Should You Exercise If You Are Pregnant?

Many often ask us whether it is safe to exercise during a pregnancy without causing potential complications. The answer is YES!!! In fact, you should exercise throughout your pregnancy. Of course, this does not mean to start lifting heavy weights or starting Crossfit if you haven’t before, but you should still exercise. Continuing your normal exercise routine with minor modification is recommended.

Exercise has many benefits for you and your developing baby, even if it is just walking 30 minutes a day several days throughout the week. If you have pre-existing health problems, discuss your exercise routine with your Doctor prior to beginning.

Some benefits of exercise for mom during pregnancy include:

  • Increases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and to your baby
  • Decreases the chances of premature labor and the birth of a very small baby
  • Decreases weight gain and fat deposition
  • Decreases physical discomforts, hastens recovery
  • Contributes to easier, shorter, and less complicated labors
  • Enhances positive attitudes
  • Improves immune function
  • Heightens energy levels
  • Reduces risk of gestational diabetes, and facilitates better sleep

Some benefits of exercise for your baby during pregnancy include:

  • Increases fetal heart rate
  • Decreases fetal fat without decreasing overall growth
  • Smooths transition to life outside the womb and increases ability to self-sooth
  • Sound and vibratory stimuli before birth can accelerate the development of baby’s brain
  • All aspects of growth and development after birth are as good as or better than babies from non-exercising moms
  • Improves oxygen to the fetus
  • Increases fetal tolerance to labor, and decreases risk of cord tangling

Core strength is critical when exercising, pregnant or not. Some ways to accomplish this are diaphragmatic breathing, pelvic floor work, and activation of core.  Try exercises that help improve core stability without causing stress on your body or baby like dead bug, bird dogs, pelvic tilts, deep diaphragmatic breathing, and bear crawls with no back movement.

Modifying your exercise is important to prevent injuries to you and your developing baby. Here is a brief description of each trimester and exercise tips during each:

First Trimester (week 0-12)

During this time your average heart volume increases (which is also an effect of regular exercise) by 15 to 20 percent. Your blood volume and cardiac output increase by 40 percent.  Progesterone acts on the lungs to stimulate a higher respiratory rate which improves gas transfer to and from your baby. Even though you may feel shortness of breath, your lung function remains within normal limits.

During this time, we want to eliminate extreme trunk flexion activities like sit-ups, Russian twists, toes-to-bar, mountain climbers, American Kettlebell swings, etc. When deadlifting, use a double overhand grip and always lower down. Always train both sides. We want to move for range of motion, stability and strength. Cardio may not happen right now, but if you do run, technique is valued more than distance, and your total mileage may need to be reduced. We only take lifts that we know we will make, in other words – do not go for 1 rep max and change mindset from max effort to best effort day

Second Trimester (weeks 13-26)

Your energy returns, nausea fades, and you usually feel really strong in the gym. During this time is when most women begin to “show.” An enlarged abdomen increases stress on the lumbar spine, pelvis, and hips. Your center of gravity is altered to be more up and out. There is a natural elevation and widening of rib cage to make room for baby and there is a natural increase in lumbar lordosis.

At this time in pregnancy it is important to shift exercise to STRICT strengthening over any kipping movements.  Remember no sit-ups, toes-to-bar, and other extreme trunk flexion movements. We only take lifts we know we will make! This means that we will only step up to lift if we know absolutely for certain that we will make the lift. No more downhill sprints at this time. Running surface matters – concrete is less forgiving, while turf, grass, or track are preferred.  Shift your mindset to deliberate practice in every movement that is performed. Toward the 20 week mark, you may have a cute baby bump that does impede bar path during weight lifting. This is the time to embrace dumbbells, kettlebells, and power lifts while stopping Olympic lifting until postpartum.

Third Trimester (weeks 27-40+)

Towards the end of pregnancy, Relaxin levels begin to elevate.  In pregnancy, Relaxin is at its highest levels in the transition between the first and second trimester and then again at birth. Relaxin is known to stay in the body until the mother is done breastfeeding, but at much lower levels. Relaxin acts to relax ligaments and tendons in preparation for birth. The pregnant athlete needs to prioritize stability and balance because your relaxed tendons in and around the joint capsule compromise your stability. Relaxin does not cause injury. In fact, it’s protective for stretching connective tissues.

Training that is too heavy, intense, or dynamic during this timeframe may lead to injury. Above all, you need to move through the full range of motion with intention and awareness. This will translate from the gym to labor, birth, postpartum, and beyond.  We only take lifts we know we will make! Strict lifting and movements continue to be used, and we never go higher than 70% of your one rep max (1RM). Towards the end of pregnancy, it is advised to do 50% or less of your 1RM as relaxin has increased and the body is preparing for birth. Impact, in the form of running and jumping, may need to be limited and/or avoided especially with symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction such as bladder leakage, pain or discomfort. Lunges and squats still need to be full range of motion. Movements we love during this time:

  • Single leg kettlebell deadlifts
  • Cossack squats
  • Lateral Step Ups
  • Sled pulls, drags, and pushes
  • Strict pull-ups and ring rows
  • AirDyne

If you are concerned about how exercise might affect you or your baby, then consult with your doctor and discuss exactly what activities you would like to do or start doing.  Remember, even just walking can be a great exercise to get you moving and maintain health. Exercise and balanced nutrition will assist you and your baby throughout pregnancy and after.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

We are training for birth and recovery and not for competition, so just because you CAN do a movement DOESN’T mean you should be doing it.

  • Train with intention,
  • Core activation and strength is key,
  • Move through full range of motion with all lifts,
  • Move towards power lifting movements and not Olympic weight lifting movements,
  • Not to lift more than 70% of 1RM during pregnancy,
  • Strict movements vs kipping,
  • Always listen to your body!