Whether you’re 12 weeks in or 12 days from your due date, it’s no secret that pregnancy takes a toll on the body (um, hello, carrying and creating new life!). So, what’s the best way to alleviate pain, prep for birth and keep everything in working order? Some good ole’ fashioned pregnancy stretches.
The No. 1 Rule of Stretching While Pregnant
“Listen to your body,” Mahri Relin, AFPA pre and postnatal exercise specialist, PCES postnatal corrective exercise specialist and founder of Body Conceptions tells us. Avoid positions that feel uncomfortable or crowd your belly, even if it’s something you were able to do pre-pregnancy. “Also make sure you avoid stretches with closed twists that can cut off or compress circulation to the uterus,” like crossing your knee over your leg and turning toward the bent knee, rather than away. To avoid these movements, stick to the stretches noted here and be sure to twist through the upper back and shoulders (rather than your lower spine).
And Watch Out for Relaxin
“Your body releases relaxin while pregnant, which is a hormone that softens the ligaments in your pelvis and helps loosen and widen your cervix,” Relin explains. In turn, it also loosens the ligaments in the rest of the body, increasing your overall flexibility. To avoid injury caused by overstretching, try to engage your muscles throughout while moving slowly and deliberately so you can be cognizant of any pain signals.
As always, be sure to consult your doctor before engaging in any new form of physical activity. Once you’ve got the go-ahead, grab a yoga mat and your favorite maternity leggings and flow through some of Relin’s go-to pregnancy stretches for instant relief and long-lasting results.
Muscles targeted: low back, front of shoulders, hips and ankles
“Child’s pose is great for relieving low back and hip pain, and it’s one of the most relaxing stretches you can do.”
Step 1: Begin on your shins with your knees hip-width apart, feet touching behind you. On your exhale fold forward, hinging at the hips, lengthening the spine, drawing the ribs away from the tailbone and stretching the crown of the head away from the shoulders.
Step 2: With your belly between your legs, extend your arms forward on the ground with your palms facing down. If this position feels too crowded, you can place a small pillow or yoga block beneath your forehead. Hold for 30 seconds or longer.
2. Standing Shoulder Opener
Muscles targeted: hamstrings, low back and front of chest
“This is my favorite stretch for pregnancy since it hits your hamstrings and low back and also gives you a great stretch through your upper body.”
Step 1: Find a chair with a back that’s about shoulder height or slightly lower. Stand about one arm’s length away with some extra room behind you. Place your hands on the back of the chair and slowly bend forward, keeping your arms outstretched and your legs straight, hinging at the hips.
Step 2: Lower yourself to a 90-degree angle (or whatever feels most comfortable) until you feel a stretch through the back of your legs and front of your shoulders. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds or longer. To come out of the stretch, bend your knees, release your hands and slowly roll up one vertebra at a time.
3. Seated Single Leg Hamstring + Inner Thigh Stretch
Muscles targeted: hamstrings, low back and adductors
“When your hamstrings are tight, they pull on your lower back and cause pain. This stretch can help relieve that pain, and it also stretches your adductors or inner thighs that can get extra tight as your pelvis shifts during pregnancy.”
Step 1: Sit with one leg extended out straight in front of you with your other leg bent so the sole of your foot rests on your inner thigh. If needed, place a small pillow under your bent knee. Facing the extended leg, inhale as you lift your torso up and exhale as you bend forward, folding over your leg. Flex your toes to intensify the stretch and keep your spine aligned to avoid any tension in the neck and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds.
Step 2: Return to the starting position and turn slightly inward toward the space between your legs. Inhale to straighten your torso, and then exhale to fold forward between your legs, placing your forearms on the floor. You should feel a stretch in your inner thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
4. Calf Wall Stretch
Muscles targeted: calves
“As your pregnancy progresses, the extra weight you’re carrying, joint laxity or change in your biomechanics might lead to tightness in your feet and calves.”
Step 1: Stand in front of a wall with your hands holding on to it for balance. Place the toes of one foot up against the wall with your heel anchored down on the ground.
