How Can I Prepare My Body for Pregnancy?by Lisa Stone, ACE Certified Fitness Specialist
Q I am interested in exercises that I can use to prepare my body for pregnancy. Can you help?
A I always get so excited when I hear from women who are trying to get in shape *before* pregnancy instead of waiting until they are in the midst of it!
When designing any exercise program, I always include three components: cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training. Each of these pieces works with the others to increase lean body mass, reduce fat, strengthen your body, and decrease your risk of injury. Let's go through each one with some examples.
First, cardiovascular or aerobic exercise is rhythmic activity that increases your heart rate and is meant to be continued for 20-30 minutes at least 3 times a week. You should work within 60-80% of your target heart rate zone, depending on your fitness level (someone who is more fit can workout at a higher intensity than someone just starting out). To determine your target heart rate, take 220 minus your age. Multiply that number by 60% and 80% to figure out your zone. When you first start doing aerobic exercise, try wearing a heart rate monitor or taking your pulse every 30 minutes during exercise to make sure you're staying within your zone. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, jogging, step aerobics, StairMaster, swimming, bike riding, low impact aerobics, and dancing.
Second, strength training is meant to increase your lean body mass and strengthen your muscles. You should begin by using light hand weights or machines at your local gym (get one of the floor trainers to teach you proper form). As you get stronger, add more weight to continue challenging your muscles. You should start by doing 2-3 sets of 8 repetitions of each exercise, gradually building up to 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. Be sure to exhale as you lift the weight or tighten the muscles, and inhale as you lower the weight or relax the muscle. *NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH WHILE LIFTING WEIGHTS!!!* Some examples of strength training exercises are free weight lifting, Nautilus machines, abdominal crunches, BodyPump classes, and body sculpting classes. You'll want to do exercises for all the major muscle groups including the upper arms, backs of the upper arms, shoulders, chest, upper back, lower back, abdominals, buttocks, thighs (front and back), and calves.
Third, flexibility training, or stretching, is meant to lengthen and increase the elasticity of your muscles, lowering your risk of pulling or tearing a muscle during your workouts and during everyday life. It is very important to breathe throughout each stretch - holding your breath can cause your blood pressure to skyrocket (especially dangerous once you're pregnant!). Also, avoid any bouncing movements during this portion of your workout. Take each stretch to the point of feeling it, then hold that position for 15-20 seconds. You'll want to stretch all of the muscles you use during your workout. For example, if you do the StairMaster, you'll need to stretch your buttocks, thighs, and calves really well afterward. If you do an upper body strength training workout, you'll need to stretch those muscles. Some yoga classes are especially wonderful for maintaining flexibility during pregnancy. There are a couple of pregnancy yoga workout videos on the market that you might want to check out.
A sample week of workouts might look like this:
Monday - 20 minute walk at a brisk pace, 5 minutes of abdominal exercises, 10 minutes of stretching
Tuesday - 30 minutes of weight training the upper body, 5 minutes of abdominals, 10 minutes of stretching
Wednesday - 20 minute swim, 30 minutes of weight training the lower body, 10 minutes of stretching
Thursday - 20 minutes of weight training the upper body, 5 minutes of abdominals, 10 minutes of stretching
Friday - 60 minute yoga class
Saturday - work in the yard
Sunday - RELAX!
Some overall workout advice: Really tune into your body's signals as to when you've had enough. You'll already be several weeks into your pregnancy before you even know you're pregnant, so you want to make sure you don't overdo your workouts and put your baby at risk. Your body will let you know when you're working too hard - you'll start to feel lightheaded, dizzy, faint, or nauseous; your heart will feel like it's pounding in your chest; you'll feel completely out of breath. If those symptoms appear, then slow down your intensity and take some small sips of water until you feel better. If the symptoms persist, call your caregiver right away. Drinking lots of water throughout your workouts will help you maintain a safe internal temperature so that your baby is protected. Also, remember to breathe throughout your workouts!
Good luck with the baby making!
Click here to Ask Lisa your pregnancy questions
Lisa Stone, ACE - "I am a certified fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) with a specialty certification in pre- and post-natal fitness. I founded Fit For 2, Inc. in 1993 after moving to Atlanta from Los Angeles. We started out with one client and have now grown to over 600 clients.
I started Fit For 2 because there was no high-energy workout program in the Atlanta area for pregnant women and new moms. I had been teaching pre- and post-natal fitness classes in Los Angeles and was ready to go into business for myself. I believe our success is due to the personal attention we give each and every woman that comes through our doors - their satisfaction makes them want to tell others about Fit For 2.
I produced the Fit For 2 Step Aerobic Workout For Pregnancy video in 1994, just after the latest ACOG guidelines for exercise in pregnancy were released. Like our classes, the video is a high-energy workout that is safe to do throughout pregnancy. That's me on the cover, one week before my third child was born! Our video has sold in almost every state in the US and in twenty countries around the world. It is now available on Amazon.com and is selling like hotcakes!
I look forward to hearing from you and helping you stay fit during this most-important time. Congratulations on your journey into motherhood!" - Lisa Stone, ACE
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