Women considering becoming pregnant can benefit greatly by engaging in regular cardiorespiratory and strength training exercise. The following provides an effective pre- pregnancy aerobic and strength training routine for women that is easy to administer, requires minimal time and equipment, and confers important mental and physical benefits for the mother-to-be. In order to maximize the benefits from the workouts, the program should begin at least three months prior to pregnancy and be done consistently with good technique. This sample workout is not all-inclusive; women, who are already engaged in a regular workout routine, should continue their workouts with modifications as the pregnancy progresses. However, for women who are not engaged in a regular workout program, the sample provided below is an excellent place to start and will offer numerous benefits to both mother and fetus. *Note – Before beginning a workout program, discuss the plan with your health care provider.
Aerobic Exercise: Should be done for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. This can be accomplished by exercising five days per week for the duration of 30 minutes per session. It is recommended that three of the workouts be weight bearing (i.e.- jogging, fast walking, dancing or tennis). The additional sessions should incorporate low impact exercise (i.e. - swimming, biking or moderate walking) to maximize recovery and variation. For women not accustomed to regular exercise, the program could begin with two workouts the first week and increase by an additional workout each successive week allowing the body to gradually adapt. Additionally, the duration of the first few workouts can also be reduced as needed. For example, start with 15 minutes per session and increase 5 minutes each workout until 30 minutes are met.
Strength Training: Should be conducted at least twice per week with a recovery of 72 hours between each workout. Strength training can be done on the same days as aerobic training or on the days in between. The order in which they are done is a personal preference. The following program is designed to be done at home and provides a basic foundation for strength and strength endurance helping offset some of the challenges that many women face before and during pregnancy (back and lower extremity pain, swelling, fatigue etc.). For women who are unaccustomed to strength training, it is recommended that for the first week she uses one set per exercise and increase by an additional set each week.
Warm up for 5 minutes using light exercise such as biking, step-ups, high knees in place, or jumping jacks. A thorough warm-up helps prepare the muscles and joints for the upcoming exercise by increasing muscle temperature, delivering oxygen rich blood to the muscles, and improving joint function and mobility.
The strength component includes planks, Russian twists, body weight squats, and knee pushups. The exercises were selected to strengthen all the major muscle groups of the body, provide core strength and stability, and help prepare women for some of the physical and mental challenges of pregnancy. The benefits of exercise during pregnancy will be addressed in a future article.
The Plank provides core strength and stability to the abdominal and lower back muscles and strengthens the upper back, arms, and shoulders. The plank is done lying prone on a mat or carpet. The forearms are placed flat on the floor alongside the ribcage and the upper torso is lifted on to the forearms supporting your weight. Using your toes, simultaneously lift the lower body so that the upper thighs are off the ground. Support the body on the forearms and toes whilst keeping the entire body straight. Each hold should be done for 20-30 seconds. Aim to complete at total of 3 sets with a 60-90 seconds recovery between each set.
Russian Twists delivers rotational strength and stability to the abdominals and lower back muscles. The twist is done by sitting on the floor, legs slightly apart and bent at 45 degrees. Recline the upper body slightly, anchoring the feet under a support for stability. Using a two-pound medicine ball held in both hands, slowly rotate the ball to either side of the body touching the ground if possible for 20-30 seconds. Aim to complete 3 sets with a 60-90 seconds recovery between each set.
Body Weight Squats offer strength and stability to the legs, hips, and knee joints. The squat is done by placing the feet approximately shoulder width apart with arms extended out from the body parallel to the floor. With feet flat on the ground, begin bending the knees, slowly lowering the body until the thighs are just above parallel, hold for a second and slowly return to the upright position. If there are problems with balance, hold onto a chair or doorframe for support. Aim to complete 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with 60-90 seconds of recovery between each set.
Kneeling Pushup provides strength to the entire upper body. The exercise is done by kneeling on the ground with the legs together. While on the knees, lean forward until the hands are in the push up position approximately shoulder width apart supporting the upper torso. Keeping the arms tucked into the body; slowly bend the arms until they reach a right angle at the elbow, hold for a second and slowly return to the upright position. Aim to complete 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with 60-90 seconds rest between each set.
Cool Down is an important opportunity to work on flexibility and assist the body in returning to its pre-exercise state. Stretching should involve all major joints of the body with each stretch being held for 20-30 seconds for 3 sets.
The advantages of developing a pre-pregnancy exercise plan are numerous not only from a health standpoint, but for physical and psychological benefits as well. In the long term, regular exercise has been linked to improved conception from reduced stress, weight control, and enhanced sleep quality.
This six-part blog series discusses the current nutrition and exercise recommendations for women before, during, and after pregnancy. Pregnancy can certainly be a trying and confusing time and these articles are intended to provide answers to the most popular questions women (and often their providers) ask.
More information can be found in 100 Questions and Answers About Sports Nutrition and Exercise by Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC.
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