Barring restrictions from your physician, there is no reason you can't continue -- or even begin -- a program of leg and arm toning while pregnant. Strong legs will make it easier to get the 30 minutes per day of moderate activity recommended for pregnant women by the Mayo Clinic, and strong arms will make it easier to lift without strain. If you're just starting out, start slowly, with light weight and no more than two sets of about eight repetitions. You should never work to exhaustion while pregnant and never use a weight that causes you to strain.
Tone your thigh muscles -- both the quadriceps and the hamstrings -- as well as your calf muscles with ball squats. In addition to toning, the Mayo Clinic suggests that the ability to squat has definite benefits during labor. Place a stability ball between a wall and the small of your back. For stability, place your feet about hip-width apart and slightly in front of you. Inhale, then exhale as you roll down the wall to the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position without locking your knees. Use a stability ball during pregnancy, rather than doing free-standing squats, even if you are an experienced exerciser. Aim for 12 to 15 repetitions and two or more sets.
Lie on your side, if it isn't too uncomfortable, to work the gluteus minimus, hip flexors and other muscles of the outer thigh area. Your head should rest on the arm that's on the floor, while your other arm supports you with your hand on the floor in front of your chest. Bend your bottom knee slightly for support and let your top hip extend slightly more forward than the bottom hip to avoid back strain. Keeping your top leg straight but your knee soft, lift the outer thigh toward the ceiling but not higher than about 45 degrees to avoid strain on the hip. Switch sides. Work toward two or more sets of 12 repetitions on each side. If this becomes easy, progress to a smaller, pulsing motion rather than a full lift.
Remain on your side as in Step 2 to work the adductors and other muscles of the inner thigh. This time, move your top leg off the other, resting it on the floor at about a 45-degree angle. With the foot of your bottom leg flexed and your toes pointing forward, lift the bottom leg off the floor as high as you can. Progress to two or more sets of 12 repetitions. Again, if the move becomes too easy, try a pulsing move instead.
Work the quadriceps of your upper arms using dumbbells, as barbells may be awkward or require you to strain. Start with your arms extended down at your sides and your elbows tucked in, but maintain a tension in your biceps. Your palms can be facing away from you or in toward your body, or you can alternate. Flex the elbows, bringing your fists toward your shoulders. Squeeze the biceps, then return to the starting position. Choose a weight that will be somewhat difficult to lift at the end of eight to 12 repetitions. While pregnant, you should err on the side of caution and not choose a weight that will lead to muscle failure.
Sit in a chair that will support your back. Hold a dumbbell with both hands and extend your arms so your elbows are tucked in close to your ears and the dumbbell is above, but slightly behind, your head. Keeping your elbows in close, bend them, trying to bring the dumbbell back to touch between your shoulders. Return to the starting position. This will work the triceps at the backs of your arms. When 12 repetitions per set becomes easy, increase the weight.
Resistance train the muscles of your inner and outer thighs -- your quadriceps and hamstrings and your biceps and triceps -- with machines at your gym that target those areas. Machines provide constant weight throughout the movement and usually have some support for your back. This can be beneficial when you're pregnant, particularly if you aren't used to exercising. Choose a weight setting on the machine at which you can do eight but no more than 12 repetitions. Complete at least two sets and increase the weight when 12 repetitions becomes too easy.
- MayoClinic.com: Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let's move!
- MayoClinic.com: What causes leg cramps during pregnancy and can they be prevented?
- MayoClinic.com: Slide show: Pregnancy exercises
- ACSM Current Comment: Exercise During Pregnancy
- Personal Fitness Training: Theory & Practice, Second Edition, Mary Yoke, MS
- Substitute exercise bands or tubes placed under the feet for dumbbells.
- Calf exercises may cause cramping. If so, stretch your calves by placing your hands on a wall and stepping back to arms' length. Place one leg behind the other until you feel a slight stretch, then bend the forward knee for a deeper stretch. Switch legs.
- The spine has a tendency to arch during pregnancy, causing back strain. Try doing exercises seated in a chair for back support or with your back against a wall.
- Never do exercises that require lying on your back or stomach while pregnant.
- Unless you are in very good condition, avoid exercises that require balance such as lunges or back squats with no support.
- Never hold your breath during exercise, as this can cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure. Breath out on the exertion and breath in on the return.
- Keep yourself hydrated.
- Pregnant women should always consult their physicians about exercising.
Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).