Great pregnancy exercise: Weight training

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The benefits of weight training during pregnancy

Weight training strengthens and tones your muscles and helps you build stamina, which you’ll need during labor and delivery. One good way to do that is to perform a set number of exercises (that number varies from woman to woman, depending on her fitness level) using resistance training machines such as the ones you find in athletic clubs. Try to avoid using free weights, as you may risk injury from losing your grip on a weight and dropping it. But you can also build strength by doing some simple weight-training exercises at home.

First-trimester tips

While it’s always a good idea to review your exercise regimen with your doctor or midwife first to make sure it’s okay to continue at your regular pace, most healthcare practitioners won’t be experienced enough with weight training to advise you on what changes you should make to your program while you’re expecting. Julie Tupler, RN, certified personal trainer, and coauthor of Maternal Fitness, recommends slow, controlled movements where “muscle — not momentum — is moving muscle.”

Beyond that, she says, “the rule of thumb is that you increase the repetitions and decrease the weight. I use resistance bands, which work the muscle groups more effectively, and you have to use slow, controlled movements or you’ll be smacking the bands around.” The combination of the hormone relaxin, which loosens up connective tissue, and making uncontrolled, quick movements with weights can result in injury.

Avoid the Valsalva maneuver (forcefully exhaling without actually releasing air) and walking lunges, which could increase your risk of injury to connective tissue in the pelvic area.

Second- and third-trimester tips

Beginning in the second trimester, you should avoid lifting weights while standing still. “You have an increase in blood volume, and blood can pool in your legs, leaving you feeling lightheaded and dizzy,” Tupler explains. “Instead, sit down to lift weights.” Avoid lying on a flat bench to lift, and don’t take any position that leaves your abdomen vulnerable to a falling weight.

Suggested exercises

Here are three weight-lifting exercises you can do at home. These moves are recommended by Tracey Mallett, a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor in South Pasadena, California, and creator of the 3-in-1 Pregnancy Workout DVD. “Remember to start slowly and work at your own level,” Mallett advises.

The appropriate number of repetitions and sets varies from person to person.

  • Shoulder Lateral Raises Sit up straight on the edge of a sturdy chair, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell (weighing 3 to 8 pounds) in each hand with palms facing inward, by your hips. Slightly bend your elbows, then lift your arms up to the side, no higher than shoulder height, leading the motion with your elbows. Keeping your shoulder blades pulled down toward your hips, lower your arms. Perform 10 to 15 reps.Tips: Remember to contract your abdominal muscles (this will stabilize you) and try not to elevate your shoulders. If you need more support, sit up tall, with your chest lifted and your spine resting on the back of the chair.
  • Seated Row Sitting up straight on the floor, shoulders down and chest lifting, extend your legs out in front of you with your knees slightly bent. (If your hamstrings are tight, sit on a rolled-up towel or blanket to elevate your trunk slightly and release tension in the lower back.)Wrap a resistance band around the balls of your feet and hold the ends of the band in your hands. Extend your arms in front of your body, hands level with shoulders, palms facing the floor, elbows slightly bent. Exhale and draw your shoulder blades down and together, contracting your mid-upper back. Keep these muscles engaged and continue to bend your elbows slightly behind your shoulder joint, drawing your arms toward your body. Keep your arms level with your shoulders. Slowly and with control, return your arms to extend in front.Tips: Don’t lean forward; if you need to increase resistance, do so by “choking up” on the band. Each repetition should be slow and controlled, working through a full range of motion. Use a chair for additional support if needed.
  • Plié Squat Stand facing the back of a chair with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, shoulder blades pulled down and abdominal muscles contracted. Turn your legs out at the hips, with both feet pointing out and knees directly over toes. Inhale and bend at the knees, keeping your posture straight. Hold. Exhale and return to standing position.

Tip: Keep your weight toward your heels.

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