Prenatal Workouts

Women who exercise during pregnancy report that they have:

  • greater endurance during pregnancy and labor,

  • greater ease in carrying the extra weight of their growing babies and

  • good posture as a result of strong, flexible muscles.

In addition to these benefits, regular exercise also relieves stress, strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure and promotes healthy eating habits. Still, more than half of all Americans do not even come close to meeting the USDA’s recommendation of one hour of exercise a day. Most find squeezing exercise into their already busy schedules nearly impossible, especially those who balance a demanding career and a bustling household.

If this sounds familiar, don’t fret: a full hour of exercise may be out of the question, but 10 minutes is certainly doable and worthwhile. After all, a little bit of exercise now can go a long way toward building more established workout routines and a healthy future for you and your baby.      

Help with Common Complaints
Some of the more common complaints women have both during and after pregnancy include back and hip pain, wrist pain, strained ligaments and intestinal problems, such as constipation, prolapsed organs and incontinence. All of these conditions result from stress on the musculoskeletal system, which strengthening and stretching can help prevent or alleviate.

Prenatal exercise should include both a strengthening and a stretching component because pregnancy unbalances muscles by stretching them. The goal of exercise during pregnancy is to give muscles an equal amount of strength and flexibility.

Strengthening Muscles
There are two major sets of muscles you should think about strengthening when you’re pregnant:  

1. Abdominal muscles
allow a woman to maintain correct posture and alignment and reduce strain on the ligaments. To strengthen abdominal muscles, sit on the edge of a chair and use your abdominal muscles to pull yourself up. Or, reach for something using your abdominals to stabilize your trunk.

2. Pelvic-floor muscles
help prevent stress incontinence (urine leakage) and prolapsed uterus, rectum and bladder (a condition where these organs collapse into the vaginal walls). Strong pelvic-floor muscles also lower the risk of tearing during delivery and promote quicker healing from episiotomies and stretched perineum, which may result from childbirth. To strengthen pelvic-floor muscles, use Kegel exercises. Contract them (as if stopping urine flow), hold and release. Here’s how they are done:

-- Version 1
: While lying down, sitting or standing, tighten then release the muscles around the vagina. Work up to 10 quick squeezes 10 times per day, for a total of 100.

-- Version 2: Tighten the pelvic floor muscles as in version 1, but this time hold for three seconds before releasing. Work up to five seconds. Start with five contractions five times a day, and work up to 15 contractions three to five times a day. Try not to hold your breath as you count.

Stretching Muscles
You should also stretch muscles that are typically tight during pregnancy in the following ways:

  • Hamstrings: Stand with one leg elevated and held straight on a chair or table or by lying on the back and lifting one straight leg at a time. Bend forward slightly.

  • Back: Sit on the floor with your knees bent, ankles crossed and allow the legs to fall apart. Bend slightly forward.

  • Hip flexors: Kneel half way, one foot in front of the other, with the weight transferred onto the forward foot until you feel a pull in the opposite side of the groin.

Safe Sports

Most of the following sports generally are considered safe for a normal, low-risk pregnancy.

  • walking

  • swimming

  • low-impact aerobics

  • stationary bicycling

  • jogging (if you jogged before pregnancy)

  • tennis (played moderately)

How and how much you exercise depends on your fitness level and general health during pregnancy. Consult your obstetrician or midwife about your exercise program both prior to and during your pregnancy.

If you've practiced yoga prior to your pregnancy, you'll want to continue to derive its tremendous benefits. Prenatal yoga adapts some traditional yoga postures in order to meet your body's changing needs. Check out:
5 Yoga Moves for an Expectant Mother

See Also:

--Exercising Safely During Pregnancy
--Giving Your Baby  A Healthy Head Start