As a Personal Trainer I get a lot of questions about working out while pregnant. A lot of women want to know what is safe, what they should and shouldn’t do, how long they should workout and if they should stop or start working out. There are some general guidelines to follow that I will go over, but the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. We all respond differently to pregnancy as well as to exercise. Make sure you clear it with your doctor or midwife before starting or continuing your exercise program.
It is very important to exercise while pregnant, but not safe to start a strenuous exercise program. If you were active before getting pregnant then you can safely continue throughout, with gradual decreases in load for weight training and intensity for cardiovascular training. If you were not active before, then strenuous exercise in hopes of increasing strength and endurance can cause potential harm to both you and your baby and could cause issues in your pregnancy.
When working out, there are two key points to remember. One, is that your body produces a hormone called Relaxin which promotes flexibility in the joints (great for child birth) and two, that your body weight will increase throughout pregnancy. Relaxin can cause joints to move through a greater range of motion than what they are used to and can cause injuries. To avoid injuries do a proper warmup before starting your workout usually 5-8 minutes is sufficient and use a shorter range of motion to avoid over stretching. This hormone is still in your body after childbirth, so also be aware when returning to exercise afterward. If performing yoga, make sure exercises are modified to accommodate your growing belly as well as avoid over stretching.
To touch on the second point you are all probably thinking well duh, of course you gain weight in pregnancy!! But what you have to think of is the effect on your body and joints. Think about running on a treadmill in a 20lb weighted vest with a hormone that makes your joints looser! It causes a lot of impact on your joints especially hips and knees. This is why it is important to exercise before pregnancy as well, so your muscles can accommodate the extra load on your joints. Extra weight also effects your heart. Your heart has to pump more and harder to deliver the blood to both your baby and your working muscles. I would recommend wearing a heart rate monitor so you can adjust your intensity based on your heart rate. Experts advise keeping your heart rate under 140, but you can safely workout with a heart rate of 150-160 providing you stay hydrated, don’t keep it elevated there, and don’t overheat.
As any mother will agree, pregnancy and childbirth is very hard on your body. It takes muscular strength to push your baby out as well as cardiovascular and muscular endurance depending on the length of your labor. You can workout right up to labor starting, but the last weeks might consist of very light stretching and range of movement exercises as well as walking.
You might be asking what if I am not currently working out, what do I do? My recommendations for someone new to exercise or someone who hasn’t worked out for awhile is to do something to at least maintain muscle strength and endurance. Starting with walks is very beneficial, working up to walking every day even if it is just 20 minutes. Doing yoga specifically for pregnancy will help a lot and lastly work on small exercises to maintain or improve the muscles used in childbirth.
The main muscles you want to include in your workouts are legs (both hamstrings and quadriceps), buttocks (glutes), core (both abdominals and lower back), and lastly upper back (traps, lats, rhomboids). These will help with posture during pregnancy, combat pain, stiffness or discomfort and will help tremendously during labor.
If you have questions or concerns you can always contact a personal trainer with experience with pregnant clients as well as your doctor or midwife.