Exercise

Current guidelines encourage pregnant women to include at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, and low-impact exercise classes are great ways to stay active.

Guidelines for exercising safely:

  • Warm up with gentle stretching
  • Start off slowly
  • Don't exercise so hard that you can't have a conversation comfortably
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after every workout (8 ounces for each hour of light activity)
  • Avoid lying flat on your back for long periods after your first trimester
It's important to stretch before and after you exercise

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Abdominal Exercises: Try this simple pelvic tilt and two more advanced exercises to strengthen your abdomen and prevent back pain.

Abdominal Exercises
view text Try this simple pelvic tilt and two more advanced exercises to strengthen your abdomen and prevent back pain.

Pelvic tilts are subtle exercises that pack a lot of power. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Do a Kegel by contracting the muscle used to stop the flow of urine, which is a good habit to get into before doing any exercise. Tighten your stomach and buttock muscles. Tilt your pelvis upward by drawing your tailbone up. Flatten the small of your back against the floor as you inhale. Hold for 5 seconds, continuing to breathe. Relax and exhale. Repeat five times. Keep in mind that you want to limit the time spent on your back to three to five minutes during your second and third trimesters.

Another option for abdominal strengthening is compression into a modified sit-up. Do a Kegel exercise and hold it while drawing the navel into the spine, as if flattening the lower abdominals. This is an abdominal compression and can be held as you do almost any exercise. As you hold this position, lift up your head and shoulders to one side, then straight up, and then to the other side. This modified sit-up is a very slight movement guided by the chin, not a traditional “ab crunch.” Repeat these three positions five to ten times as comfortable, while maintaining the abdominal compression.

For this exercise, you will need an exercise ball. These can be found at most gyms and at national retail stores in the sports and fitness section. Start with the ball positioned at the low to middle back, with your body at an incline. Your feet should be resting on the floor and your head rests back in your hands. Exhale while drawing the abdominal muscles in and tucking the tailbone under as with a pelvic tilt. Now, draw your lower ribs toward the hips in a small sit-up, but keep your neck relaxed. This is a subtle movement. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Release and repeat five times.

If any of these abdominal exercises causes you discomfort, stop right away. Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal exercise plan and recommended activity level.

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Video

Back Stretches: These simple variations on the spinal twist help prevent and relieve backache.

Back Stretches
view text These simple variations on the spinal twist help prevent and relieve backache.

The first back stretch is a spinal twist done while sitting in a chair. Sit in a straight-back chair. Hook your left arm over the back of the chair. Reach your right arm across your belly and grasp the opposite side of the chair. Look over your left shoulder while rotating your middle and lower back. Hold for ten to fifteen seconds, being sure to breathe through the stretch. Come back to the center position and then repeat on the opposite side.

For a bonus upper body stretch, scoot forward in the chair. Allow your trunk to pass between your legs, with your arms reaching to the floor. Hang down loosely in this position for 10 to 15 seconds. Then, bring your torso slowly back up to center to a seated position.

This next spinal twist uses the floor instead of a chair. Due to a larger belly, it may be difficult to do this stretch late in the third trimester; only do what is comfortable for you. Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Cross your right leg over your extended left leg. Look over your right shoulder while gently pushing against your crossed knee for an increased stretch. Hold for 10-15 seconds, feeling the stretch up and down your back. Don’t forget to breathe through your stretches. Repeat on the opposite side.

The final spinal twist exercise is also done on the floor. Start on the floor in a comfortable side-lying position with your legs bent and arms outstretched on the floor in front of you. Bring your top arm across your body to the opposite side, following it with your eyes. Keep your upper back and shoulders flat on the floor. Hold this stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, allowing the muscles of the lower back to lengthen as you continue to look at the stretched arm. Breathe deeply. After your stretch, return your arm to the starting position. Bring your knees to center and drop them on the other side. Then, bring both arms over, outstretching them on the floor in front of you. Repeat the stretch on this opposite side.

If any of these back stretches causes you discomfort, stop right away. Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal exercise plan and recommended activity level.

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Video

Hip Stretches: Try these yoga-based stretches to relieve third-trimester aches and pains in your hips.

Hip Stretches
view text Try these yoga-based stretches to relieve third-trimester aches and pains in your hips.

The butterfly pose is a simple stretch that not only stretches the hips but also opens the pelvic area and strengthens the legs and lower spine. Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet touching in front of you. Allow your knees to fall to the sides. Hold your feet and lean slightly forward until you feel a hip stretch. Keep your lower back straight, not rounded over. Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds. Push down on the insides of your thighs with your elbows for an optional increased stretch.

Going between a cat and cow pose offers a good stretch and helps you pay attention to balance. To start, get into a hands and knees position on the floor. Arch your back like a cat, rounding your back up and tucking your tailbone under. Pull your navel up toward the spine. Hold for 10-15 seconds, remembering to breathe. Relax. Now change into the cow position. Draw your tailbone up, pull your shoulders back, and lift your eyes. Let your lower back sink down toward the floor. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Relax. For increased difficulty from the cow pose, extend one leg straight back behind you and hold for 10 seconds. This builds stability and strength. Bring that knee back to the floor and lift the other leg straight back. Repeat 3-10 times on each leg, or alternate legs.

The child’s pose offers a good stretch that opens up the pelvic area and is also a good resting position.

From a hands and knees position, rest your hips back on your heels. Bring your head to rest on top of your hands, keeping your elbows bent. Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds, allowing your hips to relax and your back muscles to lengthen. Breathe and rest in this comforting position.

If any of these poses causes you discomfort, stop right away. Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal exercise plan and recommended activity level.

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Video

Squats: These squatting exercises strengthen your legs and open your pelvis.

Squats
view text These squatting exercises strengthen your legs and open your pelvis.

The first squat exercise uses the wall for support. Stand with your back against the wall and your feet flat on the floor, about 18 inches from the wall. Slowly slide your upper body down the wall until you are in a sitting position or slightly higher. Pull in your abdominal muscles, hugging your baby with your abs. Hold your squat for about 3 seconds. Try to press your back into the wall while exhaling, which will probably feel good on your lower back. Then, slide slowly back up to standing. Repeat this 3-10 times depending on your comfort level.

As a bonus upper body stretch, bring your hands down to the floor, and allow your torso to hang down. Make sure your feet are wide enough apart to allow your belly to pass through. Lift your tailbone and straighten your legs until you feel a good stretch through your whole body. Return to standing by placing your hands on your thighs, bending the knees, and unfolding at the hips with a straight spine.

This exercise is similar to the last, but uses an exercise ball. These balls can be found at most gyms and in national discount stores in the sports and fitness department. You can bring the ball with you to the hospital and use it to sit or lean on during labor.

Begin with the exercise ball placed between your lower back and the wall. Put your feet hip-width apart, comfortably away from the wall. Slowly lower into a squat position while rolling the ball down the wall. The ball against your back offers a good massage. Hold this squat for about three seconds, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Return to the standing position by straightening the legs and rolling the ball back up the wall. Repeat this squat 3-10 times depending on your comfort level.

This free-standing squat uses a long broom, mop, dowel, or exercise bar for support. This demonstration uses the handle of a dust mop.

Stand with the handle perpendicular to the floor, and hold on with one hand over the other. Using the object for balance and support, squat down slowly to a sitting position, going as low as is comfortable for your knees. Hold for 2-3 seconds. Take care to keep a straight alignment without arching your back or tipping your pelvis forward. Slowly stand back up. Repeat 3-10 times depending on your comfort level.

If any of these squats causes you discomfort, stop right away. Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal exercise plan and recommended activity level.

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