Step 2: Keeping your leg straight lean forward until you feel a stretch in your lower calf. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
5. Standing Quad Stretch
Muscles targeted: quads and hip flexors
“If you’re walking a lot or going up and down stairs, this stretch can bring a lot of relief to your thighs.”
Step 1: Holding onto a wall or chair, bend one knee sending your foot back towards your seat. Grab your lifted foot with your hand and pull it in towards your midline.
Step 2: Keeping your knees together, pull up through the front of your pelvis. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
6. Seated Figure Four
Muscles targeted: outer hips, low back and glutes
“This stretch helps relieve pain or tightness in your hips as well as low back pain and sciatica, and it can be done throughout your pregnancy.”
Step 1: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and legs hip-distance. Lift one foot up and place it on the knee of your opposite leg.
Step 2: Lift up in your torso as you inhale, then exhale and bend forward keeping your spine aligned. To increase the intensity, you can gently press down on your bent knee. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
7. Seated Side Stretch
Muscles targeted: the side body including obliques, lats and the small muscles between your ribs
“We rarely stretch the sides of our body, but this area—especially near the lower back—can feel compacted and tight later in pregnancy. It’s also important to stretch in a lateral or side-to-side direction since we often favor moving forward and back.”
Step 1: Begin sitting in a cross-legged position. Place one hand on the ground next to you while you reach the other arm up high overhead and bend to the side.
Step 2: Extend your torso over as far as possible while keeping your opposite hip on the ground and chest open. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
8. Side Neck Stretch
Muscles targeted: upper trapezius
“Sometimes there is a tendency to breathe up into your shoulders or hunch as your belly grows and your pelvis shifts forward. This can lead to shoulder and neck tightness, and many people feel it in their upper trapezius muscles.”
Step 1: Sit upright and tilt your head to the side so that your ear comes down to your shoulder. Keep your gaze forward and your shoulders in a neutral position.
Step 2: If you already feel a stretch, hold here. If you want to deepen the stretch, lift your arm up and gently pull your head down toward your shoulder while simultaneously reaching your opposite hand down toward the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, then gently release and return to a neutral position before repeating on the opposite side.
9. Seated Spinal Twist
Muscles targeted: spine and back
“Twisting can feel wonderful during pregnancy, and it can also help you relax because it calms down the nervous system. This open twist is not too intense and does not cut off the pelvis or uterus.”
Step 1: Begin sitting in a cross-legged position. Take one hand and place it on the opposite knee. Take your other hand and place it back behind you.
Step 2: Using your hands for leverage, lift up through your spine and twist to the side as you gaze back behind you. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then gently unwind before repeating on the opposite side.
10. Bridge Pose
Muscles targeted: hip flexors and front of pelvis
“This position is great for strengthening your glutes and for relieving pelvic and lower back pain. It’s also a great gentle stretch for your hip flexors.”
Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent (don’t worry—just for a second or two to get started), feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Pressing through your heels, lift your pelvis up to create a straight diagonal line from your knees to your chest.
Step 2: Hold this pose for 10 seconds, then slowly roll back down to rest and repeat. If you want to hold the pose longer, place a yoga block or bolster beneath your hips.
11. Lying Chest Opener
Muscles targeted: pectoral major and pectoral minor
“Tightening through your chest and the front of your shoulders can happen a lot as your posture shifts during pregnancy. This can lead to pain in your neck and upper back or even shortness of breath if you’re starting to hunch forward.”
Step 1: Start by placing a rolled-up yoga mat or blanket on the ground and lie back with your spine length-wise and head resting at the end (you might need an additional pillow if your mat isn’t long enough). Once you’ve found a comfortable position, reach your arms out to the sides in a goalpost position with your palms facing up. Make sure your elbows are resting on the ground at the same height as your shoulders.
Step 2: Hold here for 30 seconds, then slowly bring your arms up above your head, out to the sides and back down toward your waist, all while grazing your hands along the ground. Repeat this movement 4 times.
Modification: If lying on a mat isn’t in the cards, stand up next to a doorframe and hold one arm out to the side at a 90-degree angle. Place your elbow and forearm against the frame and rotate your body open. Continue rotating until you feel a stretch in your chest and hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the opposite side.