Having been through two pregnancies, I know first-hand how important exercise is and the many benefits it brings to your pregnancy journey. From reducing common pregnancy discomforts, such as back ache, fatigue and even relieving symptoms of morning sickness, through to helping prepare the body for labour, managing excessive weight gain and regaining your shape more quickly afterwards.
But perhaps most notably, it enhances your mental wellbeing and keeps your body strong to carry a growing baby. A happy, healthy mummy equals a happy, healthy baby after all!
There is lots of information out there regarding safe exercise during pregnancy, but in my experience if you stick to the below you will continue to both enjoy exercise and reap the benefits. However, there are two important points to labour (excuse the pun!) first and foremost:
1. Exercise should not be employed for anything other than maintaining a level of fitness to help you carry a baby and adapt to the many changes of pregnancy. At no time should exercise be used for weight loss.
2. Always consult your GP or midwife. Whether you’re a seasoned trainer or not, it is important to get the ‘all clear’ to exercise. And likewise, if you’ve never exercised before, now is not the time to dive headfirst into a programme, especially if you’ve never done any resistance training previously. I recommend employing a trained professional to guide you if you’re unsure.
So here are my top tips for a happy, healthy and fit pregnancy:
1. Listen to your body
You must listen to your body. Some days you will feel like it, others not and that’s perfectly normal. Some days you may want to put your feet up, others you may feel like running a marathon! Go with how you feel but never over-exert yourself and stop immediately if something doesn’t feel right.
2. Reduce your weights
For me, I felt more comfortable reducing my usual weights for higher repetitions. This means you’re maintaining the endurance capability of your muscles. I focused on my form, my breathing and tempo (reducing the speed of the exercise). You shouldn’t be holding your breath or straining to lift a weight as this is a clear indication you are over-exerting yourself.
3. Compound movements
I regularly train using compound resistance exercises; multi-joint and muscle group movements, i.e. squats, deadlifts, chest press, etc. They don’t place too much pressure on single muscles and replicate functional movements of everyday life. Ensure you are working slowly, concentrating on a comfortable range of motion and focus on your breathing (exhaling on exertion).
4. Core strength
Past the first trimester, traditional exercises such as abdominal crunches are not recommended as they can exacerbate diastasis recti (abdominal separation). However, that’s not to say your core is out of bounds entirely. Your transverse abdominis (TVA) are deep lying abdominal muscles that act like a corset around your baby. They play a very important role during labour, alongside your pelvic floor and there are many safe exercises you can do that will maintain a strong core.
5. Flat on your back
After the first trimester, you should not be exercising in the supine position; i.e. on your back. Your growing uterus and baby place additional pressure on your vena cava when you lay on your back, which can restrict blood flow to the baby. So make modifications, I used benches in an inclined position for exercises, such as the chest press, which is much more comfortable.
6. Fed and watered
Always make sure you are well hydrated and eating a good, nutritionally varied diet (as well as a little of what you fancy!). Water is especially important as pregnancy can mean you sweat more easily when you exercise, which you need to replenish.
During pregnancy, levels of the hormone Relaxin are increased to provide additional flexibility for birth in the hips and pelvis. But it affects ligaments in the whole body and therefore it’s very important not to over-stretch past your normal range of motion, as this could cause injury.
8. Warm up and cool down
Never is an appropriate warm up and cool down more important than during pregnancy. It allows your body to slowly adapt to and recover from the affects of exercise, slowly increasing and decreasing our heart rate and body temperature back to normal levels. Due to low blood pressure it is also quite common to feel faint, so take your time moving from a low position to standing up, holding onto something if necessary.
If in any doubt at any point during exercise, conduct the ‘Talk Test’. If you are NOT able to hold a conversation whilst exercising, you are overdoing it and should reduce the intensity back to a manageable level.
Whilst all of the above may seem a little scary or off-putting, please don’t let it be! Exercise has amazing benefits, all of which I enjoyed throughout my both of pregnancies; I even exercised on the day I went into labour! And on top of enjoying healthy and fit pregnancies and amazing births (my second being a home hypnobirth in the pool), maintaining a fit lifestyle helped me get back to my pre-baby body very quickly, with minimal effort. Keep posted for my postnatal tips, coming very soon!
If you have any questions regarding exercise during pregnancy, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Good luck and happy exercising!