The good news is there is definitely progress… gone are the days when pregnant women were advised to rest and eat for two. Now exercise is widely recommended during your pregnancy, but confusion over what type of exercise is safe, how much to do and what changes from trimester to trimester abounds. Even health professionals seem to disagree, and online workout videos vary hugely in calibre, intensity and what exercises are deemed appropriate. Here’s a handy guide to help you navigate through the quagmire.
1. Be aware of the absolute contraindications to exercise when you are pregnant, and the relative contraindications to exercise. Find them here. Signs to halt all exercise immediately and seek medical assistance are vaginal bleeding, laboured breathing prior to exertion, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, pre-term labour, decreased foetal movement and amniotic fluid leakage.
2. All pregnancies are not created equal, and how you feel from day to day will vary. You need to listen to your body and work out according to what it is telling you. If you feel horrendous, skip it today and go for a walk in the fresh air instead. Many women find being outside in the fresh air substantially reduces their feelings of sickness.
3. There are a couple of things to be careful with when pregnant and exercising. Firstly, drink lots of water. Secondly, you have a hormone called relaxin in your body, which relaxes the ligaments so you are more bendy than normal. Be very aware of this and don’t go to the end-range of your stretches. Self-select your range and work to 85% of your full movement pattern. Thirdly, plan your sessions well. Getting up and down from the mat will make you feel sick and dizzy! If you plan to do floor work, do it all together in one chunk, likewise with standing and seated work.
4. How much work is enough work for the pregnant client? A huge amount will depend on your pre-pregnancy fitness levels and your exercise and movement repertoire. The answer will vary from client to client. Your heart rate varies from trimester to trimester, and you sweat and go pink more easily as your body tries to cool itself down more efficiently, so ‘normal’ indicators are not necessarily appropriate. Instead use the Rate of Perceived Exertion test. Here, 1 is no effort at all, and 10 is your absolute maximum. In pregnancy aim for no higher than a 7/10. Think maintenance not personal bests.
5. Remember that your end goal is to be prepared for labour, and what your life will look like afterwards with a new born. Mums spend their days lifting, picking up, pushing, pulling, bending over, all whilst carrying a load, be it the baby, the pram, the car-seat, the baby in the car-seat, the shopping… You want to get fit and healthy for this lifestyle. Use functional programming to support and train what you are going to do, and to maintain a pain-free pregnancy.
6. In the first trimester you need to really listen to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to the new limits on your energy and avoid falling. If you feel great, then wonderful, keep up your normal exercise regime. If you feel terrible then your body needs to conserve its energy. I couldn’t work out at all in the first 14 weeks of this pregnancy. I did try to make sure I walked the dog every day, but some days even that was too much. I slept when I would normally exercise. Now I’m in my second trimester I’m back and loving working out again, but I’ve modified my exercise regime accordingly. The second trimester is when lots of mums feel their best (although I suspect it’s accentuated by the fact you’ve felt so awful for a few months!), and it is harder to get out of breath. Take advantage ladies! In the third trimester start preparing for the birth and getting the baby into a good position.
7. Let’s blow a few pregnancy myths out of the water now.
· Squatting should be avoided during pregnancy… really? What do mums do all day? Squatting (and progressions with loads) is an essential part of pregnancy training. Many women give birth in a squatting position. Get yourself prepared. You’ll want strong thighs!
· Don’t exercise with your arms overhead. Is this realistic in daily life? Putting shopping away, getting something down from the cupboard… real life scenarios need to be accounted for. Again, the intensity and the load will depend on what you were doing before you got pregnant, and be aware that arms overhead will increase your cardio response whether you are pregnant or not.
· Don’t let your heart rate go over 140bpm. Really?! If you walked for half an hour your heart rate would be raised over 140bpm. Train for real life please, but remember the 7/10 RPE rule.
· No running, impact work or heavy weights during pregnancy. Again, it will depend on your pre-pregnancy lifestyle, but if you were a runner before there is no reason not to continue whilst you are pregnant. Remember to drink lots of water and listen to your body, take breaks when you need to. Being outside in nature is natural and wonderful and mood-boosting. Not a runner or too pregnant? Try fast walking instead. It uses different muscles and is a great source of cardiovascular exercise. With impact work and heavy weights, you must rule the tool. Modify and adjust your load, increasing the number of reps and decreasing the weight. Bear in mind how much a pram weighs these days (plus the baby inside!) and reconsider the no-weights rule. You want to be strong, healthy and ready for your new life.
· No sit ups during pregnancy. This one actually is correct, but you need to keep your core strong and stable. This is crucial for helping with the lower back pain that many women experience during pregnancy. You want to move onto integrated core work, making sure you are breathing correctly throughout. That’s another post in itself.
Lastly, the idea that one can’t be an athlete when pregnant is nonsense. It’s about being respectful of your body, the pregnancy and the baby. Make adaptions as you go along. Keeping the baby safe, is without a doubt, the number one priority, but keeping you strong, sane and healthy is important too. Exercise is a big release for many of us, and helps us with stabilising our moods and keeping a healthy body image.
If you are in any doubt at all, contact a Jenny Burrell trained pregnancy personal trainer who will be able to guide you through the coming few months. In good faith I can’t recommend an online programme as you should be screened thoroughly beforehand, and any pregnancy such as SPD, carpal tunnel syndrome, ligament pain etc. need to be taken into account before a programme is commenced.
*with thanks to Jenny Burrell for her great broadcast on busting pregnancy and exercise