Everything you need to know about training when you are pregnant.
Congratulations, you have just found out you are expecting! You want to keep up your fitness during your pregnancy, but where do you start? What is safe to do and how can you get the most from your training in pregnancy?
The first and most important thing to say is that exercising during pregnancy (for most women*) is not only safe, but can also be extremely beneficial for both mother and baby.
Benefits include reduced weight gain, increased energy levels, shorter labour, reduced lower back pain and easier postnatal recovery.
It also reduces the risk of pregnancy related conditions such as Preeclampsia and Gestational Diabetes.
Pregnancy is not the time to be smashing fitness personal bests or running your fastest races! It is a time to maintain and gently build on your current fitness levels. If you are someone who is already active and enjoys going to the gym or playing sport, you can keep this up (avoiding contact sports, of course!)
It is recommended that women get 30 minutes of daily exercise during pregnancy. This can be a brisk walk, a jog, some yoga or a low-medium intensity training session. If you regularly trained before pregnancy and are fit and healthy you can train at a moderate to vigorous level 4 times a week if it feels good for you and baby.
It is really important to warm up gently and cool down appropriately to bring your heart rate up and down in a safe way. During pregnancy we use the “talk test” or RPE (rating of perceived exertion) scale to assess how intensely clients are working.
As a general rule, when pregnant, you should be able to hold a conversation whilst exercising. If you are only able to say a few words between breaths, you may need to ease off the intensity a bit. A specialist can help guide you through a session and closely monitor the effort levels to ensure you are working at a safe level. Most importantly, the exercise should make you feel good!
During pregnancy it is really important that you do not overheat when training. An excessive increase in the body's core temperature can lead to potential congenital abnormalities. It is therefore recommended to train in a well-ventilated room or outdoors and wear layers that can be removed as you warm up. Taking on board lots of water throughout is also important as well as taking regular rest breaks.
Fuelling your body appropriately will be key to avoiding any unnecessary stress. During your first trimester you will need an extra 90 calories per day (this increases to 300 in the 2nd and 450 in the 3rd trimesters respectively).
So how will the different trimesters affect your physical activity in pregnancy?
During your first trimester (Weeks 1-12) it is common to be feeling very tired and likely quite nauseous. You may be feeling emotional due to hormonal changes and just not quite yourself. It is important to listen to your body and not force yourself into anything you are not feeling up to. During this stage of pregnancy you are safe to carry out most exercises as you did pre pregnancy, however if you are someone who loves a HIIT class, now is not the time to be going at max effort. Take the intensity down a level, and lower the reps or take longer rest breaks as needed.
During your second trimester (Weeks 13-26) you are likely to feel like you have a little more energy and your hormones may well have balanced out. You are going to be getting a larger bump and this weight will potentially cause everything to feel a little more effort. From week 13 onwards it is advised that exercises are not done in a supine position (lying on your back) as the increased weight of the uterus can restrict both blood flow and oxygen levels. A prone position (lying on your front) is also not advised to protect the baby. Therefore exercises are essentially done on all 4’s, kneeling, sitting or standing.
During your third trimester (Weeks 27-40) you are likely to be feeling pretty exhausted! The weight of your growing bump and breasts will often cause your posture to change. This, along with the extra relaxin hormone in your body, may increase your susceptibility to lower back pain and pelvic pain. Relaxin is a hormone which allows your ligaments and joints to become softer, to help prepare your body for birth. It’s at this stage that you’ll be thankful for all of the Core, Glute, Mobility and posture exercises you’ve been doing throughout the first 26 weeks!
Let’s talk about common pregnancy conditions and how we can help them.
Diastasis Recti is the separation of the central abdominal muscles. This is extremely common in pregnant females and is more likely to occur in older women, those carrying larger babies and those who gain a significant amount of weight in pregnancy. This is not a dangerous condition however it can cause cosmetic issues for women as well lower back pain and digestive disorders. To help support those with Diastasis Recti it is recommended to train the core and lower back muscles throughout the pregnancy and after birth. Exercises which draw the deeper muscles in, are encouraged over exercises that are more of a twisting or crunching motion. Examples include leg extensions or bird dog, as these can be modified to suit the stage of pregnancy or postpartum. A pre and postnatal personal trainer can help with targeted exercises for this condition, both pre and post partum.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction is the inability to correctly tighten and relax the pelvic floor muscles. This is extremely common for women both during pregnancy and after birth, and can lead to urinary incontinence when laughing, coughing or exercising. Pelvic floor exercises are encouraged throughout pregnancy to help prevent PFD. A pre and post natal personal trainer or a women’s health physio will help you to find your pelvic floor and show you exercises you can do to help with this condition. These are easy to do at home throughout the day.
There are some contraindications during pregnancy that would require your GP to give consent before you start exercising to provide full protection for both you and your baby. Examples of these include: an incompetent cervix, high blood pressure, restrictive lung disease and diabetes. It is essential to get the all clear from your GP or midwife before you take part in exercise. There are also some relative contraindications, for example those with an extremely high or low BMI or eating disorders, which need to be assessed.
Whilst these don’t necessarily mean you must stop physical activity all together, it does mean you need to be more closely monitored throughout pregnancy. If at any point your symptoms worsened you would be advised to stop until the baby has arrived. These contraindications can come at any point during pregnancy. So whilst it might be ok to exercise in your first trimester, you may be told to stop in your second.
The last thing to note is that if you are ever unsure about training whilst pregnant speak to your doctor or midwife looking after you. A pre and post natal trainer will be able to guide you through what is appropriate for you at each stage of your pregnancy. If you are attending classes always tell the instructor you are pregnant and they can offer you the necessary modifications. Exercising whilst expecting should make you feel strong, healthy and happy. Choose activities that work for you and your baby, whether that is pilates, strength training, swimming or yoga - do what makes you feel good!
*please always see your GP before beginning exercise to ensure you have no absolute contraindications that will make physical activity unsafe for you and baby.