Pregnancy fitness: Staying in shape while you're expecting
STAYING IN SHAPE WHILE PREGNANT
Keeping fit when you're pregnant can seem daunting, and getting back into shape post-pregnancy even more so, especially after the excesses of Christmas and comfort eating in January! Never fear, personal trainer and fitness expert Laura Williams offers her tips on exercising in the comfort of your own home
Pregnancy is not the time to go for the burn, even if you're used to working out, but you can still stay in shape and what's more, you can focus on important muscle toning that will help you during and after your pregnancy.
This is the sort of exercise that helps to boost and maintain fitness levels and burns plenty of calories too. You should try and get some aerobic exercise in every day even if it's just a 20-minute walk. Swimming is a great, low-impact way to stay in shape as are aqua-natal classes. Brisk walking is good, too, and jogging is okay as long as you're not just starting out. Always be aware that you need to avoid overheating so you don't want to end up too out of breath.
After the first trimester you shouldn't perform any exercise that requires you to lie on your back but that doesn't mean you can't hone and tone! Try the following exercises to safely work all those problems areas:
- Bottom toner ( works abdominals and bottom)
Position yourself on all fours to start off with, then bend your elbows so that your head is nearly touching the floor and you're resting on your arms. Slowly extend one leg back behind you pointing your foot up towards the ceiling. Pull your leg back in towards your chest and repeat. Do 20 repetitions on each side.
- The no- crunch crunch ( works deep abdominals)
From your standing position, place your fingers on your hip bones and trace them inward. Then, breathing deeply, imagine that you're wearing a belt or a tight pair of trousers, and pull your tummy in accordingly. You're not holding your breath; you're simply pulling your tummy button towards your spine. Hold this tummy-pulling contraction for 10 seconds, relax and repeat. Do five to 10 of these.
- Seated cushion squeeze ( works inner thighs)
Sit upright in a chair with plenty of support for your lower back. Place a cushion between your knees. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, squeeze the cushion as hard as you can so that you feel the muscles in your inner thighs contracting. Hold for a count of 15 (remember to keep breathing!) Repeat a total of five times.
- Superman lift ( works deep abdominals and backs of legs)
From an all-fours position, slowly extend your left arm out in front of you at shoulder height and your right leg behind you just below hip height. Your back should be flat and you should be using your stomach muscles to prevent your hips from rocking on either side. Hold the position for 10 seconds. Then slowly change sides. Do one set of 10 repeatss on each side.
- Pregnancy- specific exercise
If you haven't already started, it's time to start working your pelvic floor muscles! These muscles act like a hammock supporting the uterus, your bladder and your rectum.
It's important to have good pelvic floor muscle tone so a) you're aware of what these muscles are doing as the baby travels down the birth canal, b) so that you don't have a problem with urinary incontinence after the birth, and c) so that you continue to have a fulfilling sex life during and after pregnancy (both you and your partner will benefit from you having a toned pelvic floor.)
To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, you're basically mimicking holding a wee mid-flow – it's that simple. Make sure you're sitting comfortably and squeeze the muscles briefly five to 10 times.
While you're doing this make sure you're not holding your breath or tightening up any other muscles accidentally. As the squeezes become easier and more familiar, you can try doing more and squeezing for a bit longer – but don't overdo it!
Dos and don'ts
- Avoid high-impact exercise such as step aerobics or where you could fall, such as skiing and horseriding. - You should easily be able to have a conversation while you're exercising – you have less oxygen available for exercise when you're pregnant. - Start gently and build up gradually and always stop if you feel unwell.
THREE MONTHS AFTER GIVING BIRTH
This is a good time to think about exercising – you should be clear of any post-pregnancy risks so your muscles and joints will be ready to work out! You want to start gently, though, and think about what you want to achieve.
This is the sort of exercise that will help you to regain your fitness levels and even better, it's the fat-burning exercise that will really help you to ditch that post-baby weight. Think about taking both you and baby to a class where you exercise with the pram. Or ask a friend to join you for a walk/jog session in the park. Even dancing to the radio for 10 minutes is good. Remember: it all counts.
