Research shows that pregnant women who stay active feel better, have a better delivery and recover faster. However, most of my clients come to me after finding out they are pregnant with a fear or mis-understanding of exercise. They are unsure what is safe for their body and their baby.
The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women exercise for 30 minutes daily and you can exercise up to 60 minutes. Your workouts will have to become less rigorous than pre-pregnancy, because if you are unable to breath neither can your baby. Make sure to take more frequent breaks to take full inhalations and drink a full 8 ounces or more of water during a workout. As your pregnancy progresses there are a few types of exercises that will need modified to protect your body and protect baby.
1. Balance: Your balance will be challenged as the baby and your body grows. Even in the first trimester, you can keep any stability prop close by. In a group class, try and find a place near the wall or grab a weighted bar and at home use a chair. You may begin to rely on this more and more as your belly grows and your core muscles lack the control they once had. Instead do exercises with two feet on the ground and work a bit slower than usual.
Avoid: Exercises with a lack of stability
Add: Toning legwork is supported on the ground and still very challenging. Begin on all 4’s, hands underneath shoulders and knees under hips. Draw the core in and around baby while extending the leg out to side of hip. Lift the leg hip height and slowly lower it back down to the floor. Repeat 15 reps, 2-3 sets each leg.
2. Flexibility: Relaxin is a hormone released as early as the first trimester and increases in the last trimester to create greater flexibility in the pelvis for delivery. This hormone releases the ligaments and tendons, so you will feel more flexible. Avoid over-stretching, and in turn tearing your ligaments. In addition, avoid plyometric (jumping) movements in the third trimester, because you don’t have the support around your joints you once had. Plus, jumping isn’t going to be very comfortable on your bladder! Instead do smaller controlled movements to build the stability muscles around the joints.
Add: Step back into a lunge and lower down until the front thigh is parallel with the ground and knee is over toe. Press into feet and engage glutes to lengthen legs, then lower right back down. Feet never leave the floor. Repeat 20 reps, alternating sides 2-3 sets.
3. Lying On Back – This will not be very comfortable as the pregnancy develops, and you will find yourself sleeping on your side most nights. Lying on your back also has health concerns for the fetus. The pressure when lying on your back cuts off the oxygen and blood blood in the vena cava nerve, which provides oxygen to baby. Some of my clients still do exercises on their back up to delivery date, but we make sure the exercise is brief.
Avoid: Lying on back for long periods of time and get your physician’s approval
Add: Short periods of work on back with exercises like Bridge. Try this variation on the toes. Abduct legs, pressing out into side glutes and squeezing them tight together, keeping the heels high. Repeat 15 reps for 2-3 sets.
4. Unsupported Abdominal Exercises: I get the most questions about core work. It is vitally important that pregnant women have strong abdominal muscles. The abdominal muscles help support the weight of the pregnancy, protect the lower back from strain and discomfort, and can help you bounce back faster post-pregnancy. However, core exercises that leave the head unsupported, like “crunches”, should be avoided to prevent the dreaded hernia. The more pressure put on the linea alba, a tendon connecting the right and left side of the rectus abdominis (6-pack), the greater the chance it will tear. Instead support the upper back with a stability ball, pillow, or forearms and keep the legs higher than 45° if raised.
Avoid: Lifted head, neck and shoulders without support or allowing the legs to extend to low.
Add: Static Abdominal Press – Lie face-up with knees and hips bent at 90°. Extend arms and press both palms into the tops of thighs. Take a deep breath in, as you exhale, draw the abs in tight, pressing lower back against the floor as you draw thighs back into the hands and push back against the thighs. Legs should not move.
Supported Single Leg Stretch – Support the upper body with a stability ball and/or forearms. Bend knees and pull into chest. Reach a single leg out to a high 45°, then pull back into chest as you extend the opposite leg. Alternate legs for 20 total.
5. Extension: You may notice growing back pains because of the added front weight. In addition, it is harder to do extension work and stretch the front of the body as the belly grows. You can do extension work standing with exercises like rows or lat pull downs. You can also do lying prone exercises with props. Lie on your stomach but avoid putting weight on your belly by placing 3-4 pillows, a bosu ball, or a Pilates barrel under your pelvis to lift your hips a foot off the ground. Then press into your hands to open the chest and perform any number of extension strengthening exercises.
Avoid: Lying on your belly.
Add: Stand with feet hip distance and a soft bend in knees. Hinge forward at the hips, holding 3-8 lb. weights in each had, palms face each other. Squeeze the core in around baby, then draw the upper arms up and gently together, bending at the elbows. Feel the opening in the collar bones. Slowly release the arms to start position. Repeat 15 for 2-3 sets, stand up tall in between sets to relax back.
Christine Bullock: Certified Pre & Post Natal Specialist; Yoga, Pilates, and Group Fitness Instructor, Nutritional Counselor
Photographer: Kathryn Page
Wardrobe: Lorna Jane Active