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The Bump Editors

Walk On

Prenatal exercise doesn't have to be complicated. Our beginner, intermediate and advanced walking workouts show you just how easy (and effective) it can be.

What's the one workout that suits pregnant women of all stripes? "Walking," chorused the group I interviewed for my book, Walking Through Pregnancy and Beyond. For everyone — from the Texas triathlete and coach who needed to scale back, to a Colorado woman who simply pledged to walk the short distance to work — walking was both as gentle and as challenging as they needed it to be.

"I recommend walking to most of my patients who are pregnant," says Tanya Ghatan, MD, an ob-gyn at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "It's easy entry for women who've never exercised and gives athletic women a way to stay active and maintain a sense of control without the high impact of other activities they've participated in."

Our three-tiered program makes establishing a routine simple. Regardless of your fitness level, keep in mind that it's not only fine, it's also wise to swap days or shorten workouts according to how you feel. And whenever you're increasing your walking time, be sure to do it gradually, adding a few minutes every other day or every few days. Already in your second or third trimester? Jump in at the relevant level, unless you've been inactive; if so, start with the first trimester plan for beginners.

Remember to get your doctor's approval before starting this or any prenatal exercise plan. Slip on your favorite walking shoes, start with our simple warm-up and get ready to walk your way to a healthy pregnancy.

Warm-Up
Before each walk, take two minutes to warm up with these moves:
ANKLE CIRCLES Stand on one foot, holding a wall or rail for balance. Flex your ankle and slowly draw big circles with your toes, completing six to eight circles in each direction. Switch feet and repeat.
LEG SWINGS Stand on one foot, holding a wall or rail for balance. Swing your free leg forward and back from your hip in a relaxed motion. Repeat 10-20 times; switch legs and repeat.
ARM CIRCLES Stand while holding arms straight out to the sides. Circle arms backward 10 times; repeat in opposite direction.

COOL-DOWN When you finish your walk, take five minutes to stretch your back, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, thighs and calves. You can do this while standing — essential as your pregnancy progresses.

*First Trimester (0-12 weeks) *

Beginner
You've never exercised or do so rarely.
It's important to approach this fitness program gradually and focus on sticking with it consistently.
• Start by walking three days a week, spread evenly over 7 days.
• Every two to three weeks, add another day of walking for 5-10 minutes, until you are walking five days a week.
• By week 10, your schedule should look something like this:

Monday - Off
Tuesday - Walk 20 Minutes
Wednesday - Walk 10 Minutes
Thursday - Walk 15 Minutes
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 20 Minutes
Sunday - Walk 10 Minutes

Intermediate
You're active, but exercise may be sporadic.
The fitter you were before you became pregnant, the sooner you can ramp up to five or six walk-days per week.
• Start by walking four days a week, adding a fifth day after four or five weeks. Begin with 15-minute walks. Then gradually increase the time, adding a few minutes every other day so that walks are 20 and then 30 minutes. By week 10, here's what a typical week might look like:

Monday - Walk 25 minutes
Tuesday - Walk 35 minutes, or take 2 walks: 15 & 20 minutes
Wednesday - Walk 20 minutes
Thursday - Walk 30 minutes
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 30 minutes
Sunday - Walk 40 minutes

Advanced
You're fit and exercise four or more times per week.
Even if you're fit and a faithful exerciser, changing to a low-impact walking program might be just what you need to continue staying active and feeling good.
• Start by walking six days a week for 10-25 minutes.
• After one week, add a few minutes each day, until you are walking for at least 30 minutes per session.
• Around week 10, your schedule should look like this:

Monday - Walk 30 minutes
Tuesday - Walk 40 minutes Wednesday - Walk 20 minutes
Thursday - Take 2 walks: 20 & 30 minutes Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 60 minutes
Sunday - Walk 25 minutes

Second Trimester (13-25 weeks)

Beginner
You've never exercised or do so rarely.
During the "honeymoon" trimester — when energy peaks and nausea should be history — you're ready to add a sixth walk day to your weekly regimen.
• Add a few minutes to your walks every several days.
• Pick two days that will become your longer-walk days. Gradually lengthen the walks on those days by adding a few minutes every few days. Toward the end of this trimester, your schedule should look like this:

Monday - Walk 15 minutes
Tuesday - Walk 30 minutes
Wednesday - Walk 15 minutes
Thursday - Walk 20 minutes
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 30 minutes
Sunday - Walk 20 minutes

Intermediate
You're active, but exercise may be sporadic.
With a solid base established, you're ready to gradually lengthen your walks and pick up the pace a bit at points. Just be sure not to push if you're feeling tired, and avoid getting overheated.
Gradually add minutes every other day so that each walk is at least 30 minutes. Once or twice a week, if you're feeling up to it, increase your pace by one notch for 10-15 minutes after you've warmed up. By the end of this trimester, your schedule should look like this:

Monday - Walk 30 minutes
Tuesday - Walk 40 minutes, with pace increase
Wednesday - Walk 30 minutes
Thursday - Walk 40 minutes
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 60 minutes, with pace increase
Sunday - Walk 25 minutes

Advanced
You're fit and exercise four or more times per week.
Provided you're feeling good and heeding your body's signals, it's fine to continue to increase the duration of your walks and to pick up the pace a couple of times a week.
• Keep building minutes on your long Saturday walk, with a goal of 60 minutes.
• Continue adding to your shorter walks so that your total is at least 40 minutes on each of the four days (not counting Saturday).

Monday - Walk 30 minutes
Tuesday - Walk 45 minutes, with pace increase
Wednesday - Walk 30 minutes
Thursday - Take 2 walks: 30 & 40 minutes
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 60 minutes, with pace increase
Sunday - Walk 40 minutes 

Third Trimester (26-40 weeks)

Beginner
You've never exercised or do so rarely.
Try to stick with the six-days-a-week goal, but listen to your body and be prepared to slow down as your belly gets bigger.
• Aim to maintain the same total walking minutes per week as at the end of the second trimester, but know that your pace — and thus the distance you cover — will naturally decrease.
• Break up walks into shorter, 10- or 15-minute sessions whenever that feels more comfortable.

Monday - Walk 15 minutes
Tuesday - Take three 10-minute walks
Wednesday - Walk 15 minutes
Thursday - Take two 10-minute walks
Friday - Off
Saturday - Take two 15-minute walks
Sunday - Take two 10-minute walks

Intermediate
You're active, but exercise may be sporadic.
Speed and distance take a backseat to consistency now. The goal is to keep walking for the same number of minutes, whenever you feel that you can.
• Be ready to reduce the speed and distance of your walks as your pregnancy progresses.
• Break up walks into two or more shorter sessions whenever that feels more comfortable.

Monday - Walk 30 minutes
Tuesday - Take two 20-minute walks
Wednesday - Walk 30 minutes
Thursday - Take two 20-minute walks
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 60 minutes
Sunday - Walk 25 minutes

Advanced
You're fit and exercise four or more times per week.
This trimester is all about staying comfortable, so try to let go of any plans to keep building fitness at this point, and focus on staying active regularly to enable you to bounce back more quickly after you deliver.
• Keep walking six days a week, but forget about speed, and don't push beyond an RPE of 7.
• Switch to walks that are similar in length, and divide them into shorter sessions whenever that feels more comfortable.

Monday - Walk 30 minutes
Tuesday - Take two walks: 25 & 20 minutes
Wednesday - Walk 30 minutes
Thursday - Take two 30-minute walks
Friday - Off
Saturday - Walk 60 minutes
Sunday - Walk 30 minutes

Expert: Tracy Teare, fitness expert for FitPregnancy.

PHOTO: Getty Images