For the ultimate low-impact workout try swimming and
aqua exercise - it's a great way to keep fit during pregnancy
and tone down after giving birth, as Lisa Yates
Swimming is one of the most versatile, low-cost total body
workouts around. Whether you are a busy mother, pregnant or
postnatal, aquatic therapy may be the perfect way to spruce up your
current (or non-existent) exercise regime. The physiological
benefits of exercise are widely documented - improved muscle
strength and tone, better cardiovascular fitness, lower cholesterol
and fat, improved core strength and better sleep. Less well-known,
however, are the mood-enhancing effects, making it a great weapon
to combat winter blues. And with water aerobics, aqua jogging and
water-walking available, you don't even have to swim to reap the
A few of the many advantages of aquatic therapy
Decreased load/strain on the joints: As your
body is immersed, water is displaced which creates the force of
buoyancy. Quite simply, this results in a lighter load on the
immersed joints - the deeper in the water you go the more the
weight is reduced. So, by standing in water up to your belly
button, you will off-load about half of your body weight. Go a
little deeper (chest-height) and you'll have decreased the load on
your joints by up to 70%!
Increased resistance to movement: Water is
denser than air, creating increased resistance to movement and
therefore requiring more effort from your muscles to move. If you
want even more of a challenge simply push harder against the
Decreased swelling: Thanks to hydrostatic
pressure on limbs, many find the oedema (fluid retention) in their
legs is improved once out of the pool. The deeper you go the
greater the effect.
Increased support: No matter what your size or
shape, the water offers fluid support, making injuries less likely.
Many women report feeling safer and less self-conscious exercising
in the water - and it's great for those pregnant clumsy
Improved mood: Studies have confirmed this
finding with participants reporting decreased stress, tension and
anger. You only have to witness the laughter of children playing in
the bath or down at the beach to see that there is something
therapeutic about being in the water.
Safe until delivery: For healthy pregnant women
with no complications it is perfectly safe to exercise in the water
right up until your due date. Always listen to your body and if you
feel short of breath it is advisable to slow it down a little. As a
general rule you should be able to talk while exercising during
Sink or swim?
Many women ask why they have trouble floating in the water. In
general, the more body fat you have the more likely you are to
float. This generally helps women, as we tend to have more body fat
than men and are therefore more likely to float. The pregnant
uterus, which is largely made up of water, tends to increase the
tendency for floating. So even if you used to be a sinker you might
find things actually change once you are pregnant.
- Freestyle: Freestyle
is very popular and great for all levels of fitness. It is
excellent for upper body strengthening (handy for carrying children
and looking really great in a tank top).
Tip: Keep your legs as straight as possible and
move from the hips without bending your knees. This keeps you more
horizontal in the water (stops your legs sinking) and works your
bottom more. If you don't like freestyle just use a kick-board with
your arms out straight and kick your legs in the same way.
Starting out: Start with one or two laps of
freestyle/kicking with the board then alternate with breaststroke
or water-walking so you don't tire out too quickly.
- Breaststroke: Loved
by nannas everywhere, breaststroke is a fabulous arm and chest
toner and the frog-like kick is great for toning and shaping your
inner and outer thighs.
Tip: A great stroke for starting out, especially
if your aerobic fitness isn't as great as it could be, or if you
don't like fully submerging your head.
Pregnancy: Be careful with this stroke if you
suffer any pubic symphysis pain (groin pain), as it can exacerbate
these symptoms. If you do experience this problem, avoid
breaststroke until you talk to a women's health
- Backstroke: This is
often the "forgotten" stroke. Backstroke is great for strengthening
the back muscles, which are vital for good posture both during
pregnancy and afterwards for feeding baby. It will also help
stretch out your chest and arm muscles which is lovely after
swimming on your front.
Tip: Backstroke is also great at toning the
triceps (back of the upper arms) and the abdominal muscles.
- Deep-water (aqua)
jogging: This is a fantastic option if you're not keen on
swimming. It is also a great form of cross-training and equally
useful if you're recovering from an injury. If you are pregnant or
have just had a baby this can be the perfect way to continue
jogging without adding any stress to your joints.
You'll need: A floatation vest or belt.
Most local swimming pools will have specifically designed belts
that are usually free to use. In deep water, start jogging as you
would on the ground or a treadmill. Aim to keep as upright in the
water as possible.
If you want to increase the intensity you
can simply swing your arms higher or move them faster, creating
more turbulence in the water and making you work much harder. Try
jogging forwards, backwards, sideways or even diagonally. You can
jog as you would on land with bent knees or, for an extra
challenge, try a scissoring action with straighter legs.