Work long-forgotten pelvic floor muscles, tone that hard-to-shift tum and boost your metabolism with this easy 15-minute workout:
- Wall press ups ( works chest and backs of arms)
Stand three feet away from a tree or wall. With feet hip width apart, raise your hands to chest height (to form a ' T') and then bend your elbows out to the side and lean in against the tree/wall. Then straighten your arms and push back until your arms are nearly straight (taking care not to lock your elbows) and repeat. Do 15 times.
- Wall slide ( works thighs and bottom)
Lean against a solid wall with your feet approximately 12 inches in front of you positioned shoulder width apart. Keeping your back flat against the wall, slowly bend your knees and lower yourself down towards the floor until your knees reach a 90 degree bend. Hold for five seconds then slowly push yourself back up to your starting position without arching your back. Do 10 of these.
- Leg lower ( works stomach)
Lie on your back with one leg bent and one leg extended straight up above you at a right angle – your head and shoulders should be on the floor. Slowly lower your extended leg towards the floor with your stomach very tightly pulled in until you feel your back start to arch. At that point, lift your leg back up to your start-
ing position and repeat. You should be pulling your stomach in throughout so that your back remains flat on the floor. As you tire, reduce the range of movement so that your leg is only lowering a little way. Aim for five leg lowers on each leg.
- Skater squats ( works thighs and hips)
Stand tall and position your feet around a shoulder-and-a-half width apart. Bend your knees, stick your bottom and hips back and squat down to the floor. Then as you straighten up, extend one leg out to the side (aiming for hip height) before returning it to the floor so you end up back in your original squat position. Then repeat but this time switch sides. Do a total of 30 squats, rest for 30 seconds and repeat.
SIX MONTHS AFTER GIVING BIRTH
You shouldn't be too new to exercise now so it's time to crank up the pace to get you really fit and toned!
This part of your routine is essential for boosting fitness levels and burning fat. You can include longer, more structured exercise sessions such as an aerobics class or a swimming workout or you can try and squeeze as many 'aerobic opportunities' into your day as you can – take a brisk walk with the pram to the shops, run up and own the stairs as many times as you can while you're doing the housework or even try jogging on the spot.
The following workout can be done in the comfort of your own living room – you'll work all the major muscle groups and blitz those problem areas and the only equipment you'll need is a mat and a couple of tins of beans:
- Side scissors ( works bottom and hips)
Lie on your side in a straight line with both legs balancing in the air a few inches off the floor. Slowly start 'scissoring' your legs by extending the bottom leg forwards and the top leg backwards as far as you can without a) overbalancing, or b) without bending your knees. Try and do 20 scissors before changing direction.
- Tricep dips ( works backs of arms)
Sit on the edge of a chair or bench and position your hands close to your sides, palms facing forward. Your legs should be bent in front of you with your knees at 90 degree angles.
Lift your bottom off the chair so that your arms are supporting you and slowly lower your body towards the floor until your elbows reach a 90 degree angle – then push yourself back up to your starting position.
Relax your shoulders and try to keep your hips as still as possible (all the work should come from backs of arms). If you want to make this harder, extend your legs out in front of you. The farther away your legs are from the rest of your body, the tougher the exercise. Do two sets of 20.
- Bruce Lee lunges ( works tops of arms and bottom and thighs)
Start by standing upright with feet shoulder width apart and arms together outstretched in front of you just below shoulder height. Lunge down to your right taking your whole body with you so that everything, including arms, is pointing to the right. Lunge back up to your starting position so that everything's facing forward again and repeat to the left. Do two sets of 30 (15 on each side).
- Bean tin flies ( works chest)
Lie on the floor on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms straight up above you at breastbone level.
With a very slight bend in the elbow, slowly bring your arms out to either side in an arc – stop just before the weights reach the floor or until you feel a slight stretch in your chest.
Slowly, and in a controlled manner, return to your start position. Repeat. Make sure you don't increase the elbow bend as you reach the floor and start to bring the weights back up.
Laura Williams is a personal trainer and fitness expert, and a member of the Pampers Village Parenting Panel ( for more info see www.pampers.ie). Remember to consult your GP before beginning a new exercise regime
Mother & Babies