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Understanding Exercises for Post Pregnancy

Updated on October 14, 2012

Exercises for Post Pregnancy

Light to moderate exercise is an important part of feeling your best during pregnancy and bouncing back into shape afterward. Working out gives you energy and may provide some relief from pregnancy symptoms such as backaches, constipation, and bloating and swelling as well as reduce your risk of gestational diabetes and help you sleep better (something that's not easy, especially as your belly expands and your baby starts kickboxing). Experts also say that breaking a sweat while pregnant may help soothe the pain of labor and that it can help you maintain a positive outlook about yourself, your pregnancy, and labor and delivery.

First trimester exercises

Posture

During pregnancy your uterus expands up to 1,000 times its normal size (imagine that!), and this plus the added weight of your bulging belly can throw off your center of gravity and strain your back muscles. Strengthening postural muscles and stretching the tight hip flexors and hamstring muscles will bring you great relief. Doing so can even ward off back pain, sciatica (pain along the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back all the way down to your foot), and neck and shoulder pain. There's also an important aesthetic reason why you should keep these muscles strong. After all, who wants to look like a hunchback?

Core (Abs and Butt)

Abs and glutes play a huge part in keeping the pelvis stabilized and your pelvic floor strong through your pregnancy. These areas are also the first place to show water retention and cellulite. Working this area can help boost circulation and improve the appearance of those lovely pregnancy dimples.

Arms

Building strength in your arms is essential for when the baby arrives. Carrying 10-20 pounds a day will become the norm—and it's often more than that because of all the equipment the baby needs. (You'll be amazed to see how someone so small could require so much stuff!) Building strength in the upper body will protect you from common shoulder injuries that new mamas often experience.

Legs

Strong legs are definitely a plus when you're lugging the extra weight of the baby around for nine months (and when post-pregnancy you're toting your little one and all his or her belongings). Birthing squats also require a good amount of strength and endurance.

Stretching

Light total body stretching is also essential to keep your muscles supple as they start to stretch, making way for the arrival of the new baby. Muscles are tight during pregnancy from the constant shifting of your pelvic bones and from walking around with all that added weight. Your body also takes on a completely new shape in which your muscles will adapt by lengthening and tightening. Stretching is a miraculous yet easy way to relieve all those aches and pains.

Just a word of caution here: When you're pregnant, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which helps make your joints looser so that your pelvis can open wider when it comes time for you to push out your baby. This is great news at delivery time, but for the nine months of pregnancy it means you may be more flexible than ever. Yes, for the first time in your life you may be able to do the splits, but don't even think of going there! If you let yourself stretch too far while pregnant, you can tear delicate tissue and cause injuries. Be sure to warm up before exercising, and even more importantly, take the time to cool down after you finish. Not only is this good for you physically, it's also a time to de-stress your mind, calm your nerves, and pamper yourself for a few private moments.

Second trimester exercises

Let out those champagne glasses and fill them with sparkling grape juice, and toast to the fact that you're a third of the way through this nine-month adventure! Even better, it's likely that the worst morning sickness is behind you. Typically around week 13 those queasy, crazy days of the first trimester come to an end—and sometimes they do so seemingly overnight. Now you'll enter what is called the "honeymoon phase" of pregnancy. By the fourth month of pregnancy, you've probably started showing and see a rounder reflection in the mirror. Finally, your body is beginning to advertise that you're indeed a mama-in-the-making.

Second trimester workout plan

Warm-up: March in place for 1 or 2 minutes, making large, slow, rhythmic movements. Circle your arms forward and back while taking deep breaths.

1. Triceps stationary lunges

Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and triceps

Reps: 15 on each leg

Weights: Lighter

Keep your front knee over the first and second toe and make sure that your body is tall with the abs contracted.


A. Start standing tall with your left leg forward and right leg behind you. Make sure both feet are facing forward with the back foot resting on a toe, and that your left arm is bent behind you with your right hand resting on your right thigh.


B. Exhale and bend both legs into a lunge position as you extend your elbow, contracting the back of the upper arm (triceps). Inhale, extend both knees, and bend the elbow back to start position.

2. Attitude side lift with shoulder raise
Muscles targeted: Quads, glutes, and shoulders (deltoids)
Reps: 10 on each leg

Weights: Lighter
Make sure your arms do not go any higher than shoulder height.
A. Stand with your legs turned out at the hips and your right leg resting on a toe, then place your hands on your hips.


B. Exhale and lift your right leg off the floor with knee bent, leading with the knee to the side of the body. Inhale and lower the leg back to start position.


C. Exhale and lift the arms to the side of the body to shoulder height, leading with the elbows. Lower arms then alternate the leg lift and the lateral arm raise for 10 reps before switching to the other side.


