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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
October 21, 2022
During pregnancy, as women are quite literally responsible for growing another life, there are tons of do's and don'ts for them to follow, designed to keep both the mom and baby safe.
Unfortunately, a false belief that has fallen under the don't bracket is that pregnant women can hurt their pregnancy or baby if they exert too much effort. Under false notions, a woman may then decide to forego exercising for the duration of their pregnancy.
While we completely understand the hesitancy, we want you to know that you can and should work out during your pregnancy. While it will look different as you move through the trimesters, staying physically active during your pregnancy significantly benefits both you and your unborn child.
If you're unsure how much is okay or what exercises are best, there's no need to stress! We've got you covered.
This article will discuss:
And remember, always check with your health provider or professional before you begin exercising. Now, let's see about training with a baby!
Many false beliefs about pregnant women exercising come from long ago when research on the topic didn't really exist.
Fortunately, thanks to science, we have learned a lot. And in a nutshell, if exercise and a healthy lifestyle optimize your health while not pregnant, it makes sense to think this carries over to all periods of life, including pregnancy.
Some general benefits of exercise during pregnancy include the following:
Therefore, assuming you're healthy and have no pregnancy complications, yes, you can workout while pregnant. In fact, there's no good reason not to exercise during pregnancy, and plenty of great ones for why you should.
But we know you want more than our word on it, so let's take a look at what the research shows.
The good news is that there is actually quite a bit of quality evidence to back up the benefits of exercising during pregnancy. Not only is exercise safe, but it is beneficial to the mother and child and mitigates the chance of pregnancy complications and even preterm labor.
Here are some key health benefits of exercising during pregnancy.
Weight gain during pregnancy is going to happen. However, most pregnant women who aren't involved in a workout split and regular cardio routine gain more weight than is necessary.
Excessive weight, in its own right, increases health complications during and after pregnancy. Getting rid of baby weight is a high priority for many women and being at a healthy weight while pregnant makes this easier.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that specifically develops in women during pregnancy. Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin in the body, causing a rise in blood sugar. Gestational diabetes can affect up to 20% of pregnant women, but the exact cause or reason is unknown¹.
While researchers are still looking at the specific trigger, women who follow regular exercise and increase physical activity are much less likely to develop this condition.
This is huge as developing gestational diabetes brings a slew of other risks, including an increased risk (7 times more likely) of developing maternal type 2 diabetes, adverse cardiometabolic phenotypes in the offspring, premature birth, and an infant with macrosomia (born too large)².
Sounds like a great reason to stick to those back exercises even when pregnant!
During the postpartum period, or the time after birth, a mother can develop depression, characterized by deep sadness and emptiness. The specific causes are still not understood but are believed to be a combination of hormonal and sudden lifestyle changes.
Regardless of the causes, following an exercise program can mitigate the chance of developing postpartum depression. And if you do develop it, it can help lessen its symptoms¹. Need a cardio routine to help get you started? We recommend these recumbent bike workouts.
A cesarean section, also called a C-section, is a form of birth where the baby is delivered through a cut made in the mom's abdomen and uterus. There are numerous reasons this may be performed over vaginal birth, but it's usually because a vaginal birth would put the mother or child at a greater risk.
Even though cesareans section are generally safe, there is a small trend toward having a birth with a poorer outcome. For example, women are 3 times more likely to die during a C-section when compared to vaginal birth. Additionally, these mothers tend to have more difficulty with later births.
Even the child is at a greater risk of health complications with 3 times greater risk of death during the first 28 days¹. This is in addition to various breathing problems and a condition known as Wet Lung. Because the baby is not exposed to cortisol and epinephrine, which reverses the potassium/sodium pumps in the baby's lung, water can remain.
So now that we've pretty well documented that exercise during pregnancy is safe and beneficial, let's discuss what exercise should look like when you're pregnant.
Also, keep in mind, there will be some differences as your pregnancy progresses. Therefore, we'll break down exercise recommendations for each trimester. Here are some general exercise guidelines for healthy pregnant women to follow.
The first trimester refers to the first three months of pregnancy. Assuming your doctor has determined your pregnancy is healthy thus far, there's no need to change your current workout split. At this point, you haven't gained so much weight that activity has become uncomfortable. But, again, every woman is different so pay attention to how you feel.
During the first trimester, one of the most beneficial aspects of regular exercise is that it helps control your hormones and emotions. Your life is about to drastically change, and that realization (and your hormones going crazy) elicits everything from joy and excitement to anxiety and even fear. Exercise can help mitigate these emotions.
This is also a good time to start prepping for your birth. Now's an ideal time to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles using pelvic floor exercises. It's also important to work on core strength and spinal stability and increase muscle tone. These diastasis recti exercises can make a significant difference in improving your core strength.
While you can perform waist-twisting movements, use open movements that do not cause body contact. Further, stay away from sit-ups as they can be difficult to perform and can put stress on your lower back.
In addition, be sure you have good hip strength and hip mobility (these hip mobility exercises can help). You may also want to start looking into pregnancy exercise classes, which are a fun way to work out with other soon-to-be-moms.
