Staying Active throughout Pregnancy
I am a mother and personal trainer who has been specializing in women's health for over 17 years and was a personal trainer for anyone for 6 years prior.
In this article I answer some of the common questions asked about exercise and pregnancy.
What are the main benefits of staying active throughout pregnancy?
I believe that birth is an event we should be training for just like we would train for a marathon or a triathlon. People always say birth is like a marathon (more like 5 or 6 marathons) so why aren't we training for it? There is a principle in fitness called the principle of specificity which says we should mimic the demands of our event in our training. Pregnant women can't practice giving birth over and over but they can certainly mimic labor in their training. By applying the principle of specificity to their workouts they can prepare their bodies to birth powerfully. And, as with any good training program, there is a recovery phase built in. Recovery from childbirth is so overlooked and is incredibly important. The final aspect to consider when training in pregnancy is the demands of motherhood. By incorporating the common movements of motherhood (rotation, pushing, pulling, lifting for example) into workouts the person will be ready to birth and have the strength and endurance needed for motherhood.
How can someone decide if a specific workout or exercise is safe while pregnant?
They can get clearance from their doctor. I also recommend choosing workouts and programs that have been designed specifically for pregnancy by someone who is trained in prenatal and postpartum fitness. Taking it one step further, I recommend choosing a trainer who has knowledge and training in the pelvic floor and abdominal wall.
What are the benefits of strength training or weightlifting during pregnancy?
Pregnancy itself is like progressive resistance training and once the baby is born there will be A LOT of lifting. Lifting baby, the car seat, the stroller, laundry baskets etc. Choosing exercises that incorporate resistance, ideally with the actual item that will be lifted, is key to prepare the person for the demands of motherhood. I recommend backing off the intensity (less weight) and focusing on form and recruitment of the pelvic floor while lifting. It is also beneficial to focus on strengthening the glutes and upper back to help off-set the postural adaptations of pregnancy.
What are the benefits of HIIT (High-intensity interval training) workouts during pregnancy?
HIIT workouts are a quick way to exercise and are often the most accessible to busy moms. I do recommend limiting high impact in pregnancy and for 4-6 months postpartum to limit additional strain on the pelvic floor. HIIT does not have to mean high impact. The benefits to the heart and muscles is still possible with low/no impact, and weights.
Can you offer 2 or 3 specific exercises (e.g. yoga poses, strength moves, stretches) that can be particularly beneficial for pregnant women?
One of my fav exercises to give pregnant women is the car seat squat (could be a deadlift or lunge too). Squats are great for the glutes...good for the pelvic floor....and are a functional movement we need to be able to do for life. When you add the car seat in you pattern the movement you will be doing A LOT prior to having to do it. You can start with just the car seat and then gradually increase the weight by placing a dumbbell or a sandbag in the car seat. I also like lunges using the car seat followed by a 'car seat carry' instead of the suitcase carry exercise.
Speaking of sandbags, another exercise I love to give my pregnant clients is deadlifts while holding a long sandbag. Long sandbags are floppy and can mimic a child. I have them hold onto the sandbag as they would hold a baby and then have them bend over the back of the chair as if they were placing the baby in the crib (something else they will be doing A LOT). If they don't have a sandbag a bolster will do. It is also beneficial to hold onto the sandbag and do some unbalanced walking and lunging.
Motherhood is not a perfect form so training in awkward and unbalanced positions is beneficial.
The Bent Knee Lift is a great exercise to build strength and endurance in the lateral hips for a side lying birth position. It is also a great recovery exercise after baby is born.
Finally, I love this simple stretch called the reach away. Rotation is something that not many of us do...until we become a mom. Rotating to check on your baby or pass a child a sippy cup in the car is very common. The stretch also helps open up the chest that can become tight as the breasts grow and with all of the texting and computer work we do in life.
Prepare To Push™ is helping pregnant women prepare for birth and recover postpartum since 2009.
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Kim Vopni, Vagina Coach