Doing exercises during pregnancy will help strengthen the abdominals, glutes, arms and back and bring about a smoother delivery.
When you’re expecting, it’s not just the hormones that are raging. Due to your growing tummy and breasts, your posture takes a hit, too.
It’s common to see women rounding their shoulders and shifting their weight forward as their pregnancy progresses, observes Audrey D’Cotta, founder and principal director of The Moving Body Group, which offers pilates classes and physiotherapy services for pre- and postnatal women.
And there’s more than a hunched posture to deal with. “With the pelvis being pulled forward, there’s a tendency for the back to arch, which may lead to back pain,” she says.
To nix these potential problems, Audrey recommends this low-impact but powerful workout that targets the crucial muscle groups: abdominals, glutes, arms and back.
“The abdominals play an important part in working against the weight of the baby, the glutes help to support the increased weight while reducing pressure on the back, the arms need to be strengthened to prepare for carrying the newborn.
“The middle and upper back should be strong enough to counterbalance the hunching of shoulders from the increased weight in front of the body, and the lower back has to be stable enough to maintain good trunk and pelvis alignment as the baby grows.”
Suitable for all trimesters, the exercises are designed to slowly work up a burn, no matter how fit you are. You’ll start off with gentle stretching movements that warm up your core and spine (Side Stretch, Seated Twist, and Arch and Curl), followed by arm and upper back strengtheners (Don’t Shoot and Archer), and then lower body moves (Chair Squat, Half Lunge and Leg Circle) to switch on the big muscles.
By the time you finish the sequence, we guarantee you’ll be perspiring and sore – in a good way. Do this workout regularly, and you’ll soon feel lighter, walk taller and breathe easier. Your labour might be smoother too, thanks to the stretching of hips, pelvis, inner thighs and pelvic floor.
How to do these exercises during pregnancy
Do each move in order, as indicated. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds between exercises if needed. Do this routine on alternate days, building up to every day if possible.
You will need
A chair or stool, and a light resistance band
1. Side stretch
Lengthens sides of the torso
Sit tall with hands interlaced, palms facing ceiling and arms stretched above head. Keep elbows slightly bent [A].
Inhale as you bend the body to right side, while keeping both sides of the body as long as possible [B]. Hold for three breaths. Exhale to return to starting position.
Reps: 8 per side
2. Seated twist
Loosens back, as well as strengthens and stretches abdominals
Sit tall. Inhale as you turn your spine to the left. Hold the back of the chair with left hand as right hand reaches the outside of left thigh [shown]. Exhale to return to the centre.
Reps: 8 per side
3. Arch and curl
Stretches and strengthens back, as well as mobilises pelvis
Sit tall with hands on lower thighs [A].
Inhale as you shift gaze 45 degrees upwards. Let hands slide up thighs as you lengthen spine and arch back, as though you are lying on a big ball behind you [B].
Exhale as you shift gaze 45 degrees downwards. Let hands slide to lower thighs and curl back, as though you’re hugging a big ball in front of you [C].
4. Don’t shoot
Strengthens arms and rotator cuff muscles
Sit tall with resistance band under feet, hip-width apart. Cross ends of band and hold each side. Bend elbows at 90 degrees, and raise arms parallel to ground at chest height [A].
Exhale as you raise forearms without letting elbows drop [B]. Inhale to return to starting position.
Strengthens and stretches abdominals, as well as tones the mid-back and arms
Sit tall, holding resistance band in both hands extended in front of chest [A].
Exhale as you rotate spine to the left and pull the band in left hand behind you, as though you are pulling a bow back [B]. Ensure right arm stays in the same position throughout. Inhale to return to the centre.
Reps: 8 per side
6. Chair squat
Strengthens legs and pelvic floor
Stand in front of chair with feet shoulder-width apart or wider [A].
Exhale as you lower pelvis towards chair without sitting down. Keep body slightly tilted forward with arms extended in front of you [B]. Let pelvic floor muscles widen. Inhale to stand up.
Chair squat (modified)
To work the inner thighs, widen your stance as you do the squat [A] [B].
7. Half lunge
Strengthens and stretches legs and spine
Rest left butt cheek on chair. Bend both knees at 90 degrees in a lunge position. Inhale as you lift butt two inches off chair to start [A].
Exhale as you arch spine back, shifting gaze 45 degrees upwards and straightening right leg [B]. Inhale to bend right knee and return to starting position.
Reps: 8 per side
Half lunge (modified)
To reduce the intensity, rest butt cheek on chair throughout [A] [B].
8. Leg circle
Strengthens glutes and spine
Stand about one metre behind chair. Hinge forward at hips with lengthened spine, and rest hands on back of chair. Bring right leg to the side of your body with foot flexed [shown].
Keeping legs straight, draw small circles with right leg in a slow and controlled manner, without moving your trunk. Inhale for the first half of the circle, and exhale for the next half.
Reps: 16 per side (8 per direction)
A version of this article first appeared in Shape.