Everything about pregnancy seems complicated: trying to be it, finally becoming it and then what happens to you, your body and the tiny human you produced after you’ve completed the process. Why not make one slice of the messy-ass pizza pie that is The Circle of Life a little bit simpler? Refine Method’s Brynn Putnam put together a short list of easy exercises for each phase. I’m not sure where you are on the schedule and it is highly possible that you’re kind of nowhere — just living your life, drinking tequila shots, completely unaware that one day you might be bathing in a puddle of vinegar because someone once told you it got them pregnant — but that’s okay! Exercise is good for everyone. You sit down a ton and your hip flexers could use a stretch.
Trying to Conceive
Myth: Weight Training is Bad For You
If you’re comfortable lifting weights and under the guidance of a good coach, maintaining strength and stability is a vital part of preparing for labor. And, once your baby arrives, you’ll be lifting 6-9 lbs daily! In fact, over-stretching is actually one of the biggest exercise risks for pregnant women. During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes the ligaments in your pelvis and widens your cervix to prepare for labor. With this increase in hormones, your whole body becomes “looser,” putting you at risk for over-stretching. So, while yoga may seem like a low-impact pregnancy workout, be sure that you aren’t over-eager in your toe-touches and instead work within your pre-pregnancy flexibility.
Your focus during this period is on improving your body so that you are ready for the physical demands of pregnancy, during which you’ll essentially be wearing a weighted vest for 9 months. Pregnancy and labor are demanding athletic events; train for them with:
+ Spider-Man Planks
Start in a plank position on your hands. Make sure your shoulders are directly over your wrists and your hips are in line with your shoulders. Step your right foot forward toward the outside of your right hand. Twist your shoulders to reach your right arm up to the ceiling. Place both hands down, step back to plank and switch sides. Continue to alternate sides for 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Lower Body Mobility and Upper Body Strength
Without adequate hip mobility, your body can’t get into the position necessary to turn on your glutes. The Spiderman Plank helps to increase lower body flexibility (which is an integral part of trying to conceive) while strengthening your arms and abs. Increasing your upper body endurance is also important for carrying around the new addition.
+ Squat with Ball Toss
You need a medicine ball for this exercise. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Hold the medicine ball against your chest. Your toes should point either straight forward or slightly out. Send your hips back, bend your knees and lower down. As you stand, toss the ball toward the ceiling. As you catch the ball, lower back down to your squat. Repeat for 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Lower Body Power and Stamina
Remember: you are about to carry around a weighed vest for 9 months. It’s time to get strong and increase your total body strength! The Squat with a Ball Toss simultaneously strengthens your upper and lower body. The dynamic nature of this exercise also helps to improve your cardiovascular stamina.
While You’re Pregnant
Myth: Cardio is Bad for You
If your heart rate gets too high, blood flow to your uterus, which can impair it. As a result, until 2010, 140 BPM was the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ recommendations. But the ACOG removed the guideline because max heart rate varies so much from person to person and across different fitness and age levels. We now use the “Talk Test” to determine if you’re pushing too hard. You should be able to hold a conversation and if not, dial it back.
For many women, accepting the rapid physical changes that come with pregnancy are uncomfortable physically and emotionally. Your workout is time for you to reclaim control over your body and enjoy the psychological benefits of exercise. That being said, focus here is on maintaining strength and sanity with:
+ Weighted Squats
You need a kettlebell or dumbbell for this exercise. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Hold the weight against your chest. Your toes should point either straight forward or slightly out. Send your hips back, bend your knees and lower down. Your weight should be heavy enough that you complete no more than 8-10 reps in 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Lower Body Strength
The Squat is one of the most important lower body exercises as it recruits most of the major muscles in your body — crucial for maintaining an essential, functional movement throughout daily pregnant life so that you stay ache and pain free.
+ Band Pulls
You need a light resistance band for this exercise. Stand with your feet hips width apart and slightly bend your knees. Hold each end of the resistance band, palms facing each other. Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height. Move your hands away from each other as if you are trying to pull the band apart. Return to the starting position. Next, pull the band apart on a diagonal with your right hand high and left hand low. Switch — left hand high and right hand low. Continue to alternate between horizontal and diagonal pulls for 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Postural Stabilization and Shoulder Mobility
The Band Pull is great for strengthening the muscles in your upper back. A strong upper back means killer posture — even when you have an extra few pounds pulling you into a hunched-over position. The diagonal motion in this exercise is also great for shoulder mobility. You will most likely be spending the day cradling your little one after you give birth and this exercise gets your shoulders ready for that strenuous time.
