The Right Way to Exercise During Pregnancy
You don’t have to stop exercising when you get pregnant. In fact, exercise can be beneficial since it helps mitigate some of the minor discomforts of pregnancy. Regular moderate cardiovascular activity can help alleviate muscle cramping and ankle swelling. Resistance training, posture exercises and core work can help alleviate minor back, hip or shoulder aches that often accompany the posture changes associated with pregnancy.
Step 1: Talk with your doctor
It may seem obvious, but before you begin any exercise routine, consult your doctor. Make sure he or she gives you the “all clear” to exercise. Although exercising while pregnant is typically beneficial, there are several situations in which you may want to avoid exercising. These include:
- Any type of serious physical injury.
- Any type of acute or chronic illness that needs to be treated by a doctor. For example, pregnancy-induced hypertension, diabetes or thyroid disease.
- Abnormal or heavy vaginal bleeding.
- Abnormal or extreme pain.
Warning signs to stop exercising
- Sudden or unexplained pain anywhere, but especially in abdomen.
- Swollen hands, face or feet.
- Marked fatigue.
- Heart palpitations or chest pain.
Step 2: Assess your pre-pregnancy exercise routine
After your doctor clears you to exercise, the next step is assessing your previous exercise routine. What you did prior to the pregnancy is a big indicator of what you can do while pregnant.
As a general rule, your body is going to be more tolerant of exercise if you exercised regularly prior to your pregnancy. That doesn’t mean you can’t start a fresh exercise routine while pregnant, but you do have to be more careful.
A good general rule of thumb is not to take up new sports or fitness activities while pregnant. Do what you’re accustomed to, just decrease the intensity. If you’ve always been a runner, slow your pace and jog or take up water running.
If you’ve never exercised regularly, be careful exercising during pregnancy, especially during your first trimester. Try gentle cardiovascular activity like walking.
Step 3: Assess your exercise goals
Make sure your exercise goals are appropriate. When pregnant, the goal of working out shouldn’t be to lose weight. Use exercise as a way to feel good, be social and decrease any of the uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy.
Step 4: plan your workout week
Consistency, not intensity, is what’s important. Aim for short amounts of exercise every day as opposed to doing two or three big workouts per week. Keep your workouts at a low to moderate intensity. Always make sure you can talk comfortably during the workout.
A sample week could look like this:
- 30 minutes of low to moderate cardiovascular activity like walking or water aerobics, followed by 10 minutes of stretching for two to four days a week. Refrain from excessive stretching, or any stretch that involves pulsing or bouncing
- 10 to 15 minutes of gentle cardio like walking or recumbent stationary biking, plus 20 minutes of resistance training that focuses on posture, core and endurance strength training for two to three days a week
- Do 12 to 15 repetitions with light weights. Include exercises that help with posture and improve core strength. Posture and core exercises can help alleviate back pain.
Step 5: Exercise selection
In your second and third trimester, never do exercises that involve lying on your back. Replace exercises like flat dumbbell bench presses with incline dumbbell bench presses or work on a seated chest press machine. Replace crunches with alternative core exercises like side plank or bird dog. Safe positions for core exercises include kneeling on all fours, standing and lying on your side. See below for a description of the bird dog.
If diastasis recti develops, don’t do abdominal exercises that involve crunching. Diastasis recti is a widening and softening of the tissue that holds the rectus abdominals together. It causes separation of the two halves of the abdominals.
If diastasis recti does not appear, you can do the crunching motion, just not on your back. Try the “V crunch”.
Start seated on your tailbone.
Step 1: Lean back 10 degrees and make sure your back is straight. You can hold your thighs lightly with your hands. Hold for 10 seconds, and then come back to the starting position.
Step 2: While leaning back, gently curl your tailbone under so your pelvis tucks while simultaneously flexing forward through your spine like you’re doing a crunch. Repeat five times.
Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Imagine you have a bowl of water on your back. Don’t let the water slosh side to side as you straighten your opposite arm and leg without letting the rest of your body move. Switch and repeat for 12 reps.
When it comes to exercising while pregnant, the key is listening to your body. Do things that feel comfortable. Stop if things feel abnormal, if you get swelling in your feet or hands or if you feel pain, become dizzy or develop uncontrollable fatigue. Be prepared to give yourself more recovery post-workout then you may have previously needed. Make sure you hydrate properly and have adequate nutrition before and after your workout. By following all these steps and precautions, you can help make your pregnancy as smooth and pain-free as possib