The second trimester is when more physical changes occur. With a growing belly, some exercises, such as full squats, can be more difficult to perform. Again, this will vary, so if you're still able to perform full range of motion, you're good to go.
However, if your belly does start making some exercises requiring high levels of flexion at the hips difficult, you should try some other lower-body exercises. Some good movement options performed with an erect torso include lunges, split squats, dumbbell sumo deadlifts, and sumo squats.
Further, a bigger belly can make HIIT become more uncomfortable. And, you may also want to start with some prenatal yoga at this time. It's better to start these activities sooner to develop this mobility rather than wait until the third trimester when basic movements will already be considerably harder.
During the last 3 months of pregnancy, your body will start undergoing major physiological changes as it prepares to give birth. Not only will your growing baby continue growing, but you may experience times of increased fatigue and more hormonal changes.
When you experience tiredness or feel off, don't fight it by forcing exercise. When your body is telling you it needs rest, make sure to rest.
Other than that, the same basic suggestions apply with a higher emphasis on listening to your body. Further, this isn't the time to worry about setting PRs. Rather your number 1 goal is just staying active and maintaining your strength.
If you do find that you are unable to continue some of your previous exercises, here are some great exercise suggestions for you to explore:
While the types of exercise differ throughout your gestation period, there are a few guidelines that remain consistent. Here are three guidelines to follow throughout your pregnancy.
Pregnant women should still meet the physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity, which is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Moderate intensity means exercise that gets your heart rate up to 60-70% of its max. If you don't have a heart rate monitor, focus on making sure the exercise is challenging but still allows you to talk.
Always remember that more than this can provide even better results. Ideally, target moderate exercise every day for 30 minutes. Some great ideas are using the stationary bike as stationary bike benefits are endless, the treadmill, or the elliptical.
You should also include 2 days of resistance training weekly. The primary mode isn't necessarily important, but it should be challenging enough to actually stress your muscles. Whether you use bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbell training, it must be heavy enough to lead to muscle hypertrophy.
While actively building muscle doesn't necessarily need to be your main goal, you also don't need to be scared to add weight if you feel comfortable and are able. However, you should probably avoid performing any lifts with your 1RM max.
During your first trimester and possibly second, feel free to continue using big compound movements and pay attention to your abdominal muscles. As you progress, you may feel more comfortable using smaller exercises. Again, pay attention to what your body says and adjust accordingly.
While resistance training is perfectly safe, you also don't want to follow a session that lasts an excessive amount of time. Therefore, keep your sessions around 45 to 60 minutes. Focus on the basics and save any excess for after your pregnancy. Your goal is to stay strong, not prep for a competition.
While sweating is inevitable, you want to minimize the net loss of water and prevent dehydration, which could lead to pregnancy complications. This is why it's imperative to drink plenty of water throughout your session and post-exercise.
Further, try to remain as cool as possible, avoiding situations where your body temperature gets too high. If you live in a warm environment, you may want to put your outside training on pause for a while or at least go early in the morning or later in the day.
Warning signs of over-exertion can include the following:
If you experience any of these, immediately stop exercising and seek shade and cool water. Upon ending your activity, if it doesn't go away relatively quickly, contact your doctor.
As seen, your pregnancy doesn't affect exercise nearly as much as you may have once believed, assuming you're healthy and your doctor gives you the okay.
But there are some things you need to stay away from. Here are some exercises and general guidelines to be careful with while pregnant.
This doesn't mean you can't push yourself. However, you should be cautious about being involved with intense exercise during pregnancy for long periods. For example, while you may jog a 5K, you shouldn't try to run as hard as you can.
Depending on how far along you are, the main concern isn't necessarily with the exercise itself but rather the extreme exertion you are putting on yourself.
Vigorous exercise increases your chance of becoming overheated and dehydrated and exerting your body. This includes any type of strenuous exercise and even hot yoga. This is not the time to include multiple assault bike workouts in your weekly routine.
While this should be obvious, pregnant women should avoid contact sports and any exercises that increase their chances of falling.
This can include anything in which a woman could experience a hard jolt, especially to the stomach. Examples include ice hockey, downhill skiing, horseback riding, and basketball.
Depending on your weight, pregnancy is not the time to worry about saddlebags, hip dips, or trying lose "a few extra pounds." During this time, your body needs extra calories to ensure your child's healthy growth.
By placing weight loss as a priority, you not only risk being undernourished, but it will place unneeded stress on your body and your child. To be clear, this refers to women who are at a healthy weight and are trying to "tone up" or counteract weight gain from the gestation period.
It's estimated that you should gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. While excessive weight gain isn't ideal, a little extra weight is likely better than trying to lose weight during this time.
With your doctor's approval, there is no reason moms-to-be should stop exercising. In fact, your exact routine doesn't even need to vary too much, especially for the first months.
In reality, the major difference is simply the focus: to keep you healthy and increase the health of your child. As an added bonus, women who train during their pregnancy are generally able to train faster afterward. That means post-pregnancy you can concentrate again on setting PRs, building arm muscles, and obtaining six packs (in between baby snuggles, of course)!
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