Pregnancy is not the time for vanity, which is certainly liberating, but it’s still very important to exercise. Even if you aren’t accustomed to working out, you can still begin a gentle prenatal fitness program to stretch and strengthen your body and help you enjoy a healthier pregnancy. Women who exercise diligently during this time frequently have an easier labor and delivery and recover faster than women who stop working out altogether.
Here’s a list of 10 exercises you can perform safely while pregnant, no matter what your level of fitness:
1. Bicep curls
Grab a pair of three-to-five pound dumbbells. Place one weight in each hand, palms facing out. Keep your knees soft and slowly curl the weights in toward your shoulders. Return to starting position and begin again. This is a slow controlled movement, so do not swing your arms or rock back and forth. Aim for two sets of 12-15.
2. Lateral shoulder raise
Begin in a seated position (either on a chair or stability ball) with a three-to-five pound weight in each hand. Hold weights on each side of your body with palms facing in. Feet are flat on the ground, and the spine should be in a neutral position with your abdominals engaged. Inhale slowly and as you exhale lift your arms to shoulder height, pausing at the top. Inhale as you bring the weights back to starting position. Repeat for 12 reps.
Sit comfortably on an exercise ball and start with some belly breathing. Inhale, letting your belly rise, and exhale to let it fall. Let the length of your inhale match the length of your exhale for five or so breaths and on your next exhale, tighten the muscles surrounding your vagina. Relax your shoulders, face, and neck, so that only your pelvic floor muscles are tight. Hold for the count of five then release. Perform at least 20 per day, but the more reps the better on this one.
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Cross your arms in front of your chest and slowly squat down, pressing your heels into the floor. Come down as far as is comfortable while keeping your shoulders back and abs engaged, then return to standing. After the second trimester, you may find that your range of motion is limited, and that’s OK — you can still benefit from this movement even if you don’t squat as far down. Try two sets of 15.
5. Standing crunch
This is a gentle abdominal exercise that can be performed during all stages of pregnancy. Stand tall with your hands behind your head, feet about hip width apart. Keep your knees slightly bend. Inhale, opening your elbows out to the sides and lifting your chest. As you exhale, gently curl in towards your belly button, tucking your tailbone in. Your back should be rounded here, but do not strain your neck. Imagine your belly button coming in toward your spine. Inhale again to return to starting position. Complete 12-15 reps.
6. Cat cow pose
Start on all fours with your hands placed directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. As you inhale, look up towards the ceiling and arch your back. As you exhale, tuck your chin and tailbone and pull your bellybutton in towards your spine. Continue moving between the poses, matching your breath with your movement. This exercise will gently work the muscles of your core and allow for greater flexibility of your back and spine. Repeat for two minutes.
7. Side-lying leg lifts
Begin by lying on your left side with your left elbow on the ground supporting your upper body. Lift your right leg as high up as you can while keeping your hips stacked on top of one another. Slowly lower it to two inches above your left leg. Continue this movement for 20 repetitions on each side or until your leg feels fatigued.
8. Shoulder press
This move can be performed from a seated or standing position, so if you are more than halfway through your pregnancy you may want to sit on an exercise ball or chair. If standing, keep your abdominals pulled in and your knees slightly bent. If seated, keep your spine in a neutral position and feet flat on the ground. Start with a pair of three-to-five pound dumbbells in each hand and bring them to the tops of your shoulders, with palms facing front. Press the weights up overhead, straightening out your arms, and then slowly bring them back to starting position. Try two sets of 15 reps.
9. Reverse fly
Stand tall with a three-to-five pound weight in each hand. Keep your back flat and hinge from your hip so that you are in a bent-over position. Keep your knees nice and soft and only bend as far as is comfortable. Straighten your arms out in front of your chest with your palms facing each other, about two inches apart. As you exhale pull the weights away from each other and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Inhale to return to starting position and repeat for 12-15 reps.
10. Walk, swim, or take a prenatal fitness class
You can’t go wrong with any of these options. All have a low risk of injury and are also excellent ways to keep you and your baby in optimum health. You may find you enjoy the solitude of a long walk, the comfortable buoyancy of the water, or the camaraderie of exercising among other pregnant ladies. Either way, you’ll be safe with any of these choices.