Although pregnancy isn’t the most ideal time to start a completely new training program, the benefits of exercise (see previous post) are clear. Provided that you play it safe, listen to your body, and don’t go jumping straight into an intense Olympic lifting program, there is always something you can do to get stronger and fitter, even if exercise was previously pretty low on your life priority list.
Here are a few tips covering where to start and what to avoid to help you stay fit, healthy, happy, and safe:
Do what you love – Pregnancy can be less than fun at times so this is not the time to add any additional stressors to your life. If you hate the gym, don’t go to the gym. Do a class, go for a swim, do a home workout, or just get outside for a walk. Consistency is key, whatever you choose, enjoy it.
Don’t ignore the warning signs – Stop immediately if you get light-headed, unusually short of breath (although see post on breathlessness), feel any contractions, experience decreased baby movement (probably hard to notice mid-workout), or experience any bleeding or fluid leakage. There are no medals for training during labour.
Get a Dr’s note (if required) – This is dependent on your individual pregnancy circumstances and unfortunately, there may be cases where you are better off not exercising if this will cause further pregnancy or health issues. If you’re new to exercise or just in any doubt, get your doctor's sign off to be on the safe side.
Nail your technique - Lifting weights is not dangerous. Lifting weights that are too heavy or with incorrect technique most definitely is. Don’t push yourself too hard, ensure you are using correct form, and ideally get a professional to oversee your training.
Avoid lying on your front (after the first trimester) - Not only is this a tad uncomfortable for you, it’s also more than a little uncomfortable (and not overly safe) for your squashed baby.
Avoid exercising on your back (again, after the first trimester) - The weight of your uterus can add a lot of extra pressure to the artery that runs directly to your heart called the vena cava. This can reduce blood flow to your heart, brain, and baby – none of which are ideal.
Avoid adding weight to the pelvis area – Weighted hip thrusts are great for your glutes, not so great for your baby bump, and although these can still be done be sure to avoid added pressure on your belly. To do these safely move the weight to a lower position and reduce the range of motion at the bottom of the rep. To be honest I still found these pretty uncomfortable despite the adaptations (doesn’t help you need to pee ALL THE TIME) so instead opted for higher rep, banded and single-leg versions instead.
Core - Be particularly careful when performing certain exercises as this can lead to an increased risk of abdominal separation (diastasis recti). I would generally avoid crunch variations, v-sits, and anything which creates a lot of pressure on your abs like full planks (opt for kneeling versions which will reduce the pressure on the abdominal wall). Again, what your body can handle will be dependent on how strong you were prior to pregnancy and I've seen some women doing full planks and press-ups throughout pregnancy (presumably with no issues). Personally, I haven't included any core specific work during pregnancy, but am working my core muscles by ensuring it is fully engaged during large compound body movements such as squats, deadlifts, and pull-downs. The six-pack can wait.
Reduce your range of motion – Relaxin is a hormone produced during pregnancy to prepare your body for the excitement of labour. This can result in you feeling super flexible and lead to overstretching and injury. Avoid the splits (unless you could comfortably do these previously) and reduce your range of motion in exercises such as lunges and squats to limit the potential for injury (I’ve actually just had to take a couple of days off due to some overenthusiastic squatting – easily done).
Don’t push to failure - this can lead to injury/severe exhaustion, neither of which are helpful for you or your baby. Remember the goal - it’s not about muscle gains or endurance races right now.
Avoid fast movements (particularly involving quick changes of direction) - I'm definitely not up for anything involving speed right now but, essentially anything with a risk of falling (surfing, skiing, rugby) should be avoided.
Stay in your comfort zone – Enjoy just moving, getting your heart rate up, and working out - no guns blazing. To be honest, most of my pregnancy I had absolutely no inclination to get any more uncomfortable (maybe nature’s way of telling you to chill) but, on the off chance you’re not affected by exhaustion, fatigue, hormones, or decreased energy levels – play it safe.
Prioritise recovery – Adequate rest (during and post-exercise) and fuel are vital if you are training during pregnancy. Any nutrients used during exercise will decrease their availability for growing a human. Eat well, hydrate often, sleep (if and when you can) and take rest days to allow your body to fully recover and prioritise baby growth.
Take it easy – There will be some days where you just don’t fancy it so cut yourself some slack and rest. I love to work out, but my general rule has been……. if you're so tired you think you could nap instead, go to bed.
Hopefully, this has provided an overview of what to do and what to avoid over the next few months.
There is a lot of conflicting information out there, so listen to your body – you’re the expert in how you feel and what is right for you.