Working out and training while pregnant, the pre-natal stage, is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby’s health (with doctor’s permission, of course). You could actually be doing more harm to yourself and baby by not exercising while pregnant, than the potential risks caused by exercising. Not only will you improve your own sense of well-being, achieve an appropriate weight gain, and maintain/gain strength and cardiovascular fitness, but you will also help prepare your baby for the stress of labour.
I absolutely love seeing strong mama’s in the gym pushing some weight around. It can be a bit confusing to understand what exactly you should and should not do in terms of exercising pregnant. I’m here to tell you my Top 10 things you need to know about exercising while pregnant. This post will give you the first 5, and you can find the next 5 in Part 2 & Part 3.
MUST DO’S of Pre-natal Exercise #’s 1-5
1). Say Yes to Strength Training
You absolutely can and should be doing resistance training. Use your own body weight, tubing, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc. Challenge yourself with the load you use, but ensure excellent form on every exercise. Work in rep ranges from 5-15 typically. If you are experienced in lifting for maxes (1-3), you can definitely go for them. Keep in mind that very heavy lifting with low reps will likely get pretty uncomfortable and/or the core might not be able to support extremely heavy loads as you get into high 20’s and 30 weeks of pregnancy . If/when it does I would reduce the weight and increase the reps to the 8-15 range.
2). Understand How to Properly Train the Abdominals
The point of abdominal training will be to support posture, protect the low back from too much lordosis (sway back), and keep the pelvis in a neutral position. As pregnancy progresses the pelvis in going to pulled into a more anterior (tilted forward position) and this can cause lower back pain. The abdominals are also going to become overstretched and not able to fire optimally. To best train the abdominals in pregnancy you need to keep the spine in a neutral position and train movements to promote lumbar stability. Some examples would be dead bugs, side planks, front planks (depending on Diastasis Recti), farmer’s walks, and Pallof presses with proper regressions and progressions of each. Head to Youtube for demo’s of all these exercises!
3). Be Cautious of Diastasis Recti
Diastastis Recti (DR) is a common occurrence in pregnancy, more towards the end of term and especially postpartum. The rectus abdominal muscle, the infamous ‘six-pack’ muscle, becomes overstretched and can separate from the midline of the body. Some big no-no’s if a DR is present are first eliminating any crunching/sit ups or upper body flexion to help decrease the bulging of those stomach muscles, which will only increase the separation. You also need to take out any exercises that are “front loaded”. This means where the gravity is helping to pull the stomach muscles towards the ground and the core has to work against this force. No all fours, front planks, pushups or the like. In the photo below, my client (no DR) is performing pushups which requires serious core strength at this point in her pregnancy (30+ weeks). If she did have a DR, this would be changed to a bench press version.
4). Focus on Posterior Chain Exercises
This is where you want a significant amount of your focus. Glutes (booty), hamstrings, back muscles. All that extra weight on the front side of your body is not doing any favours for your posture, sista. While that might not seem super important to you yet, it can cause issues and pain through the low and mid back eventually. Plus, once you have your baby and are spending so many hours hunched over feeding, nursing, diaper changing, and carrying you’ll wish you had more strength to pull yourself into better alignment. Make deadlifts, squats, reverse lunges, glute bridges, hip thrusts, rows, and pulling your main focus.
5). Stick With What’s Comfortable:
Most importantly, especially as you get further along in pregnancy, do what you can and do what’s “comfortable”- is that really a thing at 40 weeks pregnant? My main hope is that your exercise sessions make you feel good above anything else. With my prenatal ladies in private or group personal training the goal is for them to feel better when they walk out, than they did walking in. If you’re totally exhausted some days, don’t push it. If you’re feeling strong, go for it. Challenge yourself, but be aware and mindful of your changing body.
For much more information see my article Exercising While Pregnant? Prenatal Training Advice for Personal Trainers, published on the Personal Trainer Development Centre. Part 2 to this post covers core breathing techniques, specific abdominal training advice, heart rate guidelines, cardiovascular fitness, and running.