Preggo Health Nut

Pregnant and fit is not an oxymoron.. its possible!

Exercise and Pregnancy Go Hand in Hand

on August 8, 2012

When you get pregnant most of the time if you weren’t previously active in exercising… you wouldn’t think pregnancy is the time to begin. And most of the time you will be informed by others around you that it is not the time to begin. However “the most recent ACOG (2002) guidelines state that healthy pregnant women can adopt the activity recommendation for the general population, which is 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week” (1). There are many myths out there as far as exercising while pregnant go and I’ll do a later post with the top 10 myths and why they aren’t true (I’ll also post some information on the physiological changes your body goes through and how to adapt for exercise). For now, here is my personal experience…

As being previously pregnant twice and studying to become a personal trainer, one thing I have learned for sure is exercising while pregnant will help to make your pregnancy and labor easier, and losing that postpartum weight a walk in the park! With my first born, I didn’t start exercising until the middle of the second trimester and like I’ve said before I didn’t eat very healthy… I had a decent pregnancy and labor wasn’t too bad however, postpartum weight loss was anything but easy! I had to work my butt off to lose the weight… and it took me about a year to lose it! My second pregnancy, I worked out from the beginning but didn’t eat as healthy as I could have. Pregnancy was easier than my first, I had much more energy, labor was a breeze and it only took me a few months to lose postpartum weight! It was great! So, as you can see (and I experienced first hand)… exercise makes all the difference! Here are some guidelines for exercising while pregnant:

*First: Always get approval from your doctor before beginning or continuing an exercise program

  • Make an exercise plan of mild to moderate intensities and avoid exercising to the point of exhaustion.
  • Use regular to moderate duration exercises
  • Use recommended types of exercise: Low-impact activities such as swimming, walking, stationary bike, stretching and resistance training. Running maybe done based on individual tolerance and comfortability.
  • Avoid jerky, ballistic, bouncy, and extreme range of motion movements as well as exercises that involve severe straining, jumping or sudden changes in direction.
  • Avoid laying on your back for exercises after the first trimester (for a prolonged time… I have an opinion on this I will share with you in a bit.)
  • Avoid exercising in hot, humid environments and drink PLENTY of water! (6 oz of water every 10-15 mins during exercise.. especially during the first trimester)
  • Increase caloric intake (check out this post for more info)
  • Eat small snacks and meals (we’ll talk more about this in a bit)
  • Learn how to use rating of perceived exertion (RPE)… check out below

Using RPE: Create for your self (mentally) a rating system from 0-10. Based on your heart rate response, you don’t necessarily need to check your heart rate, you can but you know your body and you know what level is too much exertion.. use that to create a scale that corresponds with this:

0-1 (resting heart rate)-  Very, very easy
2 (warm-up or recovery)-  Very easy
3 (warm-up or recovery.. level 2)-  Somewhat easy
4 (Aerobic effort)-  Somewhat hard
5-6 (Aerobic effort)- Hard
7-9 (Anaerobic effort)- Very hard
10 (Anaerobic effort.. level 2)- Very, very hard

Like I said before, you know your body and you know how much is too much. If you haven’t really exercised before, I’d go no higher than a 4 until you feel like your body is ready to move on to harder intensities.. and then increase slowly as your body adapts to it. If you have previously exercised feel free to go to your level of comfortability (even if its a bit lower than your pre-preggo ability). Here is an example of what I would do (have been doing); I was able to previously run on the treadmill for 45 mins going up to the intensity of 7 mph (I usually start at 5.5 mph for a lap or two and then alternate laps between 6, 6.5 and 7 mph for about 1.5-2 miles and then run a few laps at 5.5 and one cool down lap at 5 mph).. I lowered my intensity to starting out at 4 mph and going up to 6 mph and only for 25-35 mins. Please keep in mind when exercising warm-up and cool down are extremely important! Warm-up/ cool down should last anywhere from 8-15 mins depending on your previous exercise abilities (make sure to increase in at least by 5 mins from what you were already doing.. ex: I was doing a 3 min warm up now I do an 8 min warm up)

Another very important factor is caloric intake! When exercising while pregnant the point is not to lose weight.. its to stay in optimal health and shape. So, if you are exercising intensely you should add more calories… check out this post to figure out your specific caloric needs. As far as fueling yourself for a workout while preggo; “carbohydrates are the mother’s primary caloric energy source and the best source of placental and fetal glucose. Without adequate carbohydrates, protein and other nutritional sources will be depleted” (1).  So… make sure you are eating your carbs! They have always been touted as the bad guy but… you need them for your energy source especially if you are a very active person (I’m sure I will be posting about the importance of carbs at a later date).

Last but not least, lets touch on what types of exercise are acceptable, I will post tons of posts with specified exercises and … possibly videos with examples of what I am doing for exercise (depending on how camera shy I get … haha). So, I will break it up into categories: Cardio, Resistance training, and Exercises/ positions you should avoid.

Cardio: Like state before, avoid anything jerky, ballistic or too jumpy (jumping rope, jumping jacks, etc). Stay with low impact activities such as walking, swimming, stair-stepping/ eliptical, stationary cycling, etc. Running or jogging is okay depending on your comfortability and tolerance level.

Resistance training: Whether you are beginning a resistance training routine or wanting to continue, you should use lower weights with higher repetitions. This will maintain tone with less risk of damaging ligaments. Hormonal changes create laxity in ligaments throughout the body not just the pelvic region. You also want to avoid the valsalva maneuver, which is the momentary or sustained holding of breath during resistance, it could divert blood flow from the fetus or unnecessarily raise your heart rate and blood pressure to high levels. Its VERY important when exercising to continue breathing normal- get into the practice of breathing out on the resistance part and in on the resting part of and exercise.

Exercises to avoid: It is recommended that after the first trimester you avoid lying on your back for prolonged amounts of time because the weight of the baby can suppress the vena cava (the main vain that runs up the back side of the abdomen and returns blood to the heart). Now, my opinion (please don’t take this as professional information… its my opinion from my own experience).. is that you can continue these types of exercises up until midway to the end of your second trimester depending on how long you are staying in the position and how much the baby and everything else weighs… you will know from comfortability whether or not you feel this is okay. (I continued to do leg exercises laying on my back until the beginning of my 3rd trimester- I only stayed in the position for 30-45 seconds max and stopped if at any point I felt dizzy or in pain.) You should also avoid:

  • Anything requiring extreme range of motion
  • Multi-joint exercises (ex: free standing squats- if you haven’t previously been doing these of if after second trimester)
  • Anything requiring a high level of balance
  • Abdominal exercises (I have made an exception for the plank exercise because of the core/ oblique strength it gives you, which will help in labor and delivery.. however if you feel uncomfortable doing this, don’t do it!)

Stretches to avoid: Any extreme stretches, involving forward flexion of the spine, extreme hip extension, stretches with hinge joints (knee or elbow) hyper-extended or prolonged amounts of time on your back.

Phew! I know that was A LOT of information… thanks for hanging in there with me. I will be posting more in detail posts about exercises you can do and myths that go along with exercise and pregnancy etc in the coming weeks! Look out for them and as always if you have any questions… feel free to ask!

(1) The Complete Book of Personal Training By Douglas S. Brooks- (pretty much all my info besides personal experience came from here)

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