- Aqua aerobics/aqua-natal
classes: Many swimming pools run aqua aerobics classes,
including some designed for pregnant women. This can be a great way
to meet other pregnant women and the camaraderie can be as
beneficial as the exercise itself.
Tip: Inform your instructor if you are pregnant
or have any particular problems such as pelvic pain. In general, if
you have been feeling pelvic/groin pain with certain exercises
(such as walking or going up stairs) avoid taking your legs too far
Aqua exercise ideas
Wearing the aqua belt in deep water or standing in chest-deep
water try the following:
Arm circles: Rotate your arms in small circles in
front of you as fast as you can. Do this for 30-60 seconds and then
try the same behind your back - this is a little harder.
Strong arms: Stand with your knees slightly bent,
your lower tummy pulled in gently and your arms by your sides with
fingers together and palms touching your thighs. Take your straight
arms up to the surface of the water and then pull them down to your
thighs again. To work your arms harder, increase your speed. Repeat
15-20 times rest 20 seconds and repeat 10-15 times again. Don't
forget to breathe!
Pelvic tilt: This exercise is fabulous to help
with lower back pain and strengthening the lower abdominal muscles.
Stand in chest/waist-deep water with your back against the wall and
your arms up on the side of the pool. With a slight bend in your
knees, tilt your pubic bone forwards, tucking your bottom under and
flatten your lower back towards the wall. Hold for two to three
breaths and then relax. Repeat this five times. I can't stress
enough the importance of pelvic floor exercises for all women, but
especially those pregnant or postnatal. See At risk
of a pelvic floor or Healing your pelvic
floor or go to www.filifit.com for more information.
Keep cool, baby: Exercising during pregnancy in
warm water could result in your overall body temperature rising
more than it normally would. To ensure you don't get over-heated
avoid exercising in very hot weather and drink regularly throughout
exercise. If at any point you feel hot or unwell take a
Balancing act: When your tummy begins to protrude
you will find your centre of gravity changes and at times you may
feel off balance. Take extra care walking on wet surfaces and
always use the ladder to get in and out of the pool as this takes
the strain off your stretching abdominal muscles. Take your time
getting out so your blood pressure has time to readjust and you
don't get a shock when the full effects of gravity once again take
hold and you have to support your bump again.
Complications: While water exercise is a safe
form of pregnancy exercise, if you have any medical conditions it
is best to check with your LMC/doctor before exercising during
Don't cramp your style: Pregnant women often
complain of tightness and cramping in the muscles of the lower
legs. Water exercise (often with toes pointed) can aggravate calf
problems. Make sure you always stretch out your calf muscles by
doing some standing lunges before getting out of the
Hunger buster: Many women report feeling ravenous
after a water workout. Make sure you have a healthy snack on hand
such as a banana so you are not tempted to fill up on "empty"
calories such as chocolate for the trip home.
Waters breaking: While this is unlikely, if it
does happen (and you are aware of it), it's best to get out of the
water and follow the advice of your LMC.
Postnatal: It is advisable to wait around six
weeks following a vaginal delivery and possibly longer following a
caesarean delivery before getting into the pool. It is important to
wait for any wounds to heal fully and until you have stopped
bleeding. Check with your LMC before heading into the pool
Lisa Yates began her career over 14 years ago teaching water
exercise to pregnant women. She currently teaches hydrotherapy for
rehabilitation purposes. Lisa swam during both her pregnancies and
loved the feeling of freedom and weightlessness. Lisa is a
physiotherapist and personal trainer with a special interest in
women's health. Together with Fiona Ross, a personal trainer,
she co-founded FILIFT and produced The Core & The Floor
(available from www.filifit.com), New Zealand's first
post-pregnancy exercise DVD. For more information go to
- Cole, A & Becker B. "Comprehensive Aquatic Therapy."
Butterworth Heinemann 2nd Edition 2004: 19-53.
- Kent, T et al. "Edema of pregnancy: A comparison of Water
Aerobics and Static Immersion." Obstetrics and Gynaecology 1999
(94) 5: 726-729.
- Takeshim, N et al. "Water-based Exercise Improves Health-
related Aspects of Fitness in Older Women." Medicine and Science in
Sports & Exercise. 2002 (34) 3: 544-551.
- Swimming New Zealand. "Active Movement in Water During
As seen in OHbaby!
magazine Issue 14: 2011
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