Not so long ago it was considered unnecessary for women to exercise when they became pregnant.
However, times have changed and correct, safe, moderate exercise throughout pregnancy is encouraged – so if you’re still exercising don’t stop, keep it up and by the same token if you’re not exercising it might be a good time to start.
Before we get going, if you did little or no exercise before you became pregnant, it is not recommended to start a new fitness regime now, rather, chat to your doctor or an experienced pre-natal personal trainer about what exercises are best for you. I would suggest a very low intensity exercise like gentle walking or swimming.
If you exercised before your pregnancy and as long as there have been no complications with your pregnancy to date and/or your doctor has suggested not exercising, you should keep it up albeit with a safe exercise program that is designed for you.
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! For first timers this is all very new and unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. You’re nervous, anxious, you may be exhausted, you’re unusually short of breath after ten stairs, you don’t know if you need to throw up mid-meeting or if that wave of nausea will pass.
Initially you’ll want to keep it quiet so socially you’ll probably be holding a drink and not drinking it – sporadically popping to the loo and tipping it down the sink or toilet or trying to lose it on the dinner table – or you’ll totally avoid drinks with friends. You’ll be doing your best to maintain a healthy diet but your tuna salads have been replaced with white bread and cream cheese. “Give me carbs,” I hear you crave!
The place that you used to visit several times a week called the gym! You used to bounce (okay, maybe not bounce!) out of bed at 6am every morning for your workout, but now leaving your bed for the fluorescent glow of the gym or encouragement of your trainer is the last thing on your mind. Your energy reserves have depleted and your motivation to exercise may have disappeared. Get out and move, your mind and body will thank you.
In your first trimester, whilst adjusting to your pregnancy and becoming accustomed to the fact you’re experiencing massive mental and physical changes, most forms of low intensity aerobic and strength based exercises will be perfectly safe to perform. Be mindful of those ‘high intensity’ and ‘collision’ based classes, as during pregnancy it is recommended that you avoid bouncing movements, jumping, rapid changes in direction, sudden changes in position, or stopping abruptly.
It’s crucial that you inform your trainer or group fitness instructor of your pregnancy so they can tailor a regime for you, or at the very least take it easy on you. Crucially though, always listen to your body.
I highly suggest that as soon as you know you are pregnant, grab yourself a heart rate monitor and keep an eye on your heart rate. From day one of your pregnancy it is recommended that you do not increase your heart rate to greater than 140-150 beats per minute and to keep your cardio workout sessions to about 15 minutes maximum bursts at a time as it’s important to ensure that your heat build-up from exercise is not excessive. So resting and taking lots of breaks to get your heart rate down before starting again is very important.
As the pregnancy progresses it is advised that you refrain from performing heavy weight bearing exercises to avoid adversely impacting joints and supporting muscles and structures. You need to be wary here as Relaxin, the hormone you produce during pregnancy softens all your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles and it gives you false perception of improved flexibility!
So be careful as we don’t want you to cause injury, and once ligaments have been stretched they will not return to their original length. This is not only painful both pre and post natal, it also increases susceptibility to injury and joint instability. Relaxin stays in your body for up to 12 weeks after birth so just be mindful when you get back into your exercise regime and always have a post-natal GP check-up before getting stuck back into your pre-pregnancy fitness schedule.
Exercise whilst lying on your back in the supine position is to be avoided after the fourth month/16 week mark as it will cause the uterus push on the major veins of the heart, furthermore you’ll probably find it uncomfortable and it can also lead to high blood pressure. Avoid exercises which can increase the chances of splitting/diastasis of the linea alba connective tissue. These include abdominal curling/ crunching actions and exaggerated twisting exercises. Your abdominal work will be generally achieved indirectly through the core abdominal muscle group working in a supportive role or through static contractions (as long as you do not develop high blood pressure) through upper body exercises.
Into your second and third trimester as the baby grows and the body softens, your centre of gravity changes. The typical posture type of a pregnant woman is a lordotic/kyphotic combination – think ‘bubble-butt’.
A certain amount of lordosis is needed to tilt the pelvis so the baby can move into an anterior position. But, this needs managing so that the lumbar curvature does not become too excessive which may result in discomfort and/or lower back pain.
To aid your situation, lower back strength and flexibility, strong abdominals, strong glutes and flexible hip flexors should be maintained. So it’s important to keep the pelvic floor, glutes and inner thigh muscles super strong as these are the major stabilizers of the pelvis and spine.
So keeping them strong with muscle strengthening and endurance-focused exercises is highly important.
If you are planning exercising throughout your pregnancy, remember to check in with your GP before you get going, listen to your body, and – most importantly – enjoy it!