Working Out During Pregnancy // My Thoughts

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I was recently asked to be a resource for an online magazine, ASweatLife, and the topic was on working out during pregnancy.  Though the article is now live on their website, I thought I would post the questions I was asked and my full answers, as I thought they might be helpful for some mamas to be! I hope you enjoy this topic and if you have any thoughts to add, please comment below!

Do you think the average, healthy woman should work out while pregnant?

I do think the average, healthy woman should totally do some sort of activity while pregnant.  The level of intensity would depend on what kind of activities she did before becoming pregnancy.  Research shows that women can exercise right up until their due date/delivery.  Exercise can make labor go smoother in some cases as well.  If allowed by her doctor I think EVERY mama-to-be can benefit from movement!

What are some guidelines for working out while pregnant?

Something to keep in mind is that there have not been a lot of studies done on the upper limits of working out while pregnant because of ethical reasons, so the answer to this would be totally relative to the woman we are looking at.  I would recommend not trying to set any personal records while pregnant.  This may seem obvious, but what I mean is, the goal while pregnant and working out isn’t going to be trying to give it your all or go 110%. This isn’t going to be the time for that.  A good way to tell if you are pushing it too far is the Talk Test, you should be able to have a clear conversation with someone while you are working out.  You don’t want to be huffing and puffing.  Focus on deep breathing and staying conscious of  your core always!  Don’t try to pick up new activities while pregnant that are different than what you were doing before becoming pregnant, to a reasonable degree. For example, I wouldn’t pick up rock climbing or long distance running, if you weren’t previously doing that before becoming pregnant, for the shear reason of not being as skilled, and thus upping the risk factor for injury, belly blows or falls etc.
The American College or Sports Medicine recommends intensity should be around 60-90% of maximum heart rate.  Women who did not exercise before pregnancy should stay on the lower range of that.

What kind of workouts do you recommend? do the workouts change per trimester? If so, can you give an example for each trimester?

Walking is probably the most recommended activity to pregnant regardless of physical level, this can be done at all trimesters.  It is known that exercises during pregnancy can reduce chances of complications for mama and baby.  Movement can actually soothe some of the aches that pregnancy can bring on. If we don’t move, we get stiff and lose range of motion!  Some great exercises to help soothe joints and less impact includes swimming, stationary bike, elliptical and walking.  Strength training can also be very beneficial, we need to be strong to carry the weight of the baby and keep great form.  Proper posture and breathing should be used for every mama too, this is my favorite!!
My Conscious Core Breath is… Inhale- Ribs move out sideways expanding, belly, back, and chest lifts gently with air pressure and pelvic floor relaxes.
Exhale- (audibly-making hissing noise) lift pelvic floor, closing all three of your openings (holding in gas and stopping the flow of urine), then work your way up your abdominals, engaging, drawing up and in your lower abs, then middle and upper, bringing your ribs down and together. This is about creating awareness and building mind muscles connection, consciously coupling the pelvic floor with core engagement during exercise will make your postpartum that much better! The Breath is our foundation, from that we build everything else upon!
Be aware not to bear down on pelvic floor, if at the end of your exhale, you notice your lower abs pooching back up, you may be bearing down and putting pressure down into your PF.  You do not want to do this.  This is an awareness issue, place your hand on your low belly to feel if it is pooching, focus on engaging lower abdominals.

1st Trimester- Increased heart rate due to more blood volume and cardiac output will cause dizziness and feeling like you can’t take a deep breath, be mindful and while it is normal for this trimester, don’t be too aggressive if you are feeling these symptoms.

Exercises on your back are still safe here but should be limited in the next trimesters.

  • Pelvic floor contraction WITH diaphragmatic breath work.

  • Bear Plank Lift & Lowers
  • Side Lying Diaphragmatic Breath
  • Reverse Lunge with Curl
  • Side Lying Mid Back Rotation
  • Back Lying Heel Slide
  • Wide Squats

2nd Trimester – Cardiac Output is up around 30% than before pregnancy so you may feel more energized at this point! You have more blood, moving more oxygen and this is good for the muscles! All exercises work with diaphragmatic breath.

