Off Your Back

Safe pregnancy alternatives to common exercises.


When it comes to exercising during pregnancy, the list of do's and don'ts includes a caution from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to avoid supine-position exercises (those in which you lie on your back) after the first trimester.

"The full weight of the enlarged uterus and your baby could compress your vena cava, the major vessel that returns blood to your heart from the lower half of your body," says Linda J. Mayberry, Ph.D., R.N., an associate professor of nursing at New York University.

What does this mean when you hit the gym during your second and third trimesters and want to do some abdominal exercises or bench presses? "For every exercise you would normally do on your back, there's an equally effective alternative move you can do without lying on your back," says Lenita Anthony, M.S., a Reebok master trainer in San Diego and author of Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness (American Council on Exercise, 2002).

Anthony recommends starting the following exercises in your second trimester and doing them two or three times a week.

1. Back stretch: Sit on the edge of a chair, placing your feet wide enough apart to accommodate your belly. Bending from your hips, lean forward and grasp your ankles. Stay in this position and relax, pulling yourself deeper into the stretch. Hold for at least 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes. Replaces supine back stretch; stretches entire back and eases lower back pain. 2. Incline chest press: Sit on the edge of a chair and lean your upper back against it (or sit on an incline bench set at 45íž). Holding a 3- to 12-pound dumbbell in each hand, bring your elbows to shoulder level, forearms parallel and palms facing forward (A). Keep your chest lifted and shoulders relaxed. Squeeze your shoulder blades down, then extend your arms in front of you just above head height (B). Slowly bend your elbows back to starting position and repeat. Do 2 sets of 8–12 repetitions, resting 45 seconds between sets. Replaces supine chest press; strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps.

3. Belly press: Standing with your back against a wall, walk your feet forward about 2 feet, keeping legs parallel and knees slightly bent. Place your hands lightly on your belly. Keeping your back pressed against the wall, inhale to expand your belly into your hands. Then exhale, pulling your belly in as if pressing your navel back to touch the wall. Hold for 5–10 seconds and release. Begin with 10 reps, progressing to 15 reps as you build strength. Replaces traditional ab crunches; strengthens abdominals.