Prehab for pregnancy

Strengthen your core and pelvic floor.

You know it’s coming: the hip widening, the increased demand on your back and abs, the panting as you climb the stairs, so why not train for it? Such is the thinking of many women walking into ob/gyn and physical therapy offices before the pregnancy quest even commences.

Obviously, the necessary physiological changes during pregnancy will come no matter what, but you can have some control over how your body adapts to those changes. “Think of getting through pregnancy like completing a marathon or triathlon with a much bigger reward at the end," says Luke Bongiorno; P.T, M.C.M., owner and managing director of NY Sports Med in New York City. “If you train properly, you're going to enjoy it much more.”

“During pregnancy, the heart has to work twice as hard as normal, pumping a greater volume of blood to both mother and fetus,” says Jacques Moritz, M.D., an ob/gyn and director of gynecology at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York. In addition, you can expect changes in your center of gravity, plus loosening ligaments and the need for a super-strong core during your star performance—pushing the baby out.

Dr. Moritz says he sees lots of women working to meet these challenges head-on by conditioning their bodies before and during pregnancy. Here, the prehab guidelines to help you put your best body forward for those 9 months and beyond:

Focus on cardio: “The stronger the heart muscle is leading into the pregnancy, the less shortness of breath and lethargy you’ll feel, and the greater your chance of maintaining an exercise program,” Dr. Mortiz says. (Being active during pregnancy lowers the risk of diabetes, obesity and preeclampsia). To get your heart and lungs in top shape, shoot for at least two and a half hours of moderate cardio and/or an hour and 15 minutes of intense aerobic work per week.

Prep your pelvic floor: Pregnancy tends to weaken your pelvic muscles, which bear much of the weight of your growing baby. A weak pelvic floor can cause you to leak urine when you sneeze and laugh—a classic, if unfortunate effect that can persist for decades, points out a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Kegels are where it’s at, says Bongiorno. Tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor up (as if you’re stopping urine flow), hold for up to 10 seconds, then relax. Do 10 reps three times a day.

Build up your core: Sit-ups will get you nowhere when it comes to pregnancy prep: You don’t need a six-pack—you need a core that’s strong through and through to keep you stable as your weight gets redistributed and help you with the exertion of delivery. To strengthen from within, do planks, Bongiorno says: Hold for six slow breaths, then rest for six breaths. Repeat twice.

Strengthen your legs: Lending your quads additional strength pre-baby can also help keep you stable as your belly grows, Bongiorno says. Try several reps of wall sits: Hold a squat with your back flat against the wall and thighs parallel to the floor for six slow breaths. And a move Bongiorno calls the window washer—lying on your side with your head propped on your hand and doing slow, controlled leg lifts—strengthens the sides of your glutes to help you avoid that classic third-trimester waddle.