5 of the top pregnancy exercises to keep you in shape

Pregnancy exercises: Leg lifts

by Catriona Watson |
Updated on

Exercising in pregnancycan be a great way to prepare you for your upcoming labour and being a new mum.

Certain exercises such as yoga, pilates and walking are often recommended during pregnancy as they are relatively low impact. It is important that you stick to the NHS guidelines and don't over exert yourself. It can be a good idea to speak to a personal trainer for advice. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to listen to your body and do what feels right for you.

Joan Murphy, a co-founder of Frame fitness studios in London, runs exercise classes, especially for pregnant women. Helped by fitness instructor Kelly Burns, who is 20 weeks pregnant, Joan shares some exercises to get your body in shape while also protecting your bump. These will have the best effect if you do five to 10 repetitions, three to four times a week, either on their own or alongside another form of gentle exercise.

5 pregnancy exercises to keep you in shape:

1) The Plié


Keeping your legs strong can really help when you are in labour as you may need to move into many different birthing positions. The plie is an ideal exercise as it helps strengthen these important leg muscles.

  • Start in a standing position, or hold on to a chair or table, if needed. Place your feet wider than your hips and turn your feet slightly outwards

  • Keeping your back straight, tuck in your tailbone and pull your shoulder blades together. Bend your knees without letting them go further forward than your toes

  • If your balance is OK, extend your arms out to make a T-position, then turn them in to face each other, and curve them, as if you are hugging a ball, as you bend your knees

  • Return to standing position and repeat

2) Leg lifts


Strong and toned thigh muscles can help you carry the extra weight of pregnancy more easily. Leg lifts are a great exercise for this.

  • Lie on your side with your arm nearest the floor extended lengthways and your elbow bent to support your head

  • Put your top hand on the floor in front of you for balance. Bend your bottom knee out in front of you at a 45-degree angle and keep your top leg straight and in line with your body

  • Gently lift your top leg up and down, keeping it as straight as you can. Repeat on the other side

3) 'Traffic controller arms'


Just because your bump is getting bigger, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a toned back and shoulders. The above exercise ('traffic controller arms') is great for your upper arms and back. It will build up back and shoulder strength, which will help you when it comes to regularly lifting your baby after the birth.

  • Start by standing up straight, keeping your knees soft and your tailbone tucked under. Tighten your tummy muscles, and lift your arms out to the side, so your body makes a T-position (try not to hunch your shoulders)

  • Raise your arms, so that they are stretching straight up. Then bring your arms back down to the T-position

  • Bring your arms around so they are in front of you with your palms facing upwards, then take them back to the first position.

4) The Clam


You’ll need to keep your hips and pelvic muscles strong to enable your body to support your growing bump. Strengthening these muscles can also help prevent and reduce pelvic girdle pain, but if you’re already starting to suffer, make sure you stick to what’s comfortable. The clam is the perfect exercise for strengthening your hips and pelvic muscles.

  • Lie on your side with your arm nearest the floor extended lengthways and your elbow bent to support your head. Place your other arm so your hand is on your waist and your elbow is in line with your torso

  • Bend your knees in front of your body at a 45-degree angle

  • Keeping your feet together, open your knees as far as you can without your top hip rolling back

  • Repeat on the other side

5) The Plank


The plank helps to strengthen your core and abdominal muscles as well as enhancing shoulder stability. Some women believe that you cannot do abdominal exercise during pregnancy but if it is in a controlled environment it is perfectly safe. The plank is a good exercise because the weight of your baby is hanging down and it is a relatively low impact way to target these muscles without causing injury or strain. The most important thing is to ensure you have a flat back and are not pushing up too high through the shoulders or your bottom (as Joan explains in the video).

  • Start on your forearms and ensure your elbow is in line with your shoulder

  • Next kick one foot back and straighten that leg

  • Then brace your abs before kicking back with the other foot

  • Once in position, you can hold this pose for as long as is comfortable. You can come down onto your knees for breaks if necessary and then return to the post. If you are already used to the plank, you can come up onto your hands to make the exercise slightly harder

  • When you are ready, come down onto your knees to end the exercise

For more pregnancy and new mum exercises, check out the Mother & Baby Youtube channel.

Photo/video: Howard Boylan.

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