercising, and what are warning signs I should look for?

Since the ligaments attached to your uterus are being stretched from all sides, don’t be alarmed if you feel pulls and twinges in your groin, side or lower back while exercising or just going about your daily activities. It’s also natural to feel more out of breath than usual—just back off the intensity a bit. But heed these warning signs: lightheadedness, contractions or cramping to the point of pain and bleeding. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor immediately.

Can I lift weights while I’m pregnant?

“Strength training is not only safe, it is actually very important during pregnancy,” Shashoua says. “Women who stay fit and strong during pregnancy are able to get through the 1 to 3 hours of pushing that is sometimes required to deliver a baby better than those who aren’t as strong,” he explains. “It also helps women feel better about themselves.” Regardless of her strength-training experience, a pregnant woman may initiate or continue a program, Shashoua adds.

To avoid injury, however, lift lighter weights and do a higher number of repetitions than nonpregnant women, Shashoua says. Consider hiring a trainer who is educated in prenatal fitness to teach you safe and proper form, even if it’s just for one or two sessions. If you feel unstable, hold onto a sturdy chair while doing split-leg lunges or squats.

Why do I need to drink when I’m exercising even if I’m not thirsty?

“There’s a big link between dehydration and uterine contractions,” Shashoua says. “The hormone released during dehydration is very similar to one that causes contractions.” He says experiencing contractions is the most common reason pregnant women stop exercising, so drink well before, during and after your workouts.

Get your body back

After you give birth, gentle exercise or stretching offers a host of physical and psychological benefits, such as relieving muscle soreness and tension, reducing swelling and the biggie—burning calories. Being active also improves body image, lessens depression and reduces stress and anxiety. Experts generally advise waiting until after your 6-week postpartum checkup to resume exercising regularly if you gave birth vaginally (longer if you’ve had a C-section). Here are some suggestions for getting started:

>> Take your baby for gentle walks in a stroller or try a mom-and-baby DVD such as Postnatal Pilates (Pilates Pregnancy, 2003).

>> Work on lower-back flexibility as well as abdominal strength. “As much as your abs have stretched out and extended, your back muscles have tightened during the last several months,” says Laura Reale, a certified personal trainer and owner of Giddy (, fitness facilities that offer shape-up programs for new moms, brides and executive women. A simple lower-back stretch: Lie on your back, bend one knee 90 degrees and let it fall over the straight leg. Relax for 15–30 seconds while keeping your shoulders and upper back on the floor. Breathe normally. Switch sides and repeat.

>> With your doctor’s approval, try to exercise regularly. “Consistency is critical for new moms, both to establish a routine for yourself as well as to get your body back,” Reale says. Start with 3 times a week for 20 minutes and build up to 4 or more times per week for 30–45 minutes.