As a Personal Trainer and complete fitness fanatic, I have always had a very clear idea in my head about how my pregnancy is going to be. I mean, I have always had full control over my body, how I eat and train, and we studied all the recommended do’s and don’ts in detail whilst at University. Because of this background, I thought I knew what to expect more or less, and with me being the disciplined health nut and fitness fanatic that I am, I was sure that pregnancy was going to be a walk in the park for my already fit and strong body! Was I wrong!
Leading up to pregnancy I made sure to be in the best health and physical shape I could be. I felt that my fitness level was at an all time high, from running and strength training, and I also made sure that my core muscles were in peak condition. I was strength/weight training about 3-4 times per week, and running 2-3 times per week, with the occasional yoga session in between. I have never felt better in my life and I felt that I finally found the right balance for me between weight training, cardio fitness and core strength and flexibility. Hubby and I were still training for our first ever half marathon and also enjoyed spending time on the trails together.
Needless to say the day we found out we were pregnant, I skipped my gym session-but the next morning I was back at it with a home workout and still feeling great. This was at almost 5 weeks pregnant. Before we found out, I did notice that I’m extremely out of breath the whole time, even just walking, but as soon as I found out that this is a normal first trimester symptom I just worked with it, resting a bit longer in between exercises and sets.
The infamous first trimester tiredness, and also morning (more like all-day) sickness didn’t hit me until Week 6, day 1. Trying to exercise that evening proved hopeless as simply moving too much made me more sick and I ended up lying down on the couch instead. Of course as a trainer I felt completely defeated-but as a woman who is excited to become a mother, I knew that this is for a bigger cause-growing our baby. For the next 8 weeks I managed the severe morning (once again all-day) sickness with a bit of outdoor walking as I felt that the fresh air made a difference. I remember struggling so badly with the actual act of walking and remember only thinking of going for a nap instead. But, knowing that moving my body made me feel physically better, I went for my short walkies-even if it was slow walking and barely 1-2 km most times. From running 10km most Sunday mornings, to walking a kilometer or two, I was motivated to keep my activity levels up for my own and our babies health.
Going forward with my pregnancy journey and exercise, I started feeling a bit more “human” again from about 14 weeks. When it came to eating I only really managed to eat “normal” again from 17-18 weeks pregnant about, and there are still days where some of my old favourite foods put me off completely. But, to be honest I was very determined to be able to have some form of control over one aspect again, that being my exercise regime. In my head, my goal was to be able to keep up my walking, and now that I was feeling less sick and slightly more energetic, to increase the distance a bit, as well as finally incorporating a few resistance training sessions again.
Before falling pregnant I used to hear about women that were still running at 38 weeks pregnant, and we learned about running during pregnancy at University as well. Being an avid runner, I was also very keen on starting to introduce slow jogging during my walkies again, and because my body was so used to frequent running I really did think it would be completely possible. I started jogging for short spurts during my walks at 14 weeks again, making sure to not over exert myself by walking for long in between jogging spurts, and also going really slow. At 18 weeks I started feeling uncomfortable during jogging and again read up on running during pregnancy. I made the decision to rather listen to my body and just walk from then onwards, I am a big believer of listening to your body, and my body was clearly not the happiest running with a bigger womb putting pressure on my pelvic floor. I realise that not running now in the short term, is very important for my long term pelvic floor health, so I am sticking to walking for now. Running is something I am looking forward to challenging myself with once I am able to again, I love challenges and I can imagine that it will be a nice challenge to get started again postpartum.
It was from this time, 18 weeks onwards, that I also stopped doing any form of plyometric exercises and jumping with my resistance training sessions. Each body is different, but jumping/impact exercises aren’t recommended after the first trimester as this can put unwanted extra strain on your pelvic floor and cause permanent damage to your pelvic floor muscles. I managed to squeeze in 2 strength training workouts per week during second trimester, and started off with only 30 minutes, progressing to 45-50 minutes of training now that I am in the third trimester and managed to increase my endurance and fitness after not doing a lot during the first trimester. I feel these strength training workouts have been a real lifesaver for me. I have really been enjoying 30-45 minutes of “me-time” during this time, and I also enjoy the challenge of working with and getting to know this “new” body of mine. It is amazing how the female body changes during pregnancy, and what it is capable of, and I never quite understood this until I got to exercise with a belly!
