There are many benefits for both mom and baby when you exercise during pregnancy, as long as you have been cleared by your doctor. Exercising can give you a boost of energy and prepare your body for birth. Babies who are born to women who exercise have better APGAR scores and come out leaner but with the same average birth weight. It will help you to feel better overall and you will be doing something beneficial for your health and the health of your baby. Regular exercise can help with a better recovery and help you bounce back faster after delivery. Here are five exercises that will help strengthen and prepare your body.
1) Squats/Sumo Squats
Squats are important because the legs need to be strong. The legs support the upper body and increasing weight in the abdomen. The leg muscles and core muscles will be the most utilized muscles in assisting to push the baby out. For a regular squat, position your feet hip-width apart (a little wider if you are further along to allow room for the abdomen) try to squat down as far as you can with the goal being parallel to the floor while making sure your knees stay behind your toes. Sumo squats help open up the hips and pelvis and help to develop strength in a position that will be similar to that during birth. For the sumo squat, keep your back straight the whole time as if you are sliding your back straight down a wall. Legs will be positioned wider than hip width with toes facing out. Aim to keep your knees in line with your second toe. Complete 2 sets of 20 reps of each squat. You may add light to medium weights if you want to increase the intensity.
Planks are a full-body exercise that will work on stability for the core, legs, and arms. This is an excellent isometric exercise to strengthen the entire body at once. Perform the plank by getting down on the elbows and lifting your lower body off the ground onto your toes. Envision a straight line from your head to your toes and focus on pulling your belly button up and toward the spine. It may feel strange to focus on as the belly continues to grow, but it will provide support to the growing baby. You may also do the plank on your knees as a modification. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat one more time.
As the baby grows, and the center of gravity in the body shifts anteriorly, the body gets pulled forward in the neck and in the shoulders. Rows will help to target the opposite (posterior or back) muscles groups to help maintain posture and prevent the body from becoming rounded and hunched in the upper back. Rows work the back muscles, lats, rhomboids, and with the version shown here the legs as well. To perform the row step one leg back, keeping your back straight lean slightly forward and bring both arms (bend at the elbows) straight back while squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do so. Switch legs and repeat. Do 2 sets of 20 reps switching legs after each rep.
The arms may not be used much during delivery, but they are still important for strengthening the whole body, getting blood flow moving and circulating, and you will want the muscles strong in the upper body for holding the baby and nursing once the baby is born. This will help keep you from getting so tired holding the baby for long periods of time. Stand with feet hip width apart, slight bend in the knees, curl the elbows up slowly and then straighten down slowly. Repeat for 2 sets of 20 reps.
Again, here we are working the legs because in the legs are big muscles that are used during delivery and pushing. It will make the birth process easier. To perform, step one leg back making sure the front knee stays behind your toes and your back remains straight. Squat down going as low as you can, aiming for 90-degree angles of both legs. Repeat 2 sets of 20 reps on each leg.
Bonus: Side plank with leg raise
This is another full-body exercise that is going to work the arms, shoulders, core, and glutes. I cannot emphasize enough how important the legs and core will be during labor. For this exercise lay on your side, arm directly underneath your shoulder (this is very important), raise the hips off the floor into a straight line from head to toe, raise your top leg up to do a little lift and strengthen the glutes. Perform 20 reps and switch sides. Repeat for one more set.
Listen to your body and do these exercises up to 5 days a week to prepare for your little one and keep yourself healthy. It is okay to work out during pregnancy, as long as your doctor has cleared you. The exercise will help mentally and physically prepare you for the big day.