Pregnancy Fitness: Finding what Works

Written by  Wednesday, 07 September 2016 02:22
As featured in Mamatoga Pregnancy and Newborn Issue Spring 2016.

Mamas, we live in an exciting time.

When strong is the new skinny and fitness is an essential accessory to the modern woman’s life, exercising during pregnancy is a natural progression for healthy-minded mamas. 
With exercise classes and training opportunities for expectant mothers popping up on a regular basis, how do you decide what’s best for you and your blooming babe?

Not only is exercise during pregnancy encouraged by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), but the December 2015 guidelines cited strength training, Pilates, and jogging among the activities that are “safe to continue.” 
Not convinced? 
Research has shown that women who continue to exercise during pregnancy are less likely to have excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, or require intervention during labor and birth.
Babies of active mothers tend to experience less stress and complications during labor, maintain a healthy body composition, and actually perform better on standardized intelligence tests through early childhood.

Here are my top 5 tips for staying fit during pregnancy:
1. Check your ego at the door. There is nothing wrong with breaking a sweat when exercising, but don’t be surprised if you need to slow down and modify certain exercises. Pregnancy is not the time to compete with others or yourself. You will have the rest of your life to run that marathon or deadlift 200lbs!

What intensity should you maintain? Although some medical professionals still cite heartrate guidelines from 1985 (not to exceed 140bpm), a much more reliable measure of intensity is the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). On that scale, 7 is classified as “very, very light” and 19 is “very, very hard”. During pregnancy, your perceived exertion, or how hard you are working,should remain between 13 to 14 or “somewhat hard”. More simply, you should be able to talk fairly comfortably while doing your exercise of choice.2.

2. Continue to Train your Core. A strong core prior to pregnancy will help with a faster recovery and can prevent back, pelvis, and hip pain. Maintaining strong core muscles during pregnancy is not about crunches and planks! These muscles are key in stabilizing your posture as your belly grows and your lumbar, or lower back, curve becomes more exaggerated. It’s best to avoid exercises that involve lifting your head off the floor (such as crunches and Pilates “hundreds”), and movements that put extra stress on your rectus abdominals or “6-pack” muscles.

Diastasis Recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles down the line of tissue called the Linea Alba that affects approximately 3 out of 4 women during pregnancy. Engaging the rectus, or "6-pack," muscles by performing exercises such as front planks, sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like can worsen the separation, which may lead to tissue damage, lower back pain, and may require rehabilitation and/or physical therapy postpartum.

The best core exercises during pregnancy include glute bridges, Pallof Press, farmer walks, reverse planks, and diaphragmatic breathing.
3. Breathe Well. Correct breathing technique is essential! Always inhale on the easier part of an exercise (“breathe in to prepare”) and gently exhale during the more difficult part (“exhale on exertion”). Avoid holding your breath or forceful exhalation, which is also referred to as a Valsalva maneuver. This can cause sudden changes in blood pressure which may lead to dizziness or fainting.

Belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing is a fantastic way to engage your pelvic floor and core muscles simultaneously.

Try this: picture your belly as a balloon. Inhale slowly and quietly through your nose to “inflate the balloon” and engage your diaphragm. Send your belly button away from your spine and allow your rib cage to expand, while keeping the shoulders still and send the breath as low in the abdomen as possible. At full capacity, exhale, and “deflate the balloon” through a slow, controlled breath out of your nose.

Efficient breathing is the body’s natural coping method for stress and pain and good technique can be extremely helpful during labor.
4. Lift Weights. Women who maintain strength and fitness levels during pregnancy not only have less aches and pains during pregnancy but they also have quicker recoveries and less physical complications during the postpartum period. Lifting weights is an excellent way to maintain and improve stability and posture, and to support the extra weight you will be carrying. Yes, you may need to decrease your weights towards the end of your pregnancy, but this is completely normal. Ensure you are following a program that is designed for pregnancy and can be modified every trimester as necessary.
5. Train with a Purpose: When you walk into the gym or outside to exercise, know what you want to achieve. Stay strong and unless you are a competitive endurance athlete, keep cardio to 20-30 minutes 3-5 days a week (or even less if you are doing intervals). Full body strength movements can absolutely be prioritized over exercises that only train one muscle at a time. Explore your options, find your focus and go for it!

You may find at certain points in your pregnancy, you have less energy and less motivation to work out. Use your drive and your time wisely. 
When you need a rest day, take it.  Remember, you are making a baby!