Pregnancy and Fitness
Maintaining a fit lifestyle is hard, but when you throw in the curveball that you’re also pregnant, it becomes an almost impossible goal. I am six and a half months into my second pregnancy, and since I found out about our new bundle of joy in late November, I’ve vowed to make this pregnancy a healthier one than the first. But, cravings, morning sickness, and general un-feel-goods make it tough. I’ve found, though, the better I eat and the more active I stay, the better I feel at the end of the day.
I had quite a bit of trouble finding articles online about exercising when pregnant; many of them contained outdated and conflicting information. This hub is all about the exercises that can be performed safely by pregnant women. Even better, everything listed below can be performed at home, except for the cardio.
Stomach muscles do weird things to make room for baby during pregnancy. Hormones are causing them to relax, and the constant stretching often causes round ligament pain. Your ever-growing middle complicates abdominal workouts, especially during the second and third trimesters when you should avoid lying on your back. My favorite fix for all these problems was to perform planks a couple times a day.
Start by doing a plank for 30 seconds with forearms on the floor. As time goes on do an additional 30 seconds on your hands. The added incline will challenge you more, as well as, work your arms. If you can perform the planks with ease, add 15 seconds to each pose until you’re being challenged again. Planks are amazing; they work abs, arms, and back simultaneously, and a little time goes a long way.
For the oblique:
Standing Oblique Crunches do a fabulous job of work your sides. Using a kettlebell or hand weights, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put one hand behind your head and hold your weight at your side with the other. Bend to the side, and using your obliques pull back up into a straight standing position. Try starting with 5 to 10 pound weights and do two sets of 15.
Standing Oblique Crunch Form
One thing I was particularly happy about getting to work on throughout my pregnancy is arms. Up until now this has been the area of my body I neglected at the gym the most, favoring ab workouts instead. Pregnancy is definitely a great time to work on your arms; you’re going to need them to be able to carry around your lump-o-baby for the next year.
For my arm work I pick a variety of exercises from the below and complete with 5 lb. weights, or a resistance band. I have both, and alternate what I use for all the following arm exercises.
The bicep curl is a traditional move that works. Standing with feet shoulder width apart, hold weights with palms facing forward, and curl arm up toward shoulder. Lower with control, and repeat. I do two sets of 25 with 5 pound weights.
Bicep Curl with Band
Bent Row Form
Standing Row Form
Tricep Swing Form
The Bent Row works the triceps and the back concurrently. I am all about working as many body parts at once as possible, so I like this one. Bend at the hips, getting as parallel to the floor as your belly permits, grasp weights with palms facing each other, pinch shoulder blades together, and keep your back straight. Row your arms up and back, bending at the elbows on the way up. Again, two sets of 25 with 5 pound weights.
Standing Row works the triceps, anterior (front) and middle deltoids. It’s much the same as the bent row, except your body remains in a standing position, so it’s easier on the belly later in pregnancy. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, straight up, and pinch shoulder blades back. Grasp weights in front of you with palms facing your body. Row arms up to your collarbone, letting elbows bend out the sides. Lower with control and repeat. Two sets of 25 with 5 pound weight.
The Tricep Swing is performed while lying on your back, so after your first trimester, it is best to avoid this exercise, especially if you have problems with your blood pressure. A good rule of thumb is if you try it and are dizzy when you get up, do not do it again. Lay on your back with legs bent. Grasp weights in each hand. Keep one hand straight up in front of you, without locking your arm, and lower the other above your head while keeping that arm straight as well. Swing the lowered arm up to be even with the other that is out in front of you, and lower back down over head. Repeat 15 times and switch arms. Two sets and you will feel the burn, bye-bye bat wings!
Overhead Press Form
Lateral Raise Form
The Overhead Press is my go-to for shoulders. It’s simple, and can be super challenging, but not in the I-want-to-die kind of way. Stand upright with feet shoulder width apart. Grasp weights and raise them to be even with shoulders, palms facing in front of you. Raise your arms, until they are over your head and straight. Lower with control and repeat. Two sets of 25, 5 pound weight. Try it sitting on a stability ball for an added core challenge.
An alternative for shoulder work is the Lateral Raise. I find it tougher than the overhead press, but very effective for when I don’t want to do as many reps. In standing position, arms at sides, grasp weights with palms facing each other. Keeping arms straight, raise them up and out to the side. Lower and repeat. Two sets of 15 with 5 pound weights.
Wall Push-up Variation
Wall push-ups are another one of those amazing exercises that works so many parts of the body at once- the back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, chest, and abs. It’s just a modified version of a traditional push-up that I favor during pregnancy because as you gain weight the farther along you are, a traditional push-up may become unfeasible to complete.
