Staying Strong During Pregnancy
Eight Simple Exercises to Build Strength and Minimize Discomfort
By Lynsey Owen, MD, Caity Davis, and Jill Stump
There are many great advantages to maintaining or improving physical fitness in pregnancy, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. Your rapidly growing belly can also present some unique challenges that might necessitate adaptations to your pre-pregnancy routine.
In combination with frequent activities that improve your cardiovascular fitness, like power walking, swimming, stationary biking, etc, the exercises below can help decrease your risk for pregnancy complications, improve your overall fitness, minimize common aches and pains, and prepare your body to carry around a child for the next few years.
On two to three days per week, you should aim for 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions of each exercise with a 45-60 second rest between sets. The only piece of equipment you will need is a resistance band, which can be purchased inexpensively at most sports equipment stores or in the fitness section of a superstore.
- Squats: These are great for building lower body strength and keeping the body strong as joint laxity increases during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Squats can be done with legs shoulder-width apart or in a plié position (toes angled outwards), which may be more comfortable as your belly grows. While keeping your chest up, lower down and back up in a controlled motion (aim for 2 seconds down and 2 seconds up). Watch that the knees do not extend further than your toes throughout the exercise.
- Push-Ups: These will help strengthen your arms, in preparation for carrying around your baby and all of that gear from your registry. Place your hands on the back of a couch or countertop to allow more room for your belly. Keep hands under your shoulders and lower your chest down towards your hands. Try not to let your hips hike up in the air as you lower and lift.
- Standing Trunk Tubing Anti-Rotation: Using a resistance band anchored around a fixed surface (like a sturdy column or bannister), stand with your body parallel to the band and step away from the tubing until you feel tension. With both hands starting in front of your chest, press the tubing across and away from your body, then back, without rotating your trunk. Turn 180 degrees and repeat on the other side. To make it harder, step further away.
- Standing Pelvic Tilts: Lean into a wall with your feet placed slightly in front of you. Keep your upper back against the wall and slowly rock your pelvis forward and upwards in a gentle thrust, then rock back until your buttocks are again touching the wall. This motion will help increase range of motion in the hip joints, which will help protect your lower back as your belly grows.
- Arm Curls: Stand with both feet on a resistance band. While holding the band in both hands with palms up and elbows by your side, lift and lower your arms. This is a great exercise for building the upper body strength needed for holding your baby in one arm while trying to multi-task.
- Lunges: These are excellent for preparing the lower body for labor. Stand perpendicular to the back of a couch or countertop and use one hand for support. In a staggered leg stance no wider than hip width, maintaining knee over toe position and with back heel lifted off the ground, lower your body towards the ground and back up.
- Planks: It is important to maintain trunk and core strength as your center of gravity changes. Like the push-ups, these can be done on the floor on your forearms or standing with arms on the back of a couch or countertop as your belly grows. Line elbows or hands under shoulders, keep head looking down and hold for 15-60 seconds. Think of your body forming a line from shoulders to heels with hips facing the ground the entire time.
- Bird Dogs: On a carpet or mat, face the ground on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. While facing down so you don’t put any extra stress on the neck, lift and lower the opposite arm and leg at the same time with a slight pause at the top. Switch sides to complete the set. Try to keep the hips facing the ground at all times. This exercise is great for maintaining flexibility in the lower back area, which can be tighter (and more uncomfortable) as your pregnancy progresses.
Remember to talk to your doctor or midwife before starting any new exercise regimen. Adequate hydration is extremely important — ideally 8 oz of water before, during, and after working out. And always let your body be your guide: rest when you need it and gradually increase your repetitions and intensity.