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7 Essential Moves You Should Master Now

It is no secret that even the simplest movements can be more than a little challenging during pregnancy. (Funny how those toes seem to get farther and farther away…) As an expert on biomechanics and functional movement patterns, and a mom-to-be who is due in January, Emily Kiberd, a chiropractic physician and the founder of the Urban Wellness Clinic in New York (57 W. 57th St., Suite 1406; 212-355-0445), knows how important it is to be mindful of movement when negotiating a bump or a new baby.

To help keep bodies moving as well as they can, Kiberd prioritizes seven basic daily movements—what she and her team call The Essential 7 (pictured below). “The Essential 7 are movements that we do in our everyday life,” she explains. “They helps us move better in picking up our baby, pushing our stroller and maneuvering around with a weight in new-found places.” Other benefits of working these fundamental moves include increased abdominal strength and breathing reserves (for those final stages of labor), improved circulation to help sidestep swelling (adios, cankles), sharpened mental focus and the potential for a quicker postpartum recovery. To help you master the magnificent seven, we had Kiberd break them down and suggest a targeted exercise or two for each.

Recommended exercise: Squats (what else?).

Why: “This one is essential!” says Kiberd. “We love pregnant mamas to be regularly training their squats, since a low squat is the ideal position for working through contractions and pushing during labor.” They also improve pelvic floor strength and elasticity to help prevent tearing during the natural labor process and teach abdominal strength relative to hip mobility for an easier labor and faster postnatal recovery. Kiberd and her team prefer front squats done with at least a 12-kilogram kettlebell held at the chest. (Choose an appropriate weight for your level.) “The kettlebell gives great feedback to the muscles that need to engage to stand you back up and to stabilize your weight while you’re down in the squat,” she explains. And once the bump gets big? “No weight on the front is needed,” she says. “The belly is that natural weight.”

Recommended exercise: TRX lunge.

Why: “We love a TRX lunge,” says Kiberd, “which offers extra balance [to help with] the new-found weight distribution that a mother’s body needs to get used to.” To avoid a fall, she recommends passing on reverse lunges or walking lunges unless you do them often.

Recommended exercise: Palloff press or lateral (side) crawls on hands and knees.

Why: A kettlebell swing is normally Kiberd’s go-to here, but if you haven’t been hauling kettlebells before you were pregnant, she doesn’t advise that you start now. The Palloff press (a core stabilizer done on a cable machine) and lateral crawls (see below for directions) offer the same degree of effectiveness. “These two exercises engage the external and internal obliques, which are involved in stabilizing the torso in rotation and help stabilize the shoulders down and back,” she explains.

Lateral crawls: Begin on your hands and knees, with wrists directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips. Engage your core and take a step to the left with your left leg followed by a step to your left with your right hand. Continue for 10 steps. Repeat on the right side.

Recommended exercise: Standing TRX chest press or standing cable chest press.

Why: “This variation unloads the baby belly once it starts to grow in the second and third trimesters,” says Kiberd. “The standing version avoids any smashing or falling onto the belly that can happen with a push-up while pregnant, but you still get the same great effects of engaging the core, shoulders and glutes while working the chest.”

Recommended exercise: Farmer’s walk (walking while holding weights at your sides).

Why: “New mamas feel the weight on the front body, which pulls the shoulders forward and collapses the chest,” says Kiberd. “Post-pregnancy, there will be lots of carrying: new sweet baby, diaper bag, hunched-over breastfeeding positions.” And while massage can effectively loosen tight muscles, “Strengthening the shoulder stabilizers with a heavy carry is the essential component to avoid pain in this area,” she explains. The farmer’s walk (directions below) teaches the body to pack the shoulders down and back with the help of an open chest.

Farmer’s walk: Choose a pair of dumbbells that are heavy enough to be challenging, but not so heavy you can’t lift them. Carefully pick up a dumbbell in each hand and stand up with your arms at your sides. Keeping your core engaged and shoulders down and back, walk for a desired distance. Rest and repeat.

Recommended exercise: Deadlift or standing wall hip hinges.

Why: “This is great for full-body strength because it helps engage the glutes, core and shoulder stabilizers together, while teaching you how to find the intra-abdominal pressure necessary to bear down when you are in the final stages of labor and pushing,” says Kiberd. If your form holds during the standing wall hip hinges (directions below), move on to a deadlift.

Standing wall hip hinges: Begin with your back facing a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart and six to ten inches from the wall. Hinge your hips back, touching your butt to the wall. Stand back up and squeeze your glutes. Make sure to keep a natural curve in your back and your ribs zipped in.

Recommended exercise: Standing cable row or TRX row.

Why: Kiberd uses these two exercises to teach her clients to pull their shoulders down and back, which helps to reverse the forward rounding that moms-to-be and new moms often experience.

Photo (pregnant women): Charlotte Jenks Lewis. Exercises image: Courtesy of Urban Wellness Clinic.

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