Many women choose not to exercise during pregnancy because they are fearful of doing something that could harm their baby. They are unsure what is safe, so they avoid exercise entirely with a plan to get back in shape once the baby is born. It does not help that there are not many qualified trainers or credible online resources. Even though current research is conclusive that the benefits of prenatal exercise far outweigh any risks, doctors typically give conservative and vague recommendations. They may be relevant to pregnant women in general, but offer little specific guidance to individuals. There are also doctors, trainers, midwives, etc., that have been practicing for decades and are not up to date on the current research. It is very important to know what are current vs. outdated guidelines when engaging in a pregnancy fitness program.
According to research from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, “Findings indicate that supervised, moderate-to-vigorous resistance exercise does not jeopardize the health status of healthy pregnant women or the fetus during pregnancy, but instead appears to be an appropriate form of exercise in healthy pregnancy,” (Petrov, 2014). In fact, roughly 20 studies between 1985 and 2012 showed conclusive evidence that athletic women with uncomplicated pregnancies can continue their high-intensity training without adverse side effects to them or their babies. Of course, every pregnancy is unique so women will still need to modify workouts as recommended by their physician and decrease intensity as needed.
Expectant mothers who were previously inactive can begin with low- intensity activities such as walking, swimming, and light resistance training. Women with any previous medical conditions or pregnancy complications should see their physician before beginning an exercise program, and clear any new activities with her doctor as a simple precaution.
A common misconception that many expectant women have is thinking that they are going to gain weight during pregnancy anyway, so they may as well wait until the baby arrives to begin a diet and exercise program.
While it is true that weight gain is an important aspect of a healthy pregnancy, between 25-35 pounds for the average size woman, very little of that weight needs to be body fat! As little as 5-10 pounds comes from fat, and the rest is from increased blood volume, fluid retention, and the growing fetus.
The myths and misconceptions surrounding prenatal fitness can lead women to gain much more body fat than is necessary, which can have incredibly harmful effects for moms and babies. Still, roughly 50% of pregnant women and new moms in the United States are considered overweight or obese.
Unless your doctor has given strict medical advice not to participate in an exercise program, there are no known risks of a consistent moderate exercise routine – only countless benefits. And, when there are contraindications to certain types of exercise there are still activities that are safe and beneficial to participate in, such as walking, light resistance bands, and many stability ball exercises.
1) Slightly reduce the duration and intensity of physical activity in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters – especially when there is a history of or risk for preterm labor or are pregnant with multiples. Keep in mind, when using the “1 to 10” scale of intensity, your ability will naturally decline in later months. What felt like a “5” on the 1-10 scale in the 1st trimester may feel like a “7” or “8” in the last trimester.
2) Whenever possible, avoid exercises that require lying flat on the back in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters because of discomfort and a risk of decreased blood flow. Motionless standing should also be limited to encourage proper circulation and prevent thrombosis.
3) Avoid exercises that may cause loss of balance. There should be no risk of even mild trauma to the abdomen, especially in the 3rd trimester. It is best to exercise near a wall or something stable for help with balance and abstain from activities like bicycling (stationary bike is fine) and skiing.
4) Do not stretch past the pre-pregnancy range of motion. The hormone, relaxin, makes pregnant women more flexible and prone to injury. Light stretching is safe and encouraged during, after and between workouts.
5) Avoid exercising in hot, humid environments and wearing tight-fitting clothing, which may cause overheating and symptoms such as dizziness, muscle weakness, and headache. If this occurs, move to a cool environment and take a break with deep breaths and a snack until the symptoms pass. If symptoms do not pass quickly, loosen clothing and shoelaces, end the workout and consider medical attention if feeling gets worse instead of better.
By following these tips and listening to your body’s feedback during exercise, it is safe and beneficial to workout throughout pregnancy. You will recover quicker, feel better and reap the rewards of a healthy body and baby for years to come.
Source: Petrov Fieril, Karolina, et al. “Experiences Of Exercise During Pregnancy Among Women Who Perform Regular Resistance Training: A Qualitative Study.” Physical Therapy 94.8 (2014): 1135-1143. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 24 July 2016.
About The Writer – Tatum Rebelle is the founder of Total Mommy Fitness, and has been helping mothers stay fit for over 10 years learning from her own experience in addition to more than a decade of training and military service. She holds pre/postnatal fitness certifications from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Her personal training certifications are from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Tatum holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Performance Psychology.
The Total Mommy Fitness™ method is a holistic approach to health and fitness, which has reached tens of thousands of busy moms all over the world on how to create the life and body they want
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