Pregnancy is the ultimate workout. It’s more unpredictable than an obstacle course, it lasts longer than a marathon, and it includes a wiggly free weight built to pack on its own pounds (or ounces) on a weekly basis.
Making room for a new little human takes a toll on a woman’s body, from start to finish and then some. Even if exercise isn’t your thing, consider the benefits of a healthy pregnancy to both you and your bundle-of-joy-to-be. Exercising during pregnancy can lead to better health outcomes for mama and baby, including lower incidence of a C-section, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure. Plus, if you’re already in the habit of exercising, it will be that much easier to work it back into your life when your health care practitioner gives you the postpartum go-ahead.
Because it takes time to build strength (and to make good habits stick), it’s best to start these workouts before you even plan on getting pregnant. If you’re pregnant—congrats!—research shows moderate workouts like those below won’t increase your risk for preterm birth. But check with your doctor or midwife, who can advise you on the level of physical activity that is safe for you and your baby. Whether you hope to start a family someday or already have one on the way, practice these five easy moves to stay in shape, even as your shape changes.
01. Squats for the Win
When done properly, squats strengthen your legs and core, improve balance (trust us, you’ll need it!), and encourage good spine alignment. You’ll benefit from more muscle in your legs as baby gets bigger. The more erect you stand, the less pressure you’ll put on your shoulders and back, which could mean less pain in the later months of pregnancy. Squatting is a common delivery position as well, so keep your heels on the ground, your back straight, and use this move as you visualize the big day.
02. Gentle Cardio
Having been through three deliveries, I do not make the comparison between birthing and running a marathon lightly. Pregnancy is an endurance challenge—and that’s in the nine months before your due date. As baby gets bigger, your organs will scoot over to make room. This can make it more challenging to take a deep breath. Taking routine walks at a brisk but comfortable pace helps you learn efficient breathing skills for when you’ll need them most. You might also try swimming, the elliptical, or a stationary bike for low-impact cardio. Bonus: Walking can help get labor started when you are just done with the whole being pregnant thing.
03. Planks of All Stripes
It may seem counterintuitive to work on toning up your midsection when you’re planning on it inflating anyway, but your core is more than your abs—it includes your shoulder blades, hips, and everything in between. A strong plank engages your quads, hamstrings, obliques, and glutes, all of which will be working overtime when you’re pregnant and in labor. If you’re new to planks, start with holding it for ten seconds, and add another five or ten each day. Mix it up with the myriad variations out there—side, elbow, reverse—to keep things interesting throughout your pregnancy.
04. Push-Ups and Tricep Dips
We don’t think much about our arms in pregnancy, but there is a stage wherein one begins to relate to a T. rex’s teeny, tiny arms. It can feel nearly impossible to get up from a horizontal position. Building up arm and shoulder muscles ahead of time means less tension in your neck and more mobility when you’re starting to feel like a giant ocean creature. Push-ups can be modified as you progress through your pregnancy and run out of space between you and the floor (elevate your upper body on a block or balance ball). Tricep dips can be done on the floor or a chair and may be possible farther into your pregnancy. As with all exercise, pace yourself and listen to your body.
05. Side-Lying Leg Lifts
Pregnancy is exhausting to say the least, and at the end of the day (or before), you might just want to lie down and take a break. While you’re there, you might as well turn to your side and give your inner and outer thighs a mini workout. Stretching and strengthening your hip muscles can help with a successful delivery and may alleviate pain or constipation in the meantime (you read that right). This move is also good for improving your posture.
As important as it is to be fit, it’s equally important not to overdo it. Aim for a healthy rather than fit pregnancy. If you’re trying to get pregnant, note that exercising too intensely can mess with your hormonal balance and make it difficult to conceive. Pregnancy isn’t a competition but an opportunity to give of your body for someone else’s life. Remember that you—and the new one who’ll be growing inside you—are living gifts, and that’s as good an excuse as any to maintain your healthiest self.
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