Can you believe that just a generation ago, women were discouraged from exercising while pregnant? Indeed, pregnancy was a time to slow down, move less and avoid undue stress and strain on the body, thereby ensuring the birth of a healthy babe.
Nowadays, the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are well known. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a doctor or midwife who doesn’t encourage their pregnant patients to work out regularly.
As a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and mother of three (who worked out religiously throughout 2 of her 3 pregnancies) I can personally attest to the benefits of exercise during pregnancy. My clients and class participants sleep better, report fewer joint aches and pains, and have a more positive image of their changing bodies than their non-exercising friends. Some also report easier deliveries (alas, I was not one of them...).
In general, pregnant women can do the very same exercises as non-pregnant women, with a few modifications (for example, minimizing moves that require you to lie on you back after about 20 weeks). Below you’ll find some of the tips and general recommendations I regularly share with my clients, boot campers and friends!
1. Maintain the status quo; pregnancy is not the time to worry about setting personal bests or dramatically improving your fitness. Aim for consistency in your workouts and leave the adventure racing for next year.
2. Be kind to yourself; Your body, and what it’s capable of will change frequently and tasks that were once easy, may become more difficult as your pregnancy progresses (I distinctly remember having to take out a set of risers in step class at about 24 weeks gestation). Relax in the knowledge that you’ll be able to do it (and more!) all again, once the baby is born.
3. Focus on safety and form rather than speed; As your belly grows, you may find that you lose your balance more easily than before. Why? Your center of gravity has shifted, both forward and closer to the floor than you’re used to. Slower movements executed with perfect form will not only reduce the likelihood of injury, they can also result in improved strength and muscle size!
4. Ensure proper hydration during exercise; During pregnancy, blood volume increases by as much as 33% (mom’s blood provides nutrients to both herself and baby). More blood requires more water for proper hydration. Many pregnant women suffer from night time calf cramps (aka ‘charley horses’); prevent them by upping your water intake before, during and after exercise.
5. Focus on posterior chain work; Pregnancy changes a woman’s center of gravity. Heavy bellies and breasts pull shoulders forward, increasing strain on the upper and lower back. Try adding some extra back exercises to your workout; bent over rows, reverse flys and lat pulldowns are all good choices. Not only will they reduce the back pain frequently experienced during pregnancy, they’ll improve your posture and make you look taller!
6. Protect your knees; Relaxin, one of the many hormones produced by your body during pregnancy, results in looser, more flexible joints. While beneficial during labour and delivery, it’s effects are not joint specific. Many women find that proper knee alignment during squats and lunges is more challenging during pregnancy, due to greater laxity in the tendons and ligaments of the knees. Pay attention to form and remember that the load your knees are bearing is increasing weekly!
7. Prepare your upper body for the work to come AFTER baby is born; Infants need to be carried a lot. And they grow continuously, making them the perfect progressive resistance training tool! Strong backs, arms and shoulders will be needed (especially if you carry your baby in an infant seat...) in the months to come. Start training them now!
8. Enjoy being able to buy stylish workout clothes; Maternity fitness clothes have come a long way in 10 years. No longer do pregnant women have to wear their husband’s gym shorts and old cotton t-shirts to work out in (yes, I really did!). Pregnancy is a great excuse to go shopping!
Tamara Grand lives in beautiful British Columbia Canada with her husband, three children, a ginger cat and a large stash of hand-dyed yarn. She works as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and enjoys pushing her clients and class participants out of their comfort zones. She’s happiest when they text her the day after a workout complaining about sore arms and legs.
She believes that exercise and healthy eating need to be part of everyone’s life and aims to inspire and motivate others by showing them that if she can do it, anyone can. She blogs about fitness, food, family and fiber (knitting fiber, that is) at fitknitchick.com and is always thrilled when you comment on her posts. Please follow her on Twitter @fitknitchick_1.
**Although Tamara is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, she’s not YOUR personal trainer! Please see your health care practitioner for advice specific to YOUR pregnancy before you begin a new exercise program!