  • Bear Plank Adduction (ball squeeze & lift)
  • Bent Knee Fall Outs
  • Marching
  • Glute Bridge Adduction (ball squeeze) (put upper body at incline if more comfortable than lying flat)
  • Resistance Band Back Row
  • 1/2 Kneeling Pallof Press with Resistance Band
  • Hip Hinges & Single Leg Hip Hinges

3rd Trimester – Ok things are getting awkward now! Movement and gait are changing, the mama duck waddle, and you have lots of relaxin flowing through your body! This hormone gives you more flexibility, preparing for birth, so be careful with over stretching or tearing ligaments because everything will feel more relaxed!

No need to back off exercise, you just need to listen to your body.  Things that felt good in the 2nd trimester might not feel that great in the 3rd! For me, lunges got very challenging because of balance and that baby belly getting in the way.
A great way to keep doing exercises you love is to put your hands at an incline!
Glute Bridge with upper body on ball or couch, situation yourself with your bra line on the edge of whatever you are propping up on.
Bird Dog Lift and Lowers
Side Lying Clams (band can be placed above knees)
Ball Conscious Core Breath Brace (use big exercise ball)
Chair Squats (Sit into a chair and stand! Add a band above knees to focus on glutes!)
Lateral Banded Walks (band around ankles or above knee)

When SHOULDN’T a woman workout while pregnant?

If you are considered a high risk pregnancy, then it is probably best to stay away from workouts, I would stick to walking, unless this has also been taken off the table by your doctor.  Other than that, every mama can benefit from some activity during pregnancy.  Even if its just a 15 minute walk.

Tips for working out while pregnant

Generally speaking, I would stay away from front planks, mountain climbers, push ups, and exercises that cause a lot of intra abdominal pressure (IAP).  Not limited to front (prone) facing exercises, but including any flexion of the spine, examples…crunches, sit-ups, Jack knife, bicycle abs, and Russian twists (there are safe/functional ways to incorporate twisting, but I don’t like these for that).  As well as hanging ab exercises and leg lifts. Lying on your back can also be an issue if done for too long because it can restrict the venous blood return to the heart. But if you are doing exercise on your back, do so in increments of 30 seconds to 1 minute and then change positions and you should be just fine.
Refrain from baring down on your pelvic floor, or holding your breath and baring down during exercise or lifting anything (the Valsalva maneuver), this is also so important postpartum as well.
You also want to be mindful of high impact workouts, jumping, running, jumping jacks, this creates a lot pressure down on the pelvic floor, its already doing a lot of work by holding up that baby belly and all the organs! The constant high impact with out proper training, awareness and posture/breathing technique can lead to an overactive or under active pelvic floor, possible issues that could arise include prolapse and incontinence.
This is generally speaking, I do know mamas that have done all these activities and have just scaled back.
If you feel light headed, first trimester this is so common with blood pressure drops and increased heart heart, you may need to back off.  You must not get over heated or dehydrated, this can cause contractions, so if you are feeling crampy, you are definitely pushing it too far.
Pregnancy is a great time to really focus on your health if you weren’t before! You are making a human! How incredible are you!
The female body is pretty amazing! I would encourage every pregnant mama to get moving! If you are eating nutritious food (not eating for 2!), getting adequate sleep and listening to your body when you are being active, then there really shouldn’t be any reason not to stay active throughout your pregnancy.  As always, keep in touch with your doctor and let them know of your physical activities and changes in programs, especially if you are high risk or have had a complicated delivery/pregnancy before.
I also want to advise to always ROLL TO YOUR SIDE when lying down on to your back or getting up from your back. If you see doming, coning, bulging, or a ridge down your midline, you are creating too much intra abdominal pressure and it can lead to a further Diastasis, more than what naturally has to happen to make room for baby.
More information about Conscious Core Breathing and Pre/Post Natal Fitness check out @movewithtruelove on instagram

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