Standing, keep back straight and put arms out in front of you on the wall, a little less than shoulder width apart. Lower, pause, raise, and repeat. Start with two sets of 20 and move up from there. You can also play with the extent of the incline at which you perform the pushup, incline more for more challenge. Finally, you can place a stability ball between your hands and the wall for even more of a challenge.
Standing Thigh Raises
When I’m pregnant I prefer to exercise as much as possible in a standing position, so for my outer thighs I do Standing Thigh Raises. Not only am I more comfortable, but I also think this is more effective than the traditional thigh raises where you are laying because you’ve added the challenge of staying balanced. To complete: stand with hands on hips (or one hand on the back of a chair if you need added stability) and kick out your leg to the side, keeping it straight. Lower and tap toe to floor, but don’t make full contact, and raise again. Two sets of 25 per leg.
Plie Squats are a terrific way to work inner thighs while pregnant. Stand with feet shoulder width apart with toes pointing out to your sides, hands on hips. Lower into squat, sitting back into it to maintain straight back, pause, and raise. Two sets of 25. To maintain balance, extend arms straight in front of you as shown in the picture.
Calf Raises are a simple way to work out the lower legs, and when you are no longer pregnant and able to rock those stilettos again, your sexy calves will thank you for these. Stand straight, and flat-footed. Roll up to your toes and lower back to flat –footed position. Repeat. If you need extra challenge and are still good with your balance, put your toes on the edge of a stair, letting your heel hang off the back and pulse up and down that way. Two sets of 25, weight optional.
Pregnancy wreaks complete havoc on your body, and the butt and hips are usually among the areas that are most affected. These two moves, though, will help keep that behind in its perky position.
Glute Kickbacks work the butt from a standing position, and depending on how high you kick your leg, can work the lower back too. Stand at a slight incline, holding the back of a chair, or countertop. Point the toe of one leg back, and kick it straight up to the back. Lower with control to tap the floor and repeat. Switch legs. Two sets of 25 per leg.
Donkey Kicks are another great butt workout, and have the added benefit of working the back and the arms because of the position. Get on all fours on the floor, keep your back straight. Keep your leg bent and raise it straight up behind you and lower to tap floor and repeat. Two sets of 25 per leg.
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information on the internet about the appropriate way to incorporate cardio into your pregnancy fitness routine. Outdated information says to keep your heart rate under 140 beats per minute. Other sites say that your perceived rate of exhaustion should be under a certain level. And still more others say you are fine if you keep yourself from overheating. What I have decided after researching and talking to my doctor is, if you have a routine pregnancy with no complications, there is no reason to freak out about cardio. When you’re working out if something starts to hurt, stop. If you’re having a hard time breathing, stop. And the rule I go by to determine if I am working too hard is: if I can sing along with my iPod without trouble I am not working too hard. The most important aspect of cardio during pregnancy to me, is just to remember that you are pregnant. Don’t push yourself too hard; slow down, or cut the time you spend on cardio.
That being said, there’s a lot of options for cardio when it comes to being pregnant.
It’s a wonderful time to try out aquatics because of all the benefits of working out in the water- it’s very low impact, easy on the expanding belly and sore joints.
Pre-natal yoga will get your body moving at a slow pace while limbering you up, and is also low impact and very easily tailored to individual ability levels.
Walking outside or on a treadmill is a great option. You’ll probably be walking a lot when you’re in labor later. Start practicing now.
The AMT or ARC Trainers are amazing, because you can push yourself for a little more of an intense workout that will remain low impact and easy on the knees, and belly.
Exercise bikes are also an option. Seated cardio has the obvious perks of getting off your feet, and also offer a different workout than the typical walking gives.
Sample Weekly Workout Plan
Arms & Abs
Legs & Oblique
Butt & Abs
Arms & Oblique
Butt & Legs
Cardio- treadmill 30 minutes
Cardio- Yoga 30 minutes
Cardio- ARC Trainer 30 minutes
Cardio-Aqua 30 minutes
Cardio- Bike 30 minutes
Pregnancy is not the time to sit around and do nothing. At the very least you are going to have some major work to do on the day that your very own tiny human decides to make their entrance into this world. Labor is a lot of work, it will take a lot out of you. If you maintain or begin an exercise program during pregnancy you will fare much better during the laboring process, and, according to many studies-have a faster recovery.
Having a fit pregnancy has other benefits as well. It keeps your energy level higher, reduces stress, helps with swelling, and wards off excessive weight gain.
If your pregnancy has no complications, then you should be all right to go ahead and maintain your current fitness regimen, or even start a new one if you're out of the habit.
Tips from other ladies on fitness throughout pregnancy are most welcome- if you have something you'd like to share, please leave a comment!