Prenatal Swimming Workout: 5 Pool Exercises for Pregnancy
That ruffled swim cap can stay in grandma's closet because this water exercise program is anything but old-fashioned.
"This is for a person who wants a more challenging aqua workout," says trainer and fitness educator Sara Kooperman, who developed her nationally known Water in Motion program that incorporates yoga, Pilates and dance moves after she injured her back in a skiing accident.
When you do exercises in water, your abdominal muscles are engaged and lengthened because they're working to keep you balanced. And the buoyancy of the water makes it easier to hold poses—such as yoga's Warrior III—that you might not be able to hold as well on land, providing you with more toning benefits and enabling deeper stretches.
"You can move within your own range of motion without being restricted by a machine or weighed down by gravity," Kooperman says.
While everyone can benefit from low-impact workouts that are easier on the joints, exercising in water is ideal for expectant moms, says Kooperman. The cool, soothing aqua environment enables you to comfortably perform more repetitions than you could on land. That means you can challenge yourself, but the support the water provides makes it safer to do those extra reps, too. Plus, the pressure of the water helps relieve swelling in your extremities, an uncomfortable condition for some pregnant women. As you move your arms and legs against the water's resistance, Kooperman adds, "It almost feels like you're getting a massage."
Don't forget to stay hydrated during your aqua workout routine, Kooperman cautions: "In the water, you don't feel yourself sweating, but you're still losing fluids." Becoming dehydrated can lead to uterine contractions, so keep a bottle of water poolside for frequent sips. Kooperman also advises against wearing a bathing cap because you need to dissipate heat through your head to keep cool. But be sure to wear a big hat and pregnancy-safe sunblock.
You'll need a floating noodle and water shoes for safety, traction and resistance. To provide adequate resistance and buoyancy, the water should be at chest level. Repeat each exercise slowly, doing 10 to 20 reps of each and resting in between moves. Breathe deeply and keep your core muscles contracted.
Prenatal Water Workout
Move #1: Cross-Country Ski
Strengthens arms, shoulders, upper and lower legs, hips, buttocks and core. Stretches calves.
How to do it: Stand tall with your abs pulled in and shoulders back and down. Hop or jump up, swinging your right leg forward (bending the knee) and your left leg back (pressing through your heel) at the same time, "scissoring" your legs. Swing your arms in the opposite directions as your legs.
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Move #2: Floating Frog
Strengthens deep abdominals, shoulders, arms, thighs and buttocks. Stretches the inner thighs and low back.
How to do it: Wrap a floating noodle around your back and under your arms, making a horseshoe shape. Lean back into the noodle and, contracting your abdominal muscles, pull your legs to the surface of the water. Exhale and keep your abs tight as you bend your knees and put the soles of your feet together, letting your knees splay apart. (Think of it as a "froggy" position.) Fully extend your legs, pushing them through the water and inhaling as you straighten your knees. Remember that this extension part of the exercise is just as important as the contraction, Kooperman says.
Move #3: Pendulum Cross
Strengthens core, arms, shoulders, thighs and buttocks, with an emphasis on the inner and outer thighs and deep abdominals.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips and abs pulled in and up. Swing your right leg out to the right, then to the left, across your body, as you swing your arms in front of you in opposing directions, lightly hopping on the standing foot. Complete reps, then switch sides.
Move #4: Floating Abs
Strengthens deep abdominals, shoulders, arms, thighs and buttocks. Stretches hamstrings and calves.
How to do it: Wrap a floating noodle around your back and under your arms. Lean into the noodle, keeping your feet on the bottom of the pool. Inhale, then exhale as you let your legs drift up to the surface of the water, feet flexed; contract your abs and thighs. Hold for 1 to 4 breaths. Slowly lower your legs back down and repeat.
Move #5: Upper-Body Sweep
Strengthens shoulders, chest, back, arms, hips, buttocks and core muscles. Stretches hips and front of torso.
How to do it: Stand on your right foot and place your left leg back behind you in a lunge position, keeping your shoulders straight (don't hunch). Float your arms out to your sides at shoulder level for balance. Inhale, then exhale as you let your left leg float up, squeezing your buttocks and leaning slightly forward. Reach your arms forward, then sweep them out to the sides, your hands skimming the surface, then back in front of you. Do 10 reps, then switch legs.