This is the most important question for a mommy-to-be in her first trimester, “Is it safe?” Safe for baby and safe for mommy. Yet this question has to be one of the most frustrating ones to get answered for a pregnant woman. On one hand we’re told we “should” exercise by the authoritative organization in prenatal health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Yet it’s unclear to most of us what exactly is actually safe to do or what we should avoid.
Applying our common sense we know that there cannot be a one-size-fits all approach – of course there are higher risk pregnancies and individual medical situations that need to be taken into consideration. But if you’re like me, you’re looking for clearer general guidelines than “you should exercise” that are supported by up-to-date research and put into a framework so that you can make an educated decision with your doctor.
A FRAMEWORK FOR SAFE & EFFECTIVE EXERCISE
STEP 1) What Level Are You Now?
Beginner, intermediate or advanced. Your pregnancy fitness program needs to be suitable for the level you're at coming into your pregnancy.
STEP 2) Include “Priority” Preggo Exercises First
There are two priorities in your fitness during your pregnancy:
1) moderate (low impact) cardio, and
2) exercising your “middle” parts.
Your “middle parts” are your abs, pelvic floor, glutes, hips and low back. This area is so important and we want to ensure you are choosing safe and effective options (no crunching!).
If you can’t do much exercise due to morning sickness, fatigue, or the many other pregnancy related physical challenges, these two priority items should become your focus. Don’t get overwhelmed or down on yourself if these are the only two things you can do during your entire pregnancy. If you include these two items during your pregnancy, then you had a “fit pregnancy”!
STEP 3) Choose Your Moderate Cardio Activity
Heart health and cardiovascular health for you AND baby! This is so cool – as your heart rate increases so does your baby’s heart. This means that when you exercise, your baby is getting in her training too. At first this piece of research concerned me as I pictured my baby’s tiny heart racing as I exercised; however, numerous studies have found that by exercising your heart for your baby before she is born improves her little cardiovascular system for years after birth. I wanted my daughter to be able to race around the soccer field with a strong heart so I gave her little heart a gentle workout by raising mine at a moderate level most days.
Heart Rate Up, But How High?
Older prenatal guidance actually prescribed a maximum heart rate number, however that guidance has been updated to a more general direction which is: ensure that you could carry on a normal conversation during your exercise activity.
The Impact of High Impact
While most cardio activities are safe for baby during pregnancy, the higher impact options (like running) may not be the safest choice for you mommy. You may say “Ahhh! I NEED TO RUN!” Don’t freak-out yet, I’m not going to tell you not to run, as I personally jogged a bit and know many women who ran throughout their entire pregnancies. However, I do want to give you some information so you can decide how much jogging you want to include in your pregnancy so you don’t have a “Why didn’t someone tell me that?” moment later on.
Running and Relaxin
Relaxin – I’m talking about the pregnancy hormone not the chillin-out use of the same word. The main job of the hormone relaxin is to help your pelvic adjust and widen for baby to descend through your birth canal. It also has the effect of relaxing all of your joints, muscles, tendons and tissues in your pregnant body. This means that relaxin also affects your pelvic floor because it’s a muscle too! As your baby and uterus grows you add weight onto your relaxed pelvic floor muscles. How good of an idea is it to be pounding or bouncing that extra weight onto a relaxed pelvic floor muscle? We don’t want to increase your chances of bladder leaks or other serious pelvic floor dysfunctions, so if you do high impact exercise during your pregnancy (and running is high impact) you are increasing your chances of pelvic floor dysfunction.
Does this mean you don’t run during pregnancy? You’ll have to make that decision for yourself, but at least you have the information to know why you may want to switch to a lower impact cardio activity or pull back on your five-days-a-week jogging routine. Perhaps you’ll choose to do an occasional jog to help you distress or maybe you’ll continue to run 5 days a week, either is OK and safe for baby but know that there could be a negative impact for you. An empowered pregnancy is one where you have the information to make an educated decision for yourself.
STEP 4) Strengthen Your Baby Body!
For labor and beyond, we want to build a body that is strong from head-to-toe. Remember right now you are the world’s most natural bodybuilder as you are literally building a new body inside of you! Soon you’ll be hauling around a growing newborn, bending over to pick-up a loaded car seat and soon enough that same body will be chasing around a toddler. We want to build a body that will last the demands of motherhood and life! As an added benefit, muscle development will help you get that “toned” look many women want post-partum quicker.
All women, including pregnant women can benefit from strength training particularly as it relates to the improvements to your bone’s density. Weight-bearing exercises build more than just stronger muscles, it builds stronger bones too! This doesn’t mean you’ll be slinging around heavy weights during your pregnancy to get the benefits of strength training. A beginner can use her own body weight as indicated in the trimester-by-trimester strength programs in this book, or an advanced exerciser can modify her favorite moves to continue being a muscle momma.
A few key tips about your choice of strength training exercises:
i) Keep in mind that you have priority areas that need to be strengthened so when you’re short on time or energy those come first! Refer to Step 2 of this framework.
ii) After the first trimester, avoid performing exercises lying flat on your back as that could reduce the blood flow to your baby. Don’t freak out if you’re on your back for a couple of minutes. It’s repeated and lengthy periods we’re concerned about as a precaution. I have given you over 100 exercise choices in this book where you don’t need to be on flat on your back, so why not use them instead?
iii) Avoid crunches, planks, or being on all fours and other front-loaded positions. Take into consideration that when you then turn yourself onto all fours you will have the pull of gravity working against a stretched and compromised core. Crunches put pressure on your compromised core and create downward pressure on the pelvic floor – not what a pregnant mama needs! Please don’t freak out if you are on all fours for a few brief moments, as some of us mommas need to crawl around after our other little kids occasionally. It is repeated and lengthy strains we should protect ourselves against.
iv) Listen to your body. If you haven’t before, now is the time to really check into yourself during your workouts. If your body tells you to slow down or stop, don’t ignore it. During my two pregnancies I had several workouts where my body told me “This isn’t feeling right.” So I immediately stopped and either rested or pulled the plug on the workout for that day.
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