There are a lot of reasons to love strong legs – but while pregnant, you’ll be relying on them even more than usual. They’re adjusting to additional weight and a changing center of gravity, so the stronger they are the better. Not only will keeping your legs fit and toned help with some common pregnancy symptoms, it will also help you zip back into exercise as new mom (when your body is ready of course)! Here are 5 great bodyweight exercises that you can do just about anywhere – and yes, even in the pool!
1. Wall sits
Wall sits are an isometric exercise, meaning your muscles don’t contract through the exercise. Instead, these exercises require your muscles to hold a certain position, building stamina and strength without adding stress to your joints. Another isometric exercise you may know well is the plank (in all its variations), and one of the best parts of such exercises is that you’re less likely to injure yourself or do the move incorrectly. Ultimately, wall sits will build key strength in many of the muscles you’ll use during labor and since it requires you to hold the position for an extended period of time, it’s a great exercise for mental endurance as well.
How to do it: Stand facing away from a wall, with about 2 feet between your heels and the wall itself. Slowly lean your back and hips against the wall, and gently lower into a semi-squat position, as if you were about to sit down in a chair. You can use your hands to help you stay balanced here. Once comfortable, try to lift your hands away from the wall and either hold them across your chest, or outstretched in front of you. Hold this for 30 seconds at the start, or as long as you’re able to do. Try to increase your wall sit holds by 10 seconds each time, aiming to hold the position for as long as you can up to 2 minutes.
Extra challenge: Place a small stability ball between your knees and lightly squeeze to hold it in place during your wall sit.
2. Calf raise and knee lift
Calf raises are all about the calves – no surprise there. These will really help with two major things: balance and calf cramps. Those painful and annoying leg cramps that wake you up at night can be helped with regular calf-focused exercise. Plus, as your bump continues to grow, the muscles in your calves will actually be responsible for much of the balancing act.
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Begin by lifting your right knee up so your leg is parallel to the ground and lift onto your toes into a calf raise as you do so. As you lower, bring your right leg back down to the starting position. Repeat this 15 times and then switch to the other leg. You may want to stand next to a sturdy chair, table, or bar when doing these exercises so you can hold on for balance if needed. Do try to do this without holding on to anything as it will help build those balancing muscles!
Extra challenge: As you lower down out of the calf raise, step back into a reverse lunge.
Lunges are a full leg shaping exercise – building muscle tone from hip to toe. We love lunges because they are so versatile, you can go forwards, backwards, or sideways, and you can turn them into a dynamic exercise (walking forward lunges) that gives you a bit of cardio while you’re at it. What’s more, they’ll boost your core strength and back stability as well, so it’s much more than just a lower body exercise!
How to do it: Take a dumbbell in each hand to add a bit extra weight and step your left leg forward, lowering down into a lunge position so both of your knees are nearly at 90˚ angles. Make sure your front knee doesn’t spill over your toe and that your hips stay square. Press back up to standing and repeat on the other side. Aim to do at least 12 lunges per leg.
Extra challenge: Do an around the world lunge circuit. Forward, right, backward, left then repeat going in opposite direction starting with your other leg. Make sure your knees don’t go past your toes and that you can maintain good balance throughout.
4. Reclining side leg lift
This is a slight variation on a classic Pilates move where you do a leg lift from a side half-plank position. Using your elbow to prop yourself up, you can still target all of those outer leg muscles and your often underworked gluteus medius, which is one of the major muscles in your bum that stabilizes your hip joints, which is under a lot of pressure during pregnancy! It also strengthens something called your tensor fascia latae which helps stabilize your knee, reducing your risk of knee injury.
How to do it: Lying on your right side, prop yourself up on your right forearm and place your left hand on your hip. If needed, you can support your bump with a pillow. Extend your left leg straight out, lift it 45 degrees, then lower. Do 15 repetitions, then switch to the other side and repeat.
Extra challenge: When you reach the high point of your leg lift, try pulsing your leg up and down an extra 2 inches for a count of 5, then lower to the ground. That is one repetition.
5. Bodyweight squats
We couldn’t have done this list without having some variation of a squat on here. We’re partial to the classic bodyweight squat for pregnancy exercise because it does everything you need it to in one simple step. It supercharges leg strength, engages your core, and builds awesome butt muscles all in one move. Unlike lunges, squats evenly target both sides of your body, so you’re always building balanced muscle, and it’s truly a full body exercise.
How to do it: A great way to start with squats during pregnancy is by doing them over your couch or a low, sturdy chair. This will help you lower down far enough to really engage all of those muscles, and if you go too far, the worst thing that can happen is you sitting down on said couch or chair. Just make sure to get back up and do some more squats! With your feet shoulder-width apart, facing forward, and your chest raised, bend your knees and sit your butt backward as if you were sitting on a chair. You want to get your butt as far back as possible so your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor. If you can, keep your knees over your heels; if they spill a little farther forward at first that’s OK, just make sure they don’t go past your toes. Keep your core engaged throughout and press back up through your heels to standing position. Repeat 15 times.
Extra challenge: Add some extra weight to it! Your baby bump likely adds enough weight, but grabbing some dumbbells or kettlebell will challenge you just a little bit more.
For more fitness tips and exercises for a healthy pregnancy and fourth trimester, check out our free ios app!