Pregnancy and Exercise
Fourteen years ago, my best friend had her first baby. We were both trainers at the same facility and had pretty similar fitness backgrounds. She was running our special programs department and wanted to start a pre/postnatal yoga class. I agreed to lead it, although it was really a team effort. From there, we developed a program to teach other trainers how to train clients during and after pregnancy.
It was fascinating learning about the changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy, and even after the baby is born. But it was also challenging. There’s just not enough solid research regarding pregnancy and exercise on humans. So, we extrapolate—and you listen to your doctor.
What Can You Do?
A lot of what you do during exercise depends on what you were doing before pregnancy. If you were very active, most likely you can continue to do the same activities—even running.
The most important thing is to speak to your doctor first.
Make sure that you do not have any other concerns that might require you to monitor your activity a little more closely. Once you get clearance, a lot of it is just how you’re feeling.
The general guideline for cardio has been not to go over 140 beats per minute. Again, this was derived from studies done on animals—not humans. What it comes down to is how fit you are and watching body temperature. If you get too overheated, not only is it dangerous for you, but it’s dangerous for the baby.
So, do your cardio outside only in comfortable temperatures that are not too hot, or do it indoors. A heart rate monitor may not be a bad idea, as some docs still advise the 140 bpm. However, if you were sedentary before your pregnancy you should at least be able to walk during your pregnancy. The activity is good for you and will help to control the weight gain.
If you are a runner or cyclist, you may find that you can continue these activities for the first few months.
However, your center of gravity is going to shift and your balance changes. So, it becomes uncomfortable and maybe even dangerous to ride or run outside. You may need to switch to indoor cycling and walking or the elliptical rather than running.
If you weren’t doing resistance exercise before pregnancy, don’t go hitting the weights hard. Some basic body weight exercises or very light resistance is probably okay but use caution. For clients I trained, we listened to their body. Free standing squats sometimes got uncomfortable so we switched to ball squats or smith machine squats. Sometimes their joints were a little achy as they got further into pregnancy. So, we would do exercises sitting, change the range of motion, lighten the weight or even scrap a certain exercise all together.
If you’d like to do some resistance exercise, consider hiring a trainer that has experience training pregnant clients. There are even clubs and facilities that offer classes for clients that are pregnant.
Many people also believe that they can’t train their core during pregnancy. As you get further along, your range of motion will change drastically. Also, you don’t want to do any excessive twisting or exercises on your back past the first trimester. I used to do stability ball crunches with clients or standing core exercises as well as those on all fours. Your core needs to be strong before, during and after pregnancy to really help support your belly as it grows. Use caution, and stop if something doesn’t feel right.
I always caution people against overstretching. Stretching can be uncomfortable, but if it’s painful you are pushing too far.
During pregnancy, it is very easy to overstretch. The hormone relaxin is being released to prepare for child birth. It affects ligaments and joints which often leads to discomfort or pain.
So, stretch gently just to the point that you feel a pulling sensation. Keep breathing and come gently out of the stretch after 15 to 30 seconds.
Some Other Tips
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! This is important whether or not you exercise throughout your pregnancy. So, keep that water handy during your exercise session.
Dress comfortably in clothing that is lightweight and breathes. This will keep you cooler during your workout.
Consider the pool. The buoyancy may help you feel more comfortable the further along you are. It will also help you avoid overheating.
Find a yoga class. A prenatal yoga class will really focus on the areas that you need in a safe, effective manner. It can also be very relaxing.
There are plenty of options to stay fit during your pregnancy. Just remember to consult your doctor before starting, so you and your baby can stay healthy!