Sustained & Conditioning Exercises During Pregnancy

SUSTAINED EXERCISES

If you have not been exercising, then begin with an activity such as walking. Walking is an excellent exercise for pregnant women. A brisk walk of 15 to 20 minutes each day helps develop cardiovascular strength and uses almost every muscle in the body. Even women with little extra time can usually find some time to walk.

Bicycling (ideally on a stationary bicycle for safety reasons) is another excellent sustained exercise. In addition to improving cardiovascular strength, it develops the abdominal muscles that support the baby. Swimming is unique because the buoyancy of the water helps support the baby, thus allowing you to use your leg, arm, and back muscles more freely. Swimming for 15 to 20 minutes several times a week builds muscle tone and strength.

CONDITIONING EXERCISES

Conditioning exercises are designed to improve the muscle tone of specific areas—in this case, those areas involved in childbirth—and to relieve tension and minor discomforts. Do all of the following exercises slowly and smoothly; jerky movements can overstretch tendons and ligaments, and possibly dislocate joints. In the beginning, do each exercise only two or three times per session. Increase the number of repetitions (reps) gradually until you reach the recommended amount. For maximum benefit, exercise twice a day. Make sure you continue to breathe normally as you exercise. Do not hold your breath. For ease of practice, do the exercises in the order they are given.

Rib Cage Stretch

Benefits: Relieves tension in the shoulders. Strengthens the upper back. Helps relieve indigestion.

Directions: Inhale slowly while raising both your arms over your head to the count of 5. Then exhale, slowly lowering both your arms, first straight out in front of you, then down by your sides, and then behind your back, to the count of 5.

Caution: Do not arch your back while doing this exercise.

Note: Raising your arms above your head will not harm the baby, as an old wives’ tale suggests.

Frequency: 5 reps per exercise session. In addition, do this exercise whenever you feel tension in your upper body or have indigestion.

Arm Circles

Benefits: Strengthen the upper back and upper arm muscles. Relieve tension.

Directions: Stretch your arms out to your sides with your palms up. Make small circles to the count of 10, gradually increasing the size of circles. Then reverse the direction of the circles, starting with large circles and gradually decreasing their size to another count of 10.

Frequency: 2 reps per exercise session.

Shoulder Rotation

Benefits: Helps relieve upper backache caused by poor posture or heavy breasts.

Directions: Place your fingertips on your shoulders and make backward circles with your elbows. Then reverse the direction and make forward circles.

Frequency: 10 reps per exercise session. In addition, do this exercise whenever you have an upper backache.

Calf Stretch

Benefits: May help decrease leg cramps and improve circulation.

Directions: Stand facing a wall or your partner with one leg well forward and the foot flat on the floor (lunge position). Stretch the other leg behind you with the knee straight and the foot flat on the floor. Press your hands flat against the wall or your partner’s hands. Lunge forward, bending the front leg at the knee and stretching the other calf. Stretch gradually for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat with the other leg forward.

Frequency: 3 to 5 reps per exercise session.

Pelvic Rock

Benefits: Improves posture, Relieves back discomfort and pelvic congestion. Increases abdominal muscle tone.

Directions: This exercise can be performed in several positions. Among the more popular are the following:

1. Kneel on the floor on your hands and knees. Do not let your spine sag. Align your head with your spine, tuck in your bottom, pull up your abdominal muscles, and press your spine up at the lower back just enough to erase the spinal curve; do not hump your back. Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise using a constant rhythm and a rocking motion. Note: This exercise in this position is beneficial during labor if you are experiencing back labor.

2. Stand erect in front of a mirror and check your posture from the side. With your hand on your pubic bone and the other at the small of your back (to help you get the motion), rotate your pelvis forward, tucking in your bottom and abdomen. Relax and repeat, using a constant rhythm and a rocking motion.

Frequency: 10 reps per exercise session.

Tailor Press

Benefits: Stretches the ligaments and muscles on the insides of the thighs and increases their elasticity.

Directions: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and the soles of your feet pressed together and pulled toward your body. Using only the muscles of your legs, press your knees downward. You will feel your inner thigh muscles pull slightly. Cautions: Do not bounce your knees. Discontinue the exercise if you feel pain around your pubic bone, which may indicate some separation at the joints. Do not do this exercise after birth until the perineum has healed.

Note: Preparing the ligaments and muscles on the insides of the thighs promotes comfort during the birth process. Practicing the exercise also helps you to relax and feel at ease in this position while giving birth.

Frequency: 10 reps per exercise session.

Isometric Tailor Press

Benefits: Strengthens the inner thigh muscles and strengthens the pectoral muscles, which support the breasts.

Directions: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and the soles of your feet pressed together and pulled toward your body. Cup your hands around the outsides of your knees and try to pull your knees up with your hands while pushing them down with your leg muscles. Hold for a count of 5. Now place your hands on top of your knees and try to press your knees down with your hands while pulling them up with your leg muscles. Hold for another count of 5. There should be no movement in either of these positions, just stationary counterpressure.

Cautions: Do not bounce your knees. Discontinue the exercise if you feel pain around your pubic bone, which may indicate some separation at the joints. Do not do this exercise after birth until the perineum has healed.

Frequency: 5 reps per exercise session.

Tailor Stretch

Benefits: Stretches the ligaments and muscles on the insides of the thighs and increases their elasticity. Stretches the lower back and calf muscles.

Directions: Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you and angled apart. Lean forward and either reach each hand to its corresponding ankle, right hand to right ankle and left hand to left ankle, or slide both hands down the same leg until you reach the toes, then repeat with the other leg. Cautions: Discontinue the exercise if you feel pain around your pubic bone, which may indicate some separation at the joints. Do not do this exercise after birth until the perineum has healed.

Frequency: 10 reps per exercise session.

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