+ Static Lunges
Come to a kneeling position with your right foot forward. Tuck your back toes. Keep your feet still, come to standing. Continue for 60 seconds. Switch sides.
Why We Love It: Lower Body Balance
Balance! Standing in an uneven stance is a great balance challenge. Improving overall balance will help you to safely juggle your new baby, a stroller and a handful of bags without issue.
+ Side Planks Plus Leg Lift
Start lying on your side, elbow directly in line with your shoulder. Bend your knees at a 90 degree angle so that your heels are in line with your butt. Push down into your elbow and lift your hips. Add a leg lift. Lift your top knee 6 inches off of the other knee. Bring your knees together, lower your hips to rest. Continue for 60 seconds. Switch sides.
Why We Love It: Core Strength
As your baby bump grows, it’s going to be harder and harder to perform a plank position. The Side Plank is a great alternative that challenges your core and shoulder stabilizers without the weight of your belly potentially taxing your back.
+ Band Walks
For this exercise you need a mini resistance band. Slip the band over both feet and place it below your knees. Stand with your feet hips-width apart so there is tension on the band. Slightly bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips. Take 10 step to the right, maintaining tension on the band. Take 10 steps to the left. Continue alternating for 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Lower Body Stability
Strengthen your lower body! You are carrying around a lot more weight than your body is used to. This exercise helps to strengthen your lower body, specifically your glutes.
+ Quadruped Reach
Come to your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are over wrists and hips are over knees. Brace your core, reach your right arm forward so it is in line with your ear. Switch sides. Continue alternating for 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Deep Abdominal Strength
The Quadruped Reach helps to stabilize your deep abdominal muscles. If you do this exercise from the beginning of your pregnancy, you naturally get more challenged as your belly gets bigger.
After You’ve Given Birth
Myth: Peeing Unexpectedly is Normal.
Many women direct their energy postpartum towards exercises that actually impede recovery and lead to long-term stubborn belly fat and, more uncomfortably, unexpected peeing. You can’t reduce stomach fat with targeted exercises, such as crunches and sit-ups; post-pregnancy exercises where you curl your shoulders to your hips or hips toward your shoulders actually can lead to increased diastasis and loss of bladder control. Post-pregnancy training should be smart and steady — build back pelvic stability and control during the 6-8 weeks postpartum before ramping up workout intensity or you will forever be trying to layer fitness onto dysfunction.
Following nine months of sharing your body with someone else, many women direct their “getting back into shape” energy at exercises that are, in fact, counter-productive. Your focus here is on pelvic floor strengthening to address diastasis recti (a condition where your abs separate during pregnancy) and overall pelvic floor instability.
+ Heel Slides with Kegels
Start lying on your back with your heels directly under your knees. Exhale and slide your right heel along the ground as you straighten your leg. As you slide your heel in, contract the muscles of your pelvic floor (it’s the same feeling as trying to stop the flow of urine midstream). Relax, then switch sides. Continue alternating for 60 seconds.
Why We Love It: Pelvic Floor Stability and Core Strength
Heel Slides with Kegels strengthen your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles, both of which have been put under a fair amount of stress during your pregnancy, Rebuilding your pelvic floor and deep abdominals is your first priority post pregnancy before adding any additional challenge to your workouts.
+ Single Leg Hip Lift with Kegels
Start lying on your back. Place your right foot on the ground, heel directly under your knee. Extend your left leg up toward the ceiling with a slight bend in the knee. Squeeze your butt, lift your hips and hold. Lower your left leg so that your knees are in line with each other. Lift your left leg back up to the ceiling, then lower your hips to the ground. Repeat for 60 seconds, then switch sides.
Why We Love It: Core Stability and Glute Strength
The Single Leg Hip Lift and Lower strengthens your glutes and challenges your core. The Hip Lift is a low impact way to get back to strengthening your lower body. As you lower your leg, fight to keep your hips from wobbling to really challenge your core stability.
All exercises were created by Refine Method in conjunction with Dr. Abby Bales PT, DPT, CSCS; photographs and GIFs by Krista Anna Lewis.