Whether you've been faithful to your exercise routine during pregnancy or are looking for a safe and comfortable way to stay fit, now is the perfect time to work out in the water. You don't have to know how to swim, and you don't even have to get your hair wet to reap the benefits of water exercise.
Low-impact activities like swimming don't involve a lot of bouncing, stretching, or bending your joints. This is especially helpful because connective tissues in your joints can stretch much more easily during pregnancy. This means that high-impact and high-resistance exercises can increase your risk of joint injury.
In addition, water exercises are especially good for women suffering from swollen ankles or for whom weight gain has made exercising more difficult.
What are the benefits of exercising in water?
Moving in water is like lifting liquid weights, say water-exercise devotees. When you perform a biceps curl out of water, you have to lift the weight, but then gravity helps you lower it down again. In the water, however, you must make an effort to move the weight in both directions, working both your biceps and triceps, the muscles on the upper and lower parts of your arm. You can heighten the intensity of your workout by increasing the weight or using resistance tools, such as dumbbell-shaped paddles or web-shaped gloves.
Does working out in the water do anything special for me during pregnancy?
Water exercise forces you to strengthen your core muscles -- especially the abdominals and lower back -- almost without trying. That's because you must contract and use these muscles in order to stabilize yourself as you move in a pool. Performing abdominal exercises out of water, even if you're lying on your back, doesn't prepare your muscles for the way you use them in real life. In the water, you work them while standing upright by simply walking through the water.
Are there any specific exercises I can do if I'm just a beginner?
The following workout, designed by Mary Sanders, MS, a water-exercise researcher based at the University of Nevada in Reno, is so gentle that even a beginner can do it. Make sure to ask for your physician's approval even if you exercised before your pregnancy.
Get into the water and warm up for five minutes, swimming laps, or just walking back and forth across the pool. Then alternate the four strength-training moves below with one of these aerobic intervals:
- Walk or jog as quickly as you can for 15 seconds, then go at a slow recovery speed for 15 seconds. As you get stronger, increase the duration of the high-intensity intervals. Alternate back and forth for three minutes.
- Do another three-minute aerobic interval and do arm lifts (see exercise below) and so on. The workout should take about 30 minutes.
Here are the strength exercises:
- The Buggy Push. This targets the torso, upper back and shoulders. Hold a kickboard lengthwise and immerse it halfway into the water. Now walk while pushing the kickboard in front of you. Concentrate on keeping the board straight. Turn around and walk back through the water to the starting position, but this time zig-zag the board in front of you.
- Lifting the Baby. This targets the arms. Stand with your elbows bent, palms facing up, floating on top of the water. To make this even more challenging, wear webbed gloves or use water paddles. Bend your knees and lower your body into a squat position. At the same time, push your hands (or the paddles) down through the water until they're in front of your thighs. Rise up to the start position, curling your arms up through the water toward your shoulders. Repeat 12 to15 times.
- Step Climb. This targets the buttocks and upper part of your legs. Stand in the shallow end of the pool facing the stairs. Step up onto the lowest step, and then back down. Repeat 10 times, slowly, leading with the right leg, and then 10 times leading with the left. Now turn sideways, so the stairs are on your right, and step up, leading with the right leg; repeat with the left. Finally, turn away from the step and step up backward, again, 10 times leading with the right leg and 10 times with the left. Tip: Keep your hands above the water to make the exercise more challenging.
- Charlie Chaplin Walk. This targets the middle and upper back. Tuck your elbows into your sides, hold your hands out to the sides, palms flat, so your thumbs are pointing up and you create resistance as you walk. Walk the width of the pool twice forward and twice backward. Tip: To make the exercise more challenging, wear webbed gloves and increase resistance even more.
Do I need any special equipment to exercise in a pool?
Not really, but if you want to increase the challenge of your workouts, using a few simple tools will increase the cardiovascular and strength-building effects of water exercise. Here are a few essentials. You can find these items at many sporting goods stores:
- Flotation belt. Used for suspension and support, it can be used in shallow or deep water. They cost about $40.
- Fitness paddles, dumbbell-like devices used for strength training. They cost about $20.
- Webbed gloves to add resistance in the water. They cost about $20 a pair.
Where can I find a water exercise class near me?
To find a prenatal water exercise program in your area, contact the following organizations:
- Aquatic Exercise Association. Email a representative at http://www.aeawave.com/PublicPages/ContactUS/ContactAEA/tabid/87/Default.aspx and request a list of certified instructors in your area.
- The Jewish Community Center Association. Visit http://www.jcca.org for a listing of JCCs with pools in your area.
- YMCA. To find the pool and class near you, visit http://www.ymca.net or find one in your yellow pages. Some Ys include class schedules on their sites.
A lot of local schools and parks have swimming pools, as well. Check your local parks and recreation department for classes.
Interview with Mary E. Sanders, MS, a water-exercise researcher based at the University of Nevada in Reno.
Healthy Pregnancy. The First Trimester.
Mayo Clinic. Aquatic exercise: Gentle on your bones, joints and muscles.
Mayo Clinic. Aquatic exercises and equipment.
American Council on Exercise. Biceps Curl.
University of Nevada-Reno. Sanford Center for Aging.
Jewish Community Center Association.
YMCA. Find the Y Nearest You.
Mayo Clinic. Water exercise: Good for your bones?
Mayo Clinic. Ready to take the plunge?
American Council on Exercise.