Ask the experts: Fitness before and after baby

By Published On: November 8th, 2011

This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering […]

This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on prenatal health. Today’s topic is fitness regimens for both before and after baby, shared by Lisa Corsello, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, nutrition consultant and group fitness instructor. Corsello is a Lululemon Athletica Ambassador, and has been a featured fitness expert on WebMD as well as in My Family Doctor Magazine, LowCarb Magazine, Current Health Magazine, and Cornell University’s Food & Fitness Advisor newsletter. Corsello has developed a popular new fitness technique called Burn and is currently a contributing fitness expert on

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It happens to the best of us. We all have made excuse after excuse just because we have a baby in our bellies. “I’m eating for two … I’m too large to move … I don’t want to hurt the baby,” are all common justifications to avoid exercise during pregnancy. But let’s put an end to the excuses. The truth is it is perfectly safe and even essential to stay fit during and after your pregnancy. Our bodies change so much in such a short amount of time that staying healthy and fit to the best of our abilities will help us cope with pregnancy, before and after.
Before the baby
Most importantly, check in with your doctor. Everyone’s pregnancy is different, so it’s important to follow your doc’s advice and listen to your body. During the first trimester, it’s generally ok to continue to do what you’ve regularly done prior to the pregnancy. Regular exercise is really important and good for you, so try to keep a routine that works for you and your body.
Don’t let your heart rate get too high. Ask your doctor to help you determine your own max heart rate for each trimester. The old rules limited every woman’s heart rate to 140 BPM, but some doctors feel that the cardiovascular fitness level of each woman prepregnancy determines her max heart rate guidelines after she becomes pregnant.
Some women find that as their pregnancy progresses, they’re able to maintain cardiovascular fitness by using a stationary or spin bike, which can be more comfortable than other cardio equipment.
Be mindful of the fact that your balance might be a bit compromised as you grow, which is completely normal! Try basic balancing exercises by standing on one leg and holding your position for 30 seconds, switch legs, and repeat. In addition, lots of women continue to work with weights throughout pregnancy, although they may modify with lighter weights and higher reps.
The general rule of core workouts is that women in the first trimester of a “healthy” pregnancy can do most of the exercises she did before pregnant (within reason, of course). My personal advice is to stop crunches and twists and find ways to work your abs isometrically. Plank and modified plank position are generally comfortable in the first few months. Protect and strengthen your abs and lower back throughout the workout by gently drawing the abs in during weight and spring work. Keeping your midsection engaged is a great way to maintain core strength without crunching and twisting, which generally aren’t advised as you start to grow.
Your second and third trimesters are all about growth. Understand that your abs will be stretching a lot during this period. It’s important to put your efforts into developing what I call your soon-to-be “mom muscles” (shoulders, biceps, back and chest), which are needed to carry your cute but incredibly heavy little bundle of joy (and the 50lb bag of accessories around).
Take the time you would normally devote to ab work and grab some light to moderate free weights. Do several sets of bicep curls, hammer curls, shoulder- raises (front and lateral), tricep kickbacks and chest presses. Use a cable machine or light bands for rows and hugging exercises to build your chest and back. Strengthen your entire lower body with a wall squats. You can modify squats by placing a ball behind your back against the wall and squatting; this will ensure proper form and will help protect the lower back. Try standing lateral leg raises to build glute strength.
After the baby
Make sure to check with your doctor to get clearance before you start back on an exercise program. Remember to ease back into your program gradually, but keep it consistent. The more consistent the workouts, the faster you’ll build endurance and strength.
A great way to maximize calorie burn and minimize boredom is to do 10 minute circuits that include cardio, squats, lunges, abs, and weights for the upper body. Work every muscle group with lots of ab work and 2-3 minute cardio bursts in between sets. Remember that it takes time to lose the baby weight, and try to be patient with yourself as you adjust to the demands of motherhood.
Focus on short-term goals rather than the sometimes overwhelming goal of trying to be exactly where and how you were before you got pregnant. Taking the baby for walks counts as exercise, and adding 10-15 minutes to your daily route will add up.
If you don’t have time for a full workout, try to squeeze in little bits of exercise when you can at home. Crunches, leg raises, squats, lunges and push-ups are great exercises you can do anywhere! In order to gain back ab strength, take things very slowly and start with basic movements like plank, side plank and crunches. Try to devote time during each workout to building your core strength. But remember that most women find this to be their most challenging area after a baby. Don’t get discouraged or try to jump right back in to your old ab routine. Understand that this area will take time.
Cardio is essential after your baby is born, but this will also take some time. Challenge yourself for short amounts of time to increase endurance without overdoing it. Try walking with your baby in the stroller and slowly work up to a jog. Biking and swimming are also effective cardio workouts because they are low impact.
Circuit training is another great way to get your heart rate up and moving quickly as you move from one exercise to another. Circuit training will also help you not to get bored, as you change up your movements often.