3. Plié and pelvic tilt with "V" to "W" arms

Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, abs, pelvic floor, shoulders, and mid to upper back

Reps: 20

Weights: Lighter

Draw the pelvis slightly underneath you so that you are not overarching your back. Keep the toes over the knees and the weight on your heels.


A. Start with your legs a little further than hip-width apart, legs turned out at the hips and toes pointing out to the corners of the room. Bend your knees into a plié position to the point where you feel your thighs start to work. Your knees should be over your first and second toes. Place your arms over your head in a wide "V" position, pulling your shoulders down toward your pelvis.


B. Exhale and tilt your pelvis forward by contracting your abdominals and drawing your pubic bone up toward your belly button. At the same time, draw your elbows down toward your hips into a "W" position by contracting the lats (sides of the back). Then move the pelvis back to neutral (start position), extending the arms back to a "V" position. Do 20 reps then perform 20 little pulses (small movements with the pelvis) before extending the legs.

4. Squat row

Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and mid to upper back
Reps: 15
Weights: Heavier
Keep your weight back in the heels and your body slightly pitched forward hinging from the waist. Your abs must always be contracted to support your midsection.

A. Start with your legs shoulder-width apart and your hands by your sides. Bend both knees into a squat, resting your weight in your heels and reaching your arms out in front of your body at shoulder height with palms facing toward each other.
B. Exhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and draw your elbows back behind your body into a rowing position. Inhale and extend the arms and legs, then repeat. Do a total of 15 reps.


THIRD TRIMESTER WORKOUT PLAN

The workout plan for this trimester contains some of the same exercises that are in the second trimester workout. However, some have been modified to take into consideration the impact your growing belly is having on your balance and ease of movement. Remember, you're now carrying more weight, so moving your body will require more energy at a time when you feel like you have none. Don't be hard on yourself. Just do what you can even if it's at a slower pace. Depending on how you feel and how much weight you have gained, you can continue with the second trimester exercises and slowly start incorporating the third trimester variations.

Warm-up: March in place for 1 or 2 minutes, making large, slow, rhythmic movements. Circle your arms forward and back while taking deep breaths.


Keep your knee over the first and second toe and make sure that your body is tall with the abs contracted. Gently hold the chair for support so that the hand is just resting on the top of it without any stress in the neck and shoulders.

1. Tricep stationary lunges

Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and triceps
Reps: 15 on each leg
Weights: Lighter

A. Start facing the chair with your right leg in front and left leg behind you. Make sure both feet are facing forward, with the back foot resting on a toe and your left arm bent with the elbow slightly behind your body.


B. Exhale, bend both knees into a lunge position, and extend your elbow as you contract the back of the upper arm (triceps). Inhale, straighten the knees, and bend the elbow back to start position.

2. Attitude side lift with shoulder raise, modified

Make sure your arm does not go any higher than shoulder height.
Muscles targeted: Quads, glutes, and shoulders
Reps: 12 on each leg
Weights: Lighter


A. Stand beside the chair with your legs turned out at the hips and your outside (right) leg resting on a toe. Place your outside arm on your hip and the other hand on top of the chair.
B. Lift your right leg off the floor with the knee slightly bent, but without hiking the hip. Your aim is to keep the hips level.


C. As you lower the leg back to the starting position, lift the outside arm out to the side to shoulder height, leading with the elbow.

3. Plié and pelvic tilt with "V" to "W" arms

Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, abs, pelvic floor, and mid to upper back
Reps: 20
Weights: Lighter


A. Start by sitting on the edge of a chair with your legs bent, open wide to the side of the body and turned out at the hips, and toes pointing out to the corners of the room. Place your arms over your head in a wide "V" position, pulling your shoulder blades down toward your pelvis.


B. Exhale and tilt your pelvis forward by contracting your abdominals and drawing your pubic bone up toward your belly button. At the same time, draw your elbows down toward your hips by contracting the lats (sides of the back). Then move the pelvis back to neutral (start position), extending the arms back to a "V" position. Repeat 20 times before extending the legs.

4. Squat row

Muscles targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and mid to upper back
Reps: 15
Weights: Heavier


A. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands by the sides of your body. Rest your weight in your heels.


B. Go into a squat by bending your knees and reaching your arms forward. Exhale and squeeze your shoulder blades together, drawing your elbows back into a rowing position. Inhale and straighten your arms then knees. Repeat from the beginning for a total of 15 reps.

Exercising during pregnancy may also help your future baby stay fit. A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that children whose moms were physically active during and after their pregnancies exercised more when they grew up than kids whose moms were pregnant couch potatoes.

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