In summary, the recommended do’s and don’ts of exercise during pregnancy is
(these include my personal experience with exercise during pregnancy and the changes I had to make and made) :
-Ensure you keep hydrated
-Stick to low impact exercises, especially after the first trimester. Walking and swimming is great, especially if you are new to exercise.
-Increase reps and decrease weight for resistance training as needed.
-Aim for 30 minutes of exercise each day. Daily, moderate exercise is better than hour long sessions once or twice a week.
-Incorporate pelvic floor exercises during your sessions.
-Remember your stretches (but avoid bouncy stretches as your ligaments are overly sensitive and flexible during pregnancy)
-Be sure to wear a supportive sports bra, and loose fitting, comfortable clothing.
-Make sure to eat enough calories to not only meet the needs of your pregnancy but also your exercise program.
-Avoid any contact sports or activities like hiking or horse riding where falling is a possibility.
-Do not push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Now is not the time for personal bests and records. Simply maintaining a reasonable fitness and strength level is more than adequate.
-Don’t strain while lifting weights. Rather increase reps and decrease weight.
-Avoid waist twisting movements after the first trimester.
-Avoid lying on your back for exercises for longer periods after your first trimester.
-Standard abdominal exercises and planking type exercises are not recommended after the first trimester as the uterus and your belly gets bigger. Traditional sit-ups, planking and leg raises cause unnecessary abdominal pressure and result in Diastasis Recti (a common condition in pregnant women where the abdominal muscles seperate and create the “mommy tummy”). Personally, I stopped doing any traditional abdominal work, and also replaced my standard army pushups with ladies (knee) pushups. I am rather focusing on keeping my core strong by engaging my deeper core muscles (transverse abdominal muscles instead of the rectis abdominal/six-pack muscles) whilst training. I am also now incorporating diaphragmatic breathing, intentionally adding transverse ab and pelvic floor activations (belly pumping).
-Stop immediately if you are feeling dizzy, extreme cramps, calf pain, chest pain or experience any bleeding.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy include:
(all of these benefits, except the actual labour for now of course, I can testify for-I have found that exercise is truly helping me so much during this journey and I want to encourage exercise/moving during pregnancy to all moms-to-be)
-Prevent or treat Gestational Diabetes
-Helps prevent pregnancy induced high blood pressure (preeclampsia), which can be fatal to you and unborn baby
-Improves sleep. I never realised that sleepless nights already start during the first trimester, but I found that on days I got my body moving I definitely slept better.
-Helps reduce backaches and swelling. The last thing you want to do when your feet are swollen beyond measure is to go for a walk, but the movement really helps with increased circulation, relieving some of the pressure. The same goes for backache.
-Helps to keep you regular, of course diet also plays a major role here, but I found that the constipation got better during weeks where I was more active.
-Increases energy levels and improves your mood. I can definitely vouch for this; on days I am able to exercise I feel a lot more energetic!
-Improves muscle strength and tone and helps in maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight gain.
-Increased fitness levels and endurance; much needed for labour. They say labour can be similar to a marathon, so I definitely want to be as fit as possible for this important life event!
-Helps your postpartum recovery.
When it comes to your own exercise journey during pregnancy, the most important thing to remember is that every pregnancy is unique. Always consult your Doctor/midwife and remember to listen to your body. When you are pregnant you are suddenly not exercising only for yourself anymore, you are now exercising for the benefit of you AND your unborn baby, to keep fit and strong for labour and to help your postpartum recovery. Suddenly you are not exercising to achieve a specific look, to lose weight or to be fit enough for a specific race. Always keep this in mind, and most importantly never compare your own pregnancy journey with other ladies. I have spoken to so many women who were still running at 38 weeks pregnant or hitting the gym the day before they went into labour; and then on the other side I have also spoken to women who were not able to exercise for a single day during their pregnancy. I consider myself extremely fortunate and blessed to be healthy enough to still move daily, and because of this I made a promise to myself to keep moving for as long as I can. The walkies are becoming slower, and the lunges fewer and slower as well, but I owe it to this amazing, ever-changing body to keep fit and strong as best as I can. The female body truly is amazing, and I am grateful to be able to experience all the funny, the pleasant and not-so-pleasant changes it undergoes to grow a human. My only regret is that I ever underestimated how many changes a women’s body needs to go through with pregnancy, and now that I am experiencing these changes myself I appreciate my body and fitness so much more. Please keep an eye on our blog for updates and a postpartum journey blog- I am extremely excited to experience and share the postpartum challenges with you.
by Yolande Pretorius
The transformation that I am proudest of so far