By Kristin Koch
Can't manage to "nap while the baby naps"? Tone up with one of these easy, equipment-free workouts.
We asked three fitness experts to recommend three workouts you can fit in while baby's snoozin' in the afternoon or kicking away in her bouncy seat. Each mini routine is a series of three simple moves that shape up your entire body, especially the core and back muscles you need to strengthen for toting baby around.
If you only have 10 minutes, do just a set or two of each exercise and then gradually add sets until you've worked up to a 20- or 30-minute workout.
Before you move, get into the groove:
--Check with your doctor or midwife first before starting to exercise postpartum. Most will recommend that you wait until six weeks after giving birth. If you had a c-section or a difficult delivery, they may recommend you wait a little longer.
--Your doctor will also tell you to warm up before you start to exercise. But because the clock is ticking when baby is sleeping, get your heart rate up in a practical way by cleaning the house for five or 10 minutes first, suggests Andrea Metcalf, certified trainer and author of Naked Fitness.
Yoga is an excellent way to energize, relieve stress, and regain the flexibility and strength you had prebaby. Try this routine from prenatal and postpartum yoga instructor Jennifer Wolfe.
What you need: A flat surface
Start in a hands-and-knees position with your hands directly under your shoulders, and hands, knees and feet hip-width apart. Make sure your pelvis is in a neutral position (not tilted too far forward or arched back) and your chest and hips are at the same height. Then gradually lift up your knees until your torso is parallel to the floor. While you hold this position for as long as you can, pull your navel into your spine to engage the abdominal muscles. If you have a hard time holding this position on your toes, drop to your knees until you get stronger.
From plank, shift back on your heels as you lift your hips up and press your chest toward your thighs, making an upside-down "V" with your body. Gently press your heels toward the ground and take five long, deep breaths.
3--Bring it home
Continue to move in smooth alternating motions from plank pose to downward dog, back to plank and so on, until you're ready to finish. At that point, hold plank for a couple of breaths, then gently drop your knees, sit back on your heels and stretch your upper body forward along the floor into a child's pose, and rest for a few moments.
Fitness expert Carla Birnberg, who founded MizFitOnline.com, shows you how you don't need a gym to get active.
What you need: Two soup cans or water bottles.
If you typically loathe push-ups, try doing them against a wall, allowing it to take most of the weight. With your hands resting on the wall in front of your chest, arms shoulder-width apart and extended, and your body making a straight line, bend toward the wall slowly and then return a little quicker, inhaling on the way "down" (or toward the wall) and exhaling on the way "up" (or away from the wall). "Think about form, form, form - really focus on where you're feeling your muscles work," says Birnberg.
Do 12 reps, focusing on working your chest muscles. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets, stretching your arms behind you to open the chest. As you get stronger, you can work up to 15 reps per set.
Once the wall push-up becomes easy, try one with your knees on the floor. Got that down? Get up on your toes, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.
However you do your push-ups, remember to concentrate on your form.
With a water bottle or soup can in each hand, bend over at the waist, keeping knees a little bit bent and letting arms hang down at your sides. Now, with your palms facing in, pull your arms directly toward your chest, letting your elbows bend behind your shoulder blades. Your arms should remain close to your side throughout the movement, and you should feel this exercise in your side-back muscles. Make sure your hands are grasping the bottles loosely - think of them as hooks connecting your back to the weight. Do 12 reps per set to begin with, working up to 15 reps.
With your legs a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet pointing out at 45-degree angles, squat slowly down as far as you can comfortably go. Keep your back straight and make sure that your knees don't extend beyond your toes. (Tip: Try this in front of a chair so you have something to grab in case you topple over.)
Exhale as you rise back up, engaging the muscles in your inner thighs and keeping knees gently bent. Pause at the top and inhale as you lower slowly. Do 20 reps per set, with a 30-second rest in between.
This routine from Metcalf offers a fun twist on resistance training, using paper plates rather than expensive equipment to slide your way to stronger muscles.
What you need: One paper plate
Wearing athletic shoes, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart on a carpeted surface and your right foot on a paper plate. Slide your right leg out to the side, bending the knee into a lunge. Then slide back in to your starting position and repeat. Work your muscles in all directions by sliding out to "12 o'clock," "3 o'clock" and "6 o'clock" and back. Do 10 sets on one side, and then switch the paper plate to your left foot and repeat on the other side.
Get into plank position, as described earlier in the Feeling-Zen Workout. Place your right hand on a paper plate, and then slide that hand out to the side as far as you can and back in. Repeat 15 to 20 times; then switch to the left arm.
Now get into a hands-and-knees position, with both hands on the paper plate. Continually pressing into the floor, slide the paper plate as far forward as you can, and then slide it back with your back in an arched position, as if you were a cat stretching. Use your chest muscles when you do this routine to protect your lower back.
Meagan Francis is a mom of five and a parenting author. Her blog is TheHappiestMom.com. For pregnancy and parenting advice, tools, photos, and more, visit TheBump.com.