The pregnancy strength-training workout

6 exercises to get already-fit women ready for labor and motherhood

“Most women say that giving birth is the most difficult physical feat of their lives,” says Carolyn Appel, C.S.C.S., a New York City-based trainer, mom, and author of the forthcoming book The Little Book for Big Bellies. But while we prepare for most other fitness endeavors in life, labor is oft tiptoed around with ineffective ‘pregnancy lite’ workouts.

Appel’s opinion: “Women can and should handle much greater amounts of stress to prepare for motherhood.” Strength training, she says, is the way to go. It offsets typical pregnancy compensations like waddling, a downward pelvic tilt, an upward rib thrust, back pain, and muscle tightness that accompany weight gain.

Plus, the happy byproduct to strength training is that it can make labor shorter and less stressful and recovery speedier, Appel says.

Of course, pregnant bodies must make adjustments. For one, starting in the second trimester, women should exercise at 80 to 85 percent of the intensity they did pre-pregnancy (and in trimester one). In the third trimester, dial it back to 75 to 80 percent of pre-pregnancy intensity. Exceeding that amount late in pregnancy can increase intra-abdominal pressure, encouraging a condition called diastasis recti, which is when the six-pack muscles separate because of weakening of the tissue holding them together.

The Workout

The below moves are focused on strength, alignment, needs of labor, and life with a newborn. In trimester one, complete the workout twice a week (or up to three times, though many women experience fatigue and nausea) for three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. In trimester two, do three workouts a week: one session of 3 sets of 15 repetitions, another with 3 sets of 10 reps, and a third of 4 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions. And in trimester three, do two workouts, each 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

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