photo credit: Erica Hampton Photography
I've been very open about the fact that I gained seventy-two pounds during my first pregnancy. One reason I gained so much was because of a pregnancy-induced thyroid issue. Another reason? I started retaining a lot of water early on. I was eating healthy but could have been eating better. Let's be honest--just because you are pregnant doesn't mean it gives you a creative license to eat whatever you want!
During my second pregnancy, I was definitely more proactive about my health. Even though it's the last possible thing you'll want to do, exercise really does help. When you keep your body strong, it can not only make the delivery smoother but also helps with quick recovery back to pre-baby body. It also can help with the anxiety and morning sickness that come with pregnancy, too.
We all hear about what we can't and shouldn't do during pregnancy but what about what we can and should do? When I found out I was expecting my third, I reached out to Jenn Seracuse who is a trainer at one of my favorite fitness classes in NYC, Flex Studios. Jen is the Director of Pilates at the studio but is also certified in Prenatal and Postnatal exercise.
I asked Jenn to put together some moves we can all do safely during our entire pregnancy. All you need is yoga mat! Here's 7 exercises to try at home now:
MOVE #1: Transverse Contractions (Hug The Baby)
- Start standing or sitting in a comfortable position so that the spine is neutral and the ribs and shoulders can be directly over the hips with the hands on the belly framing the naval.
- Inhale deeply into the belly so that it expands and pushes the hands apart, keeping the shoulders relaxed.
- Exhale contract the deepest layer of the abdominals (The Transverse Abdominis) to bring the belly button to the spine and the hands back together (as if you are hugging your baby in tight.)
- Hold one count
- Repeat 25-50 times. You can break it up into 25 at the beginning of the workout and 25 at the end.
- With every rep, think of contracting the abdominals not just front to back, but top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side.
MOVE #2: Knee Lift
- Start in an all fours position with the wrists under the shoulders and the knees under the hips, legs squeezing together.
- Exhale, engage the transverse bringing the belly up to the spine and float the knees 1-2 inches off the floor. HOLD 4 counts keeping the belly pulled in tight.
- Inhale to lower the knees.
- Repeat 8-10 times.
MOVE #3: Watchdog Balance
- Start in an all fours position with the wrists under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. On the reformer this means opening the carriage a few inches and holding it open throughout, giving the abdominals more of a challenge.
- Exhale, engage the transverse bringing the belly up to the spine and lengthen one leg back straight off the floor and the opposite arm straight forward off the floor maintaining neutral alignment in the rest of the body.
- Inhale to hold & balance
- Exhale, open the arm and leg to the side in opposite directions, again maintaining neutral alignment without moving the spine, ribs, shoulders or pelvis. Only open as far as possible without shifting (6-12in).
- Inhale return arm and leg to center.
- Repeat on same side 8-10 times and then switch
MOVE #4: Squats
- Start standing with feet parallel & hip distance apart (or slightly wider for larger bellies, but keep toes point forward).
- Inhale as you bend the knees and hinge the hips back and down reaching the arms forward, squatting as deep as possible with the weight in the heels and abdominals engaged. Make sure to keep the knees directly over the ankles and the pelvis neutral (not tucked under). This position is a stretch and a release for the pelvic floor and glutes, so make sure they are lengthened.
- Exhale to stand back up to start position, contracting the pelvic floor muscles and making sure the glutes engage at the top to fully extend the hip.
- Repeat for 30 seconds to 1 minute holding the last one down for 10 counts to really feel the release and opening of the pelvic outlet and fire up the quads.
- Repeat sequence 3 times
MOVE #5: Lunge To Arabesque
- Start standing with feet parallel & hip distance apart.
- Inhale Step one foot back into a lunge hinging the spine slightly forward and keeping the front knee over the ankle. Arms reach up with the biceps next to the ears.
- Exhale to straighten the front leg bringing the back foot off the ground with the leg long behind the hip, keeping the spine hinged forward. Make sure standing leg is fully lengthened and glutes are engaged. Arms open out to side.
- Place lifted foot back into lunge position reaching arms back up.
- Repeat on same side 30-45 seconds then switch. Do 3 sets with a 10-15 sec rest between. Remember that balance and form are more important than speed. Use a chair for balance if needed.
MOVE #6: Side Lying Clamshell
- Start lying on one side with head resting on arm and knees bent up in front of hips in a 90 degree angle. Top hand is on the hip or on the floor in front of the torso.
- The hips should be stacked one on top of the other and there should be length on both sides of the waist, keeping the spine and pelvis neutral.
- Exhale as you open the top knee keeping the feet together and without allowing the top hip to drop back.
- Inhale to lower the knee back to start
- Repeat on same side for approximately 1 min, holding the last one for 10 counts, then switch sides.
- For more challenge, lift the feet off the floor, but only if pelvic alignment can be maintained.
MOVE #7: Modified Pushups
- Start in a modified plank position with the wrists under the shoulders and knees on the floor and hips pressed forward making one line from armpit to knee. The glutes and hamstrings should be connected to one another. Head stays in line with the spine throughout.
- Inhale to bend the elbows out to the side and lower the torso down in one piece, making sure that the abdominals are engaged to protect the lower back.
- Exhale to straighten the arms pressing back up to the start position, again contracting the abdominals to keep the spine in one long line.
- Repeat 30-45 seconds. Do 2 sets with a 10-15 sec rest between. Remember that form is more important than speed.
Want more info? Here's some of the most common questions about prenatal exercise answered by Jenn:
1) Is it safe for me to start exercising during pregnancy if I didn't beforehand?
There are many opinions on this subject but here is mine. If you didn’t exercise AT ALL before pregnancy, it's best not to jump into a rigorous regimen. However, you only stand to benefit from incorporating light prenatal appropriate workouts. Not only will you find labor and delivery go smoother, but it will be easier to reconnect to your muscles postpartum. You also will just feel better throughout your pregnancy and hopefully avoid some of the annoying aches and pains that can so often come along with it. Of course, every pregnancy is unique so it’s important to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise.
2) Is there such thing as "too much" exercise during pregnancy? What's the happy medium?
Yes, I definitely think expecting moms can overdo it which is why it’s important to work with a trainer or take a class from an instructor who is prenatal certified. It’s important to remember that your body is not at the same as it was pre-pregnancy and to honor that. Your strength and stamina will not be the same. Pushing too hard will not help anyone. That said, light cardio and prenatal safe strength training work will only help you and the baby! One area I often see over training is women being so afraid of losing their abdominals that they continue to do the wrong kind of abdominal work that in fact will have the opposite effect. If the abdominals are over-worked in the wrong way (ie… flexion against gravity like a crunch or twisting against gravity like bicycles) they will split and cause an exaggerated Diastasis Recti, which is very hard to close once it happens. The abdominals should definitely be paid attention to during pregnancy, but in a stabilizing manner focusing on the deepest layer rather than the superficial muscles.
For more details on Jenn Seracuse and Flex Studios, visit their website here.
Actress, model, active humanitarian, & Mom! Author of 'Everyday Chic'.