Since you have nailed your pregnancy nutrition, it’s now time to talk exercise!
There is so much advice out there on what is best, and lots of it is conflicting. Good news for you is that I have done a lot of research, with reputable sources, and the advice that I give, and that I will follow myself is to remain as active as you can. Your pregnancy is not the time to start any wild training routines, or reach for any PB’s – it is a time to nourish your body, mind and spirit. For me that means staying active, and balancing it with a lot of rest. Make it as easy as possible for life to grow inside you by strengthening your body, your mind, and also relaxing!! When the new arrival comes there may not be so much time to put your feet up 😉
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy describes the aims of exercise in pregnancy as:
“To maintain or moderately improve the level of fitness. After the baby is born the aim is to regain the former level of fitness, or improve on this if previously sedentary/ unfit.”
If you are active – GOOD FOR YOU! I advocate activity, but you will need to learn to listen to your body as well. Studies show that women who continue endurance exercise at or near pre-pregnancy levels gain less weight than those who stop exercising before the 28th week. Babies of exercising mothers are healthier at birth and better manage the stress of delivery. They have a lower heart rate and sleep through the night sooner than babies of more sedentary mums
In support of guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 3 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) suggests that:
- all women should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy
- reasonable goals of aerobic conditioning in pregnancy should be to maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness level or train for athletic competition
- choose activities that will minimise the risk of loss of balance and foetal trauma
- women should be advised that adverse pregnancy or neonatal outcomes are not increased for exercising women
- initiation of pelvic floor exercises in the immediate postpartum period may reduce the risk of future urinary incontinence
Exercising during pregnancy will help you to:
- Keep your heart, lungs and muscles as healthy as possible
- Keep your weight within a healthy range
- Improve your posture, balance and coordination
- Improve circulation
- Increase your strength and stamina
- Feel better in your body AND mind
- Be prepared for labour and delivery
- Do your best for your baby as it develops
- Reduce minor ailments in pregnancy
- Become fitter to help you recover more quickly after the birth
If you are very inactive now, try incorporating some movement every day. Walking and swimming are both excellent things that are low-impact but benefit the whole body gently.
If you are active now: GOOD NEWS! Many activities are safe to continue with, just be sure to monitor your intensity level. A few guidelines:
- it is safe to break a sweat when exercising
- Avoid abdominal crunches
- Avoid laying on your back past the first trimester
- Be sure to stay well hydrated when exercising also
- Try to balance every hour of exercise with an hour of rest
- Avoid using your heart rate to monitor your exercise program. During pregnancy, your resting heart rate increases and your maximal heat rate decreases so using a target heart rate to guide the intensity of your workout is not recommended. Research shows an easier and safe way to go is to monitor your exertion level using Borg’s Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale (see Table).
- Throughout pregnancy, exercising at moderate intensity is considered safe. On the Borg RPE Scale, moderate intensity is a rating of 12 to 14 — a level that feels somewhat hard (that is, you can still talk while exercising without feeling exceedingly short of breath).
Borg’s Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale
Some of the exercises that are safe to continue with include:
- YOGA (but not hot in your first trimester)
- WALKING OUTSIDE
- FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH TRAINING (which I will talk a little bit more about now because I believe it is particularly important).
Benefits of Strength Training During Pregnancy
During your pregnancy some of your muscles will naturally weaken:
- Hamstring; back of the thigh
- Glues: buttocks
- Upper back extensors
It is really important to focus on your Spine when strength-training during pregnancy, in particular focusing on exercises that require you to support and stabilise your spine it is neutral position. These types of exercises are also known as Core Conditioning or Functional Exercises and they train the torso and limbs to work together and improve body mechanics, making you fit for real life. Maintaining a Neutral Spine position will support your body a great deal during pregnancy, and beyond, by:
- Supporting and protecting the spine
- strengthening the deep core muscles
- maintain good posture
- Prevents/ lessens muscular imbalances
- Distributes the load evenly through vertebral discs, helping to avoid back pain
Resistance training exercises that require Neutral Spine stabilisation simultaneously build core control together with strong, powerful limbs. Some exercises that combine resistance training with functional conditioning:
- Squats and lunges, using either your body weight or free weights.
- Both upper- and lower-body cable-pull exercises performed either standing or seated.
- Standing heel rises, employing either your body-weight or free-weights.
- Standing or side-lying leg extensions, using your body weight, resistance bands or tubing, ankle weights, a weighted bar, or similar devices.
- Front, side, and back flies, performed with free weights, resistance bands or tubing.
- Compound rows, done with resistance bands, tubing, or cables.
- Most of the seated Pilates reformer exercises.
- Plank pose
Focus on Endurance, this means keeping weights low and the number of reps high (10-12 reps,2 – 3 sets). This will also enable you to control your breath more, so aim for deep slow inhalations and exhalations, and slow, controlled repetition.
Try this circuit – it should take you around 45 minutes…
- Warm Up for 5 minutes either on a cross-trainer, or by performing body weight squats x 30, press ups x 10, continuously for 5 minutes
- CIRCUIT ONE:
- Split leg squats with a barbell on shoulders x 12 each side
- Press ups x 10
- Goblet Squat with a weight held at chest x 12
- Renegade Rows with dumbbells x 12
- Repeat circuit twice – rest 60 seconds between the circuits and keep a note of your ability to talk
- CIRCUIT TWO:
- Reverse lunge to bicep curl with dumbbells x 12 each side
- Standing heel raises with dumbbells x 12 each side
- Renegade Rows with dumbbells x 12
- Standing Row, Side Raise, Frontal Raise with dumbbells x 12
- Repeat the circuit twice – rest 60 seconds between the circuits and keep a track on your ability to talk
- Metabolic conditioning – you need a medicine ball
- Slam the ball 10 times and then do double legged jumps, front and back, x 10
- Slam the ball 8 times and then do double legged jumps, front and back, x 8
- Continue down to 2 slams and jumps
- Abdominal/Core Strength:
Make sure you finish up with a cool down and time to stretch and relax, I often like to end my exercise with some time to close my eyes and be really still, just 2-3 minutes really does the trick!
Overall, when it comes to exercise, listen to your body, monitor your intensity, stay well hydrated and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right for you. You are the very best judge of what is the very best for you, and your baby.
Something else that I always recommend, even more so for women who are pregnant, is to strengthen the mind through Meditation. I have written two blog posts recently about how to begin mastering the mind, Meditation for Beginners and Mindful Walking
I hope this has been useful for you? Any questions I would love to hear from you, with lots of love and a happy, healthy pregnancy
Sources and Further Reading
- The Pregnant Athlete