There are many documented benefits of exercising when pregnant…
One thing that never fails to shock me when I see a social media post about a pregnant woman exercising , is that still in this day and age there are so many negative comments along the lines of…’is that safe?’ And my favourite ‘she’s so selfish, she’s going to harm her baby’.
Research has disbanded the myth that pregnancy is a time for a woman to put her feet up for 9 months and eat for two. There are many documented benefits of exercising when pregnant, so much so, that even if not actively exercising before becoming pregnant, its more than likely your doctor would recommend you start once you get the happy news and all is well with your pregnancy. However it is thought as little as 1 in 4 woman get their recommended daily exercise during pregnancy. Here’s why you shouldn’t hang up your gym shoes for 9 months…
Benefits of exercising when pregnant.
- Regular exercise when pregnant can help with common pregnancy related aches and pains such as lower back ache.
- Helps keep you regular – Constipation being a common side effect of pregnancy.
- Prevent or treat Gestational Diabetes.
- Promotes a healthy pregnancy weight gain.
- Prevent pregnancy induced high blood pressure or preeclampsia, which can have major complications for you and your developing baby
- Help with sickness and nausea – It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but a brisk walk could make you feel better, and also increase your appetite, which in turn can assist with those sickly feelings.
- Improves mood and energy – From my personal experience I found hitting the gym boosted my energy levels throughout the day and left me feeling more my usual self.
- Improves sleep – You expect sleep deprivation once your little bundle arrives, but no one warned me about the restless nights starting right from the first trimester. Exercise can aid with a more restful sleep and in turn increase energy levels for the day ahead.
- Increases muscle strength and tone.
- Improve and maintain fitness ready for labour – Let’s face it, labour is no walk in the park, it’s just about one of the hardest physical endurance challenges most women go through in their lifetime, so it makes sense to maintain as much fitness as possible in preparation for it.
- Speed up recovery after birth – Whether natural birth or C-section, the body takes a serious hit delivering a baby. The fitter you are before hand, the faster the recovery after, both mentally and physically.
Although exercise is recommended during pregnancy, it’s not a time to aim for personal bests, losing weight or introducing crazy new workout regimes. Always consult your Doctor before hand and watch out for any warning signs.
- Don’t work until exhaustion. Best way to ensure this is using the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale, make sure you are able to hold a conversation.
- Don’t strain while lifting.
- Stop if you feel dizzy or uncomfortable.
- Avoid exercise where falling is a possibility.
- Stop if you experience any bleeding, extreme cramps, calf pain, persistent headache, decreased fetal movement, contractions, chest pain or breathlessness without exertion. If you experience any of these symptoms you should consult your Doctor or Midwife straight away.
- Wear comfortable none restrictive clothing that you won’t overheat in.
- Ensure good nutrition, eat enough for your pregnancy and exercise programme. Pregnancy is the one time you’re allowed to replenish those spent calories, happy days!
- Stay well hydrated.
- Get up slowly to avoid dizziness
- Stick with low impact exercise such as walking, swimming and cycling especially if new to exercise.
- For resistance training increase reps and decrease weight.
- Aim for 30 mins moderate exercise every day.
- Build your strength. Focus on your back, shoulders, pectorals (chest) and biceps so they’ll keep you strong enough to pick up and hold your baby as often as he needs you to. Strengthening these muscle groups will also help support your new changing body.
- Work on those pelvic floor muscles, best way to not forget to do them is in cooperate them into your gym routine.
- Stretch at the end, but avoid bouncing stretches as these can put pressure on your already overly stretchy ligaments and cause damage.
It may seem pointless as you’ve never been so far away from a set of abs in your life, but continuing to work on those core muscles is particularly important during pregnancy. By doing so you can help to prevent pressure on the lower back, support your growing uterus and decrease some of those aches and pains. It will also help with recovery post birth.
Doing the correct core work can also help prevent a condition called Diastasis Recti, a condition common in pregnant women where the abdominal muscles separate under the pressure of the growing uterus. This can cause the mummy pooch some woman find so hard to get rid of as well as conditions like abdominal hernias. It’s important to engage the deep core muscles during all exercise, and avoid full sit ups, leg raises and planks if not used to doing them as these can create more abdominal pressure and actually worsen the condition.
As a trainer, I continued to exercise from the day after I found out I was pregnant, right after my first Doctors appointment (not the day I found out because…well I couldn’t concentrate on anything that day). I’m not afraid to say it didn’t come with its challenges at first. My Doctor advised against overheating, maximum training and heart rate going to high, being a big HIIT fan, pretty much all things I was used to with my preferred training methods. Slowing down slightly felt completely alien, and it didn’t help that I didn’t feel pregnant in the slightest, no sickness, no tiredness, nothing! So as I left the gym after those first few modified sessions I felt lazy, frustrated and unmotivated. I also felt nervous if I did feel perhaps I had pushed it too hard. After a few more sessions I found my stride again, I found some great websites and Instagram a massive help, following lots of fit pregnant woman smashing their workouts and giving lots of advice and ideas in the process.
I started to listen to my body more, something which lots of us are not very good at doing. If something caused discomfort I simply swapped for another exercise. I continued my usual workouts with increased rest time and made sure I stayed hydrated and ate a snack right after training and after about 2 weeks I felt back on track and enjoying my workouts again. Because I am used to doing them I am still incorporating some planks into my routine, not holding them for as long so my core doesn’t become tired, but also watching out for signs of Diastasis Reci in the process.
The fun part of pregnancy is the ever changing challenge, as your body continues to change, so do your workouts. What was possible last week might not be this week, what felt comfortable yesterday might not today, and although yesterday you felt great and full of energy, today you might feel sluggish. It’s a time to do what you feel like you can, don’t push through discomfort and remember any exercise is better than none.
Continuing to train allows me to still feel I have some control over my body during a time where you can definitely feel like it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Plus, there is nothing more bad-ass that a woman sporting her bump hitting those weights.
by Laura Jones