Read along to learn why strength training in the third trimester is the best way to prepare for labor. At the end I will give you a killer strength workout designed for mamas at this stage so you can get on track!
I have to say it. Labor is just that, labor. Hard work. The most demanding physical feat you will probably ever do. So get excited! LOL. But I do want to be transparent with you mama. If you are a first time mom and not sure what to expect AND I just freaked you out a little, hang tight.
Yes, labor will be demanding. I think we all have already figured that out or are expecting as much. Just like you would want to prepare for a sport or challenge (think 5k, half marathon, etc.) you want to prepare your body for this. You do not need to currently be an athlete or magically become one by due day. But from my experience, the proper “training” for your body can help your delivery go smoother. I want to emphasize strength training, especially for your final months. However, in reality any exercise will be supportive. So get moving!
How does strength prepare you for labor?
Let’s get to the good stuff. So why and how does strength training specifically stand out as a superior or important method? Because labor is a “marathon” of contracting muscles followed by a “5k” of pushing. Make sense? I figured that would clear it up. Haha. You know how we call them contractions? Well, a contraction is the tightening, shortening, or “work” part of an exercise. And that is exactly what your uterus is doing during labor. So getting your body prepped with muscular endurance training can help maintain the fatigue of early labor (the marathon) and still be ready for the rigorous part of labor, pushing. See why strength training is so important? It’s a loooong workout. Let’s help prepare our bodies for the smoothest labor possible.
Story time! To keep it quick, I’ll give you a rundown of my first labor and delivery. But keep in mind everyone has their own experience and methods so I just want you to see where I am coming from. My daughter went past her due date, and my doctor advised that we induce labor after 41 weeks. I know there are mixed opinions about labor and induction and everything, but that is not what I am discussing.
(…to skip this part and get straight to the exercises click here)
Anyways, they started me on Pitocin and I calmly labored for roughly 12 hours but stuck at 4cm. I was unmedicated and feeling good but tired. Very tired. Like I sat in bed the whole day and barely moved but was still exhausted. They said they didn’t want me on Pitocin for too long to not stress my baby. They offered to break my water or rest for the night and start again in the morning. This is where I decided that I was too tired to do it again and thought another day of Pitocin made me feel uncomfortable in regards to my daughter’s safety.
I got an epidural, as I was nervous for the increased pain of contractions, and they broke my water. It went great! I fell asleep and they woke me up about 6 hours later saying, “time to push!” I pushed for about 45 minutes and we lived happily ever after. LOL it was actually a very smooth and “easy” labor for what I expected. We were healthy and ready to leave.
Now like I said, the early labor, even though I thought the discomfort was fairly tolerable, was also very demanding. I was ready for bed when they came to break my water. But when it came time to push I did have the epidural so I couldn’t feel much. The pushing was still doable even though I was numb but it was a lot of bearing down. Like the “pooping” muscles. For those of you that have squatted for low rep maxes or just heavier weight in general, it’s like when you get stuck at the bottom of your squat and have that final drive up.
So I was very thankful that I had continued strength training throughout pregnancy and was already a strong build. I truly believe that is what made my delivery so quick and comparatively “easy.” It was definitely a workout!
The best exercises in the third trimester to prepare for labor
The most important muscle groups to strengthen in the third trimester are those surrounding the hip girdle and core. These muscles will stabilize and support your pelvic posture and pelvic floor.
Squats. Since you will most likely be in a squat position if you labor on your back, your pushing will look very much like a heavy squat. With knees in your chest, feet hip width, and a slight bend at the hips. Squats work your hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quads, erectors, and abdominals. That’s almost everything! So lots of squats and variations such as sumo or pile are high priority during your third trimester.
Hinge. A hinge motion like deadlifts and bridges will also be targeting a lot of the similar groups as the squat. However, with an emphasis on the erectors in the low back and glutes. Very important areas because I am sure you have either felt or heard of back labor? If not keep in mind our abdominals are very weakened from the size of our bellies and they are supported by the back muscles.
The vacuum. Get on all fours in a tabletop and gently draw your belly inward as if you are lifting the baby into your spine. Of course it will feel like you are doing little to no movement but inward drawing is how you bear down. Plus, this will help build your mind-muscle link for pushing. So even if you have an epidural you will know how to focus on that contraction.
Pelvic Tilt. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. All you do is try to tuck your tailbone off the ground while maintaining constant contact with your back against the floor. When you are pushing, you will naturally find a pelvic tilt in your hips. Practice, practice, practice! Remember not to spend too much time on your back this late in the game. Rest on your side or in the seated position between sets!
Activate your strength
Even though I keep saying strength training, your goal is not to be actually building strength. I’m really referring to activating the proper muscle groups on a regular basis to build your muscular endurance in those areas. Yes, it will feel as though they got stronger but you won’t be able to stress the muscle in a way that physiologically builds strength. So no, you won’t be building muscle mass either.
But that’s okay! Our bodies are not in a place to build muscle while we are trying to prepare for labor. It is kind of busy at the moment LOL. I also want to encourage you to mix in concentric AND isotonic contraction. Concentric is the shortening of the muscle, so what we are used to by repeating the exercise. Think squats. Isotonic is when we are working the muscle at one length, so a hold. Think wall sits. Because those contractions are not 3 seconds long and neither will be your pushes!
Use THIS workout to prepare for labor
Okay mama, now it’s time to walk the walk. Or more like waddle the waddle? You know what you need to do, so join me and I’ll help you prepare for your labor!
You can also check out my Prenatal Postural Correcting Workout to focus on all of those areas as well!