Wondering what exercises are best to help you reach your pregnancy goals? Leah Keller, a certified personal trainer and the creator of the EMbody Program, explains everything you need to keep in mind.

 

By Leah Keller

Prepare for a healthy pregnancy and empowered birth

Our fertility journey began almost ten years ago, during our honeymoon. After three years on a roller coaster of hopes bolstered and dashed, we needed a break. It was too stressful, too disappointing, and too depleting, so we pressed pause. That was April of 2013. 

To our delight and amazement, we conceived our daughter (now almost six years old!) in early July of that year. Somehow the stars aligned, a delicious sparkling rosé might have helped, and voila! Of course, we had been told countless times by well-meaning folks to “relax and let it happen,” which is easy advice to give, but impossible to take. That was until, out of pure emotional exhaustion, we simply couldn’t try anymore.

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By the time I saw that first positive pregnancy test, I had five years under my belt of coaching fitness clients through their pregnancies and postpartum recoveries. I had learned what exercises prepared women best for a healthy pregnancy and empowered birth and was now able to experience first-hand the benefits and impact of these movements. So, based on years of research and experience as a pre-/postnatal fitness professional and as a mother, here are my top exercise recommendations to prepare for pregnancy:

  1. Moderate total body conditioning
  2. Wall-sit with core compressions
  3. Pelvic release (or pelvic drop)

Total body conditioning

This can include a variety of energizing activities you love. For me, it meant strength training, cycling, running, and walking. These activities boosted my overall health, got my heart pumping, and helped me de-stress while maintaining a healthy weight — all factors that improve reproductive health. For someone else, total body conditioning could include a weekend hike with friends and swimming twice a week or a couple of weekly fitness classes and an occasional jog. Too much vigorous exercise can negatively impact ovulation, so practice moderation with the conditioning exercise of your choice. A healthy target is 30-60 minutes of moderate activity, three to six days per week. Bonus points for anything that gets you outside, relaxed and smiling. The mood-boosting and stress-busting benefits of exercise are particularly helpful when preparing for a pregnancy. 

Wall-sit with core compressions 

This exercise strengthens your deep core muscles while building stamina for birth. Perform this exercise three to four days per week.

How to perform a wall-sit with core compressions:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall, and walk your feet forward.
  2. Slide your body down the wall until you reach a 90-degree bend in your knees and hips. Your feet should be securely planted underneath you, with toes pointing straight ahead. Keep your spine in neutral alignment (do not try to force it flat against the wall). 
  3. Place your hands on your abdomen. Feel your torso expand as you take a breath to prepare, and then exhale as you draw both your belly and your pelvic floor up and in towards the wall. 
  4. Soften and release both your abs and your pelvic floor as you take a breath. Engage your abs and your pelvic floor in an upward squeeze toward the wall as you exhale.
  5. Remain in a wall-sit and continue this slow, controlled pulsing for one to two minutes, releasing the core muscles with each inhalation and engaging with each exhalation. 

Pelvic release (or pelvic drop)

A strong, toned pelvic floor better tolerates the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth. And yet, it is important to be able to consciously release and relax the sphincter muscle during labor and to lengthen and release the pelvic floor for general core health and function. The pelvic release or reverse kegel is a phenomenal exercise for achieving all of the above. I suggest completing the pelvic release exercise following each wall-sit with core compressions, three to four days per week.

How to perform a pelvic release: 

  1. Start by gently engaging the pelvic floor in a partial Kegel. To do this, exhale as you lift and squeeze the center of your pelvic floor towards your head. It can help to envision picking up a blueberry with your vagina. 
  2. Then slowly inhale an expansive, diaphragmatic breath as you release, relax and soften the pelvic floor. Allow the pelvis to drop, lengthen, and open like a flower. 
  3. Repeat, gently lifting the pelvic floor as you exhale then releasing it slowly, consciously, completely. Continue to lift slightly and release fully for one to two minutes. 

Movement for joy and preparation

Every fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering experience is unique, but exercise is a deeply effective way to build strength and stamina for it all. Moving your body brings joy, and adding in a few minutes of targeted core and pelvic floor training exercises a few times per week helps to better prepare you for the journey both physically and mentally. Take the time and reap the benefits; you are worth it. 

Interested in learning about how exercise affects fertility? Read What You Need to Know About How to Approach Exercise and Fertility now!

 

Leah Keller is a certified personal trainer and the founder of Every Mother (formerly The Dia Method), a fitness system endorsed by medical and birth professionals worldwide. With over two decades of fitness experience, Leah empowers and equips women to exercise safely during pregnancy, labor with confidence, and restore core strength and total body fitness after birth – no matter how long it’s been. The EMbody Program grew out of her private training practice in New York City. It earned unparalleled medical validation when researchers at Weill Cornell Medical School collaborated with Leah to conduct a pilot study with 63 women, all of whom achieved full resolution of diastasis recti in less than 12 weeks. Leah is now collaborating with researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Weill Cornell, and Harvard Medical School to conduct a randomized, controlled clinical trial to gather additional data on the health benefits of the EMbody core strengthening program. Leah holds an MA in English, a BA in Psychology, and has been featured as a women’s health expert by major media outlets, including NPR and Good Morning America. She has a young daughter and a baby boy.
Images courtesy of Every Mother.