Safe Exercising During Pregnancy

Expert / 15 February, 2017 / David Kingsbury

Pregnancy: Relaxin and Postural Change: Which Exercises Are Safe During Pregnancy?

I’ve been seeing the lovely guys from Opus throughout my pregnancy and not only has it made me feel great, it’s nice to have peace of mind to know you’re doing the right type of pregnancy exercise. David Kingsbury takes us through the body issues and changes to watch out for, and the solutions to help ease them, through gentle and effective exercise. 

‘Which exercises can I do when I’m pregnant?’ – one of the many questions I’m asked as a health professional. It’s often asked with a certain air of concern, worried that physical exertion will affect, or even harm the baby. The good news is that although exercise modifications will need to be factored into any gestational training regime, continuing a program of regular exercise throughout pregnancy carries many benefits. I hope to outline a couple of things to watch out for, and provide some exercise ideas to try at home with no equipment and maximum benefit.

Watch out for: Reduced Joint Strength and Stability

From the onset of the gestational period, a hormone is released from the Ovaries and Placenta called Relaxin – a complicated hormone which has many physiological functions and is not yet fully understood. From an exercise perspective, we need to be aware that Relaxin is responsible for relaxing and softening the ligaments around the pelvis and lower back, in preparation for child birth.

Exercise Implications           

  •  Substitute heavy resistance training for a lighter alternative. Try working with a lighter weight and increase the number of repetitions.
  • The three main joints affected are located around the pelvis – the Pubic Symphysis and the two Sacroiliac Joints. With this in mind, reduce lunge and squat depth as the pregnancy progresses, ensuring that all exercises are completed at a ‘comfortable’ intensity.

What to do

Although everybody is different, lunge and squat patterns should be comfortable up until the 20-week point. As an alternative, use the below exercises which use your own bodyweight to stimulate the muscles in this region;

Exercise 1: Side Lying Leg Raises 

  • Lie on your side with a towel or block underneath your head to support your neck
  • Keeping the bottom leg bent for balance, straighten the top leg
  • Clench your bum muscle and lift the leg by around 6 inches (minimising movement through the pelvis), and return to the start position
  • Complete 60-90 seconds at a slow pace
  • Muscles used: Gluteus Medius (a.k.a. – your bum muscles!)

Exercise 2: Inner Thigh Lift

 

  • Lie on your side with a towel or block underneath your head to support your neck
  • Straighten out the bottom leg and place the top leg on the ground
  • Squeeze the Inner Thigh muscle and lift the bottom leg away from the ground
  • Pause at the top of the lift, and return to the start position
  • Complete 45-60 seconds at a slow pace
  • Muscles used: Adductors (a.k.a. – the inner thighs).

Watch out for: Biomechanical/Postural Change

Throughout the 40-week gestational period the body goes through a multitude of changes. One of which is posture – occurring in three main areas; the hips, lower back, and shoulders.

Hips: As the foetus develops, additional weight is loaded onto the front of the pelvis causing the pelvis to tip forwards and exaggerate the curve in the lower back.

Lower Back: The lower back can often adopt a ‘lordotic’ position, or a ‘swayback,’ to counteract the additional weight placed upon the front edge of the pelvis.

Shoulders: Counteracting the swayback posture adopted through the lumbar spine, the shoulders tend to assume a rounded, or hunched, posture to restore balance.

What to do

  • Incorporate flexibility exercise into the training program
  • Aim to develop strength through the small, postural muscles

Exercise 1: Hip Stretch

  • Kneel on a soft surface with one foot flat on the ground in front of you
  • Place the hands on the knee and lean forwards
  • Gently push the hips forwards
  • You should feel a stretch in the hip area on the rear leg
  • Hold the stretch for 30-40 seconds on each leg

 Exercise 2: Lower Back Stretch

  •  Stand at arms’ length away from a wall with the nearest foot forwards (staggered stance)
  • Reach the furthest hand up towards the ceiling (to lengthen the spine) and then reach over towards the wall
  • You should feel a stretch through the muscles in your side, and the lower back
  • Hold the stretch for 30-40 seconds on each side

Exercise 3: Chest Stretch

  • Stand adjacent to a wall with the feet staggered (nearest foot backwards, this time)
  • Place the elbow on the wall, bent to 90°
  • Rotate the upper body away from the wall
  • You should feel the stretch through the chest muscles
  • Hold this stretch for 30-40 seconds on each side

Here is just a snapshot of the exercises you can include in your home workout routine to help counter the effects of Relaxin and Postural Change. Although I would always recommend a consultation with a fitness professional when starting a pregnancy training programme, listen to your body, and enjoy an active and healthy pregnancy!

NB: Please always consult your doctor or health practitioner before starting any new exercise regime.

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