Can I exercise during pregnancy?
Although there have historically been misconceptions that exercising whilst pregnant will make the baby smaller and cause a premature birth – this is simply not true! In fact exercising during pregnancy has a host of benefits, and resistance exercises allow you to build up the strength you’ll need for the weight gain and postural changes that occur during pregnancy.
So, can you exercise during pregnancy? Well not only is this a resounding yes but you’ll be pleased to know it’s actively encouraged.
Obviously before undertaking any exercise you need to first and foremost get the ok from your healthcare provider. Also, if they have given you any limitations for exercise then make sure these are taken into account.
Most women benefit hugely from both a physical and mental perspective if exercising throughout pregnancy. Below is a list of just a few of the benefits that are to be had:
- Maintaining strength throughout pregnancy prepares you for the lifting of the baby after birth
- Exercise helps to strengthen muscles in the bum, thighs and back which relieves backache by improving posture
- You’ll gain increased energy levels and improve mood state
- Sleep quality will be enhanced
- The ability to deal with labour pains will be much improved
- You’ll be able to regain shape and fitness more quickly after the baby is born
Not surprisingly there are no fixed or established strength training guidelines for pregnancy, or clear limits of weights that can be used. This is due to the fact that we are all unique, and have different capabilities, strengths, and physical responses to exercise. It is therefore important that you learn to tune into your body and make modifications if any exercises start to feel painful or uncomfortable.
However, here are our Top 10 recommendations that will help you develop an effective routine during pregnancy:
- Take into account your exercise history when creating your exercise programme:
- New to exercise? Start sloooooowly, and gradually build up e.g. 5-10 minutes of exercise each day, adding on 5-10 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes per day.
- Already fit? Continue training with only a few modifications, but again listen to your body!
- Use weight levels that allow for 8 to 12 repetitions without too much strain – one set 2 to 3 times a week is sufficient for maintaining strength.
- Avoid heavy static lifting, as this diverts blood from the internal organs and places excessive stress on joints.
- If an exercise is painful or causes muscle soreness then reduce weight and repetitions, and then discontinue if it persists. Consult with your doctor if pain continues.
- Ensure you are employing proper breathing techniques whilst exercising – don’t hold your breath!
- After the first trimester it is best to avoid exercises that involve lying on your back, e.g. bench press, as the maternal vena cava can be compressed by the baby, causing dizziness.
- Remember you can use prenatal belly support bands to support the abdomen if experiencing back pain.
- Pelvic floor exercises are critical and help prevent urinary incontinence after the birth. To understand which are your pelvic floor muscles practice stopping and starting the flow of urine. Contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles each day e.g. when sitting at work, watching TV or having a shower.
- Avoid exercising in hot conditions, particularly in the early stages as the foetus can’t yet control its own body temperature. Also drink plenty of water.
- Avoid contact sports or high risk sports such as hockey, football, and horse-riding to reduce the risk of a knock to the abdomen.
Whilst pregnancy isn’t appropriate for rapid increases in exercise or almost maximum efforts, the benefits of undertaking a safe and steady exercise programme appear to outweigh any potential risks. Ensure you stay well tuned in to your body and if you feel discomfort then modify the exercise. It is ultimately up to you to know if the frequency, intensity and duration of exercise feel appropriate.
Ensure you consult with your healthcare provider, and where possible seek the help and advice of a personal trainer to decide the most appropriate exercise programme to undertake during pregnancy.
All the best and good luck!