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Functional Training for Pregnancy

Are you pregnant? Did you know that a woman’s body will change more in 9 months of pregnancy than a man’s will in his lifetime—and that you need an exercise program to match the transformation? So says maternal exercise expert Farel Hruska, national fitness director of FIT4MOM® (a brand that includes Stroller Strides®) in San Diego. “A mom-to-be will need to master strength, agility, balance, speed, acceleration, deceleration, directional change and rotation . . . all with a load that increases every day,” she explains.

Discover a few important exercise areas for the different trimesters of your pregnancy and how you can strengthen your body safely.

First Trimester (Weeks 1–12)

“The key point during the first trimes- ter is to help you ease into the tremendous shifts occurring in your body,” says Catherine Cram, MS, Verona, Wisconsin–based coauthor of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (Addicus 2012).

Diaphramatic breathing. The diaphragm is the foundational component behind nearly all muscle imbalances, asserts James Goodlatte, Miami-based CEO of Fit For Birth Inc., a company that provides pre and postnatal fitness continuing education courses to industry professionals. He calls proper diaphragmatic breathing “the single most important exercise that will ever be instructed for the modern pregnant woman.” Proper diaphragmatic breathing looks like this: “Fill the belly, ribs and lower back first,” he says.

Kegels. Start incorporating pelvic-floor (Kegel) exercises in your first trimester, says Cram. (Find your pelvic-floor muscles by stopping your urine midstream while going to the bathroom; these are the muscles that Kegel exercises strengthen.) “Gaining and maintaining pelvic-floor strength will help prevent back and pelvic pain, incontinence during pregnancy and, most importantly, long-term incontinence and possible [organ] prolapse,” says Lisa Westlake, a physical therapist in Victoria, Australia, and author of Exercising for Two (Hachette 2011).

Second Trimester (Weeks 13–28)

The second trimester is when your energy level is returning and your “baby bump” is starting to show. You should begin building your strength and endurance in preparation for baby weight gain, says Cram.

Core stability. “Concentrate on core strength in various planes of motion,” says Hruska. For example, “the standing wood chop is a highly functional movement for moms.” Avoid lying flat on your back at this point in your pregnancy. Cram recommends doing modified supine (semi-sitting) or, possibly, standing abdominal exercises instead.

Upper back and arms. The second trimester is the perfect time to focus on the upper body. “Start thinking through the load imbalance of motherhood,” says Hruska. A new mom will hardly ever be equally loaded on both sides of her body, since she will often be carrying a baby in one arm for months to come. To compensate, use exercises that throw the body off just a little, such as low rows with one arm instead of two, Hruska suggests.

Third Trimester (Weeks 29–40)

“The third trimester is about keeping you exercising comfortably while maintaining fitness,” says Cram. Avoid quick changes of direction, especially laterally (e.g., side lunges, wood chops), because the risk of ligamentous sprain increases, notes Andrea Talmadge, MS, owner of FIT FUNdamentals and creator of the PregnaFit!TM program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Training for labor and delivery. To promote the muscular endurance needed during birth, Talmadge encourages you to practice holding a pelvic-floor contraction, a squat or an upright abdominal compression (pulling the bellybutton into the spine) for up to 90 seconds at a time.

You should also learn to consciously relax the pelvic floor after every Kegel contraction, says Westlake, as this will develop mind-body awareness and an ability to relax the pelvic floor during the pain of a labor contraction.

Note: For assistance in designing an exercise program appropriate for you and your pregnancy, please contact a certified personal trainer.

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