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5 Ways to Perform Squats Safely During Pregnancy

Squats during pregnancy

Squats are one of the most popular and effective exercises for building lower body strength. There are many different variations of squats. They can be done with no equipment. You can also use dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands.

Pregnant women may choose to incorporate squats into their weekly exercise routine. Squats can offer many benefits for both you and your baby-to-be during pregnancy, labor, and after delivery.

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Squatting during labor and delivery may help open your pelvis, assisting in baby’s descent. This is why squats are an important exercise to practice during pregnancy.

Try these five different squat variations throughout your pregnancy. If you have knee, hip, or low back pain during these movements, stop and talk to a doctor, physical therapist, or personal trainer. They can help ensure that you’re OK to perform the movement and that you are performing it correctly.

Exercising safely during pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s best to avoid excessive bouncing, jumping, or high-impact activity. Unless you were training at a high level prior to pregnancy, heavy resistance training isn’t recommended because of the risk of injury.

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The hormone relaxin can cause your ligaments and joints to become increasingly loose during pregnancy. Although you may feel more flexible, it’s best to avoid overstretching. It can lead to injury. Your center of gravity also changes as your belly gets bigger. Always perform movements slowly and in a controlled way, to avoid falling.

Stop exercising and check with your doctor if you experience any of the following:

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  • dizziness
  • pain
  • vaginal bleeding
  • shortness of breath
  • racing heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • vaginal fluid leaking
  • uterine contractions
  • muscle cramps
Squats can offer many benefits for both you and your baby-to-be during pregnancy, labor, and after delivery.
— Natasha Freutel, OTR/L,

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Childbirth is often an intense and physically demanding event. Much like any other athletic endeavor, proper training and preparation is important. Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to have many positive effects. It’s generally considered safe if you’re working at the same intensity (or below) as your prepregnancy activity level.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, exercise during pregnancy can help:

  • reduce backaches
  • reduce constipation
  • reduce swelling
  • prevent or manage gestational diabetes
  • increase energy
  • improve mood
  • improve posture
  • improve sleep
  • promote muscle tone, strength, and endurance

Exercising throughout pregnancy may also make it easier to get back in shape after your baby is born.

There may be mental health benefits, too. A 2014 qualitative research study investigated the impact of exercise on pregnancy outcomes among pregnant women who performed regular resistance workouts. They identified several benefits, including:

  • positive impact on body and mind
  • increased self-confidence
  • increased sense of control
  • immediate positive feedback and effect on lifestyle
  • increased quality of life

Pregnancy-safe squat exercises

1. Bodyweight squats

Bodyweight squats

During pregnancy, the weight of your body may offer enough resistance for you to work out effectively. But you can always add weight by holding dumbbells in each hand, or by setting a barbell across your shoulders.

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  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold your arms straight out in front of your body for balance if you don’t have weights or a bar.
  3. Lower yourself into a squat position. Only go as far as you’re comfortable while keeping your back straight, weight in your heels, and knees behind or in line with your toes.
  4. Return to starting position, squeezing your glutes on the way up.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

2. Sumo squats

Sumo squats

This squat variation targets the inner muscles of the thighs and glutes. It’s also an excellent stretch to open up the hips.

Note: Your joints are more flexible during pregnancy, so it’s easy to strain yourself by stretching too far. Do not go past your normal range of motion.

  1. Step out into a wide stance with your feet greater than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing outward, with knees tracking in line with the toes.
  2. Lower yourself into a squat position. Only go as far as you’re comfortable while keeping your back straight, weight in your heels, and knees behind or in line with your toes.
  3. Keep your legs turned out throughout the movement, making sure your knees do not cave in toward each other.
  4. Return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes on the way up.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

3. Squats against wall with exercise ball

exercise ball

This exercise adds a level of instability to further engage the core muscles during the squat movement. If this exercise bothers your knees, only go as low as you feel comfortable.

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  1. Stand against a wall with an exercise ball between the wall and your lower back.
  2. Place feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hold your arms straight out in front of your body for balance.
  4. Contract your abdominals by pulling in your bellybutton as if you were trying to pull it to the ball behind you.
  5. Lower yourself into a sitting position. Only go as far as you’re comfortable while keeping your back straight and shoulders back.
  6. If you find you have a lot of pressure on your knees, make sure your feet are far enough away from the wall to maintain a 90-degree angle at the knee when in a full squat.
  7. Return to starting position, squeezing your glutes on the way up.
  8. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

4. Deep squat hold with pelvic floor contraction

pelvic floor contraction

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that act like a sling supporting the bladder, uterus, and other organs. As pregnancy progresses, these muscles can get weak, which can lead to urinary incontinence and other issues postpartum. Strong pelvic floor muscles may also help during delivery, so it’s important to keep them active during pregnancy.

  1. Stand facing a wall with your feet in a wide sumo squat position.
  2. Squat as far down as you can. Go all the way down to the ground, if you’re able, but be careful not to overstretch.
  3. Keep your arms extended in front of you. If needed, hold onto the wall for balance.
  4. Perform a Kegel exercise at the bottom of your squat. Squeeze your pelvic floor as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine.
  5. Hold this position for 10 seconds and return to standing.
  6. Repeat 5 times.

5. Chair squats

chair squats

This exercise is a great modification for women who have compromised balance during pregnancy, or aren’t comfortable with regular squats.

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  1. Stand 1 foot away from a chair that is braced so it cannot move out from under you (for example, against a wall), with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Sit back into the chair, lightly resting your bottom on the chair for 1 to 2 seconds.
  3. Stand back up using your gluteus muscles to initiate the movement.
  4. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

The takeaway

During pregnancy, squats are an excellent resistance exercise to maintain strength and range of motion in the hips, glutes, core, and pelvic floor muscles. When performed correctly, squats can help improve posture, and they have the potential to assist with the birthing process.

Squats don’t need to be performed with weight in order to be beneficial. If you have a healthy pregnancy, you can do them throughout. Always check with your doctor before performing any new exercise routine during pregnancy.

Natasha
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