Photographed by Mark Madeo
Hollywood’s latest hot accessory is a baby, so it’s no surprise that gossip rags love gabbing about how quickly star moms regain their svelte figures. But what doesn’t get a lot of press is the hard work that these moms put in before the big day—which can be the key to losing the baby weight.
“Your pregnancy workout will not only help you through your labor, it will also let you maintain your strength so that you can get back in shape easier,” says celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza, who trains Jessica Alba and Halle Berry. Braganza devised safe workouts for both actresses to keep them conditioned while they were expecting. “We were very careful,” Braganza says. “And it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting an new exercise routine.”
Focusing on the health of the actresses and their bellies rather than on dramatic results, Braganza modified her 3-2-1 training technique—3 sessions of cardio, 2 sessions of resistance training, and 1 session of core work—to a 2-2-1 workout with more breathing and stretching. “This workout takes about 40 minutes and will give you a little burn, but it’s not about gaining muscle,” Braganza says. “It’s just going to tone what you already have.” Read on to stay in shape like a star!
Step 1: CARDIO
Braganza lessened the duration and exertion of Alba’s and Berry’s cardio routines, but continued breaking up their heart fitness into multiple time blocks. Alba usually did 7 to 10 minutes on the recumbent bike to begin her workout and walked 7 to 10 minutes on the treadmill before starting her circuit training. Whatever cardio you choose, don’t overdo it. “We did the talk test—if they could talk to me, they were fine,” Braganza says.
Step 2: CORE
This relaxes the body, reduces stress, and reminds you to continue to breathe throughout your workout. “You want oxygen to be delivered to your baby so you really have to be aware,” Braganza warns. “Some people exercise and hold their breath and that’s not good.”
Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and your back straight. Inhale deeply for 4 counts. Then exhale deeply for 4 counts. Focus on contracting and expanding your diaphragm with each breath. Repeat 8 times.
“Jessica had a lot of lower back pain,” Braganza says. “So, I would try yoga poses to loosen up her spine during the workout.” One such maneuver was the progression from Cow Pose to Cat Pose, which also engages your abdominals. Everyday Cow pose requires you to arch the back, but Braganza prefers the modified version: “Don’t arch it too much—just go to neutral.”
Get on all fours, with hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Your spine should be straight from the top of your head to the tailbone. Inhale, lifting your head. Exhale into Cat by lifting your upper back, pulling the navel up, and rounding out your spine. Hold each position for 5 seconds. Slowly do 4 or 5 combined poses.
Maintaining strong abs during pregnancy will not only help carry the extra weight, but will also play an important part in supporting the spine, lessening lower back pain.
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you, your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Keep your back straight and at a 90-degree angle to the floor.
Reach out your arms straight in front of you and slowly lean your torso back to the floor no more than halfway. Without arching your back, slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 12 times. Do 2 sets.
Step 3: REPEAT CARDIO
A circuit of squats, rows, and chest presses in succession works all the major muscle groups, one right after the other. Do 10 to 12 reps of each exercise, and complete the cycle twice to get your 2 sessions of resistance training in Braganza’s 2-2-1 formula.
Braganza says that “squats stretch out your lower back and your calves while strengthening your legs for labor.” Your belly will throw off your balance, so do this exercise using a wall for support. In Alba’s workouts, Braganza spotted her so she could hold 5-pound weights.
Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and feet firmly planted on the floor. Press an exercise ball between your lower back and a wall.
Keeping the ball tight against the wall and your back straight, slowly lower your butt toward the floor, making sure your knees don’t go past your toes. Go down a comfortable distance, then, with the energy coming through your heels, push your legs up to the starting position.
A strong back comes in handy to offset extra weight in front. This exercise uses a rowing motion to target your lat muscles on the sides of your back below your shoulder blades.
Lean forward and place your hands—slightly wider than shoulder-width apart—on a wall.
Keeping your spine straight, slowly bend your elbows until your face almost touches the wall. Pause for a second and then press back to the starting position.
After the circuit, Braganza had the actresses work their shoulders and arms using light weights and lots of movement. “We put on music and do an aerobic-type workout,” Braganza says. Alba and Berry used 3-pound weights, but you can use 1- or 2-pound weights if that’s what’s comfortable for you. Do 30 reps of each.
1. Stand with your feet together, holding the weights at your shoulders.
2. Step out to the side with your right foot.
3. Wait a beat, then bring your left foot to your right, pressing the weights up until your arms are almost straight, and return to the starting position. Stepping to the left first, repeat the movement. Keep your core muscles tight and don’t arch your back.
5. Move on to tricep kickbacks, but plant your feet instead of stepping.
6. Lean forward slightly, keeping elbows close to your side as you extend your arms behind and perpendicular to your body.
Step 5: COOL DOWN STRETCHES
“We finished with stretches that focused on opening their hips and lower backs,” Braganza says. Alba particularly enjoyed doing yoga moves such as Pigeon Pose, Child’s Pose, and a seated version of Side Angle Pose. To release the hamstrings, Braganza also recommends this seated hurdler’s stretch.
Sitting on the floor, extend your right leg straight in front of you. Bend your left leg so that the sole of your left foot touches your right knee. With your arms extended in front of you, lean forward at the waist and reach for your right foot. “Go only as far as you can,” Braganza advises. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds then switch sides.
For the quads, hold the back of a chair with your left hand for support, bend your right leg behind you, and grab your ankle behind your back with your right hand. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds then switch sides.
Ramona Braganza is a sought-after celebrity trainer whose other clients include Jaime King and Jessica Biel. Her post-baby work with Alba and Berry helped Braganza devise the new 3-2-1 Baby Bulge Be Gone Workout, available on her website, 321babybulgebegone.com.
Stephen Camelio is a Boston-based freelance writer whose fitness articles have also appeared in Men’s Journal, In Style Makeover, and Natural Health.