Looking for a fitness regimen that takes into account your growing baby bump? Water exercise is the safest option out there, says Trish Del Sorbo, director of Baby & Me Fitness in Toronto. “Water provides a natural resistance that will challenge your muscles while also supporting you,” she says. “Many land exercises involve a lot of high-impact, jarring motions, which automatically become more gentle under water.”
Working out in water can also help to relieve some of the common pregnancy concerns, such as swollen feet and aching joints, that may be keeping you from your usual fitness routine. “In the pool, you have a lot more freedom to move around without worrying about hurting yourself,” explains Del Sorbo.
Get started with any of these easy-to-master moves. All of the exercises are considered safe to do during any stage of pregnancy—just check with your health care provider as you would before starting any new exercise.
Stick to warm-up exercises for five to 10 minutes before moving on to cardio. For all standing exercises, the water level should be about chest height to provide the resistance that makes these moves beneficial.
Warms up legs and hips. Stand with feet in a wide stance, keeping the knees and torso aligned straight over the toes. Bend your knees and lower your torso into the water, toward a seating position, as low as comfort allows.
Warms up core, arms and hips. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip 426 apart. Bring your right knee up toward the chest, slightly to the side to make room for your belly. As you do this, work the arms as well, by swooshing them from side to side in the water. Switch legs and repeat.
3. Back leg curl
Warms up core, arms and hips. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip 426 apart and arms straight out in front of you in the water, with palms facing down. Draw the right heel up toward your buttocks. As the foot draws back, scoop the water backward with your hands at the same time, in a rowing motion. Switch feet and repeat.
4. Expert tip
Keep your warm-up fun by adding a variety of hand motions. Del Sorbo suggests scooping, pushing, punching or slicing the water (like a karate chop). Just remember to keep your fingers closed to make use of the natural water resistance. You can also do any of these hand motions while walking in the pool, for an easy warm-up.
Get your heart pumping and boost circulation with these faster-paced moves. For most of these exercises, you’ll need a pool with a deep end.
1. Flutter kick
Raises heart rate and activates core strength. Rest your chest and arms on a flutter board or pool noodle, and flutter-kick toward the deep end. Once you get there, without using your arms, flip your body over so you’re floating on your back, and flutter-kick back to the shallow end (in this position, hold the flutter board on top of your chest). To kick it up a notch, stop at the pool edge in the deep end and hang onto the side of the pool. Kick as hard as you can for a minute, then slow down, and repeat.
2. Treading water
Raises heart rate and increases stamina. Tread water in the deep end, using only your legs (if you need a little support, ride a pool noodle like a horse). Hold a water weight in each hand, and switch between holding the left and the right hand up in the air. To make your upper body do the work, get rid of the weights and tread water normally. Make one leg go limp so you’re only treading with your hands and one leg. Switch to the other leg, and try to see how long you can tread water without using your legs at all. For a more complete arm workout, try moving your arms in both clockwise and counter-clockwise motions.
Want to lengthen the cardio portion of your workout with some laps? The breaststroke is the easiest option during pregnancy because it strengthens your back and doesn’t involve twisting from side to side like the front crawl. “However, the arm motion of the front crawl is great because it opens up your chest and back, and improves posture,” says Del Sorbo. She suggests reaping the benefits of the front crawl by walking in the pool and doing the arm motions through water.
Target some of your key muscle groups with these moves.
1. Extended leg lift
Strengthens quads, hamstrings and core. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip 426 apart and lift your right leg forward, extending it as high as comfort allows (the standing leg should be slightly bent for support). Make sure not to completely point your toes, as foot cramps are common during pregnancy. If you need some more support, hold onto a pool noodle in front of you. Switch legs and repeat.
2. Side leg lift
Strengthens inner thighs. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip 426 apart. Lift your left leg up sideways to the left, keeping your foot flexed to increase water resistance. Swoosh your left foot back down through the water to starting position, and repeat with the right leg.
3. Reverse crunch
Strengthens and tones abdominal muscles. In the deep end of the pool, wrap a pool noodle around your lower back and rest your arms on it like it’s an armchair. Curl your knees up (around the side of your belly if necessary) and float. Squeeze your knees in toward your shoulders, then slowly extend your legs outwards. You can also rotate your knees from side to side to work on the oblique abdominal muscles.
4. Water push-down
Strengthens triceps, chest and shoulder muscles. In the deep end, float on your stomach and hold a water weight in each hand, shoulder 426 apart. Extend arms, pushing water weights downwards, as in a regular land push-up. You can also do this move by pushing a pool noodle down with both hands.
“It’s a myth that you can’t work on your abs during pregnancy,” says Del Sorbo. “Strong abdominal muscles will actually help in giving birth because they’re involved in contractions and pushing. Plus, keeping your abs in good shape during pregnancy will make for a faster recovery after delivery.”
“Exercising in water is ideal since the buoyancy reduces the risk of injuries,” says Douglas Black, vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Just follow these guidelines to make sure you stay safe:
-Stay clear of public hot tubs, which are often programmed at 40°C or higher. A safe maximum temperature is 36°C, which is still much warmer than your average swimming pool.
-Keep a water bottle near the pool and drink regularly.
-Don’t push yourself to work out as hard as you did before pregnancy. Your heartbeat shouldn’t exceed 140 beats a minute.
-There’s no evidence that chlorine poses any risk during pregnancy, but if you’re worried about it or find it irritates your skin, make sure you have a good shower post-swim.
-Save any jumping or diving into the pool until after delivery.