I definitely think a person’s core is one of the ‘hardest’ hit areas during pregnancy. You are literally being stretched out from the inside and it becomes more and more challenging to work your core muscles as your pregnancy progresses. I remember thinking that after having Caleb, my core was the weakest part of my body. I worked out through my entire pregnancy but I remember trying to do a plank after I began working out again and could barely hold it for 15-20 seconds. I also think my core strength was the absolute last thing to return to normal even after I lost the baby weight and felt even stronger in some other areas (upper body strength, endurance etc.) I do not think my core will ever quite look the same (which I honestly, just had to get over because I have a beautiful son which is worth not having as flat stomach J.) I also have to remember that all my abdominal skin was stretched out for 10 months and gaining back all of its elasticity is really hard.
I think many pregnant women are also fearful of hurting the baby doing core work while pregnant. They might think that crunches will hurt the baby somehow. I agree that after your pregnancy progresses crunches and a lot of abdominal work does not feel that great and some due to biomechanical reasons, just does not really work when you have a large belly. It is also a lot harder to activate your core muscles as the baby grows. However, just like aerobic exercise and strength training are important during pregnancy, core work is also very important. It can actually help with labor and help you regain strength after the birth more quickly.
Just like most types of pre-natal exercises, each trimester presents different challenges and modifications. Below is a brief description on how you can adapt your core work throughout your pregnancy.
Not much has to be changed to your core program if you are having an uncomplicated pregnancy. Unless your doctor has advised not to certain exercises or core work, you can continue to build strength and endurance in your core. Strengthening your low back is also very important throughout your entire pregnancy as many women will experience low back pain during their pregnancy due to the extra weight they are carrying.
Though I do not think crunches are the best core exercise they are still safe and usually comfortable for women to perform crunch variations during the first trimester. Oblique work and rotations can also be done in the first trimester before mobility becomes limited. I personally believe planks and plank variations should be the focus of your core work throughout all trimesters but you have much more core exercise options available to you when you are still early in your pregnancy. Balance is not as much of a factor early on so core work using various props such as physio balls and BOSUs are good to use during the first 14 weeks.
Since many women will still feel comfortable lying on their stomach and back at this time, low back exercises that are ideal include rolling cobras, supermans and bridges.
Remember, your core also will be working during strength training, yoga and other exercises as long as you remember to activate it!
At this point, most women are starting to show and certain exercises might feel a little more uncomfortable. The ACOG does not recommend doing exercises on your back after the first trimester. I personally believe that you can do a few exercises on your back as long as you feel okay and you are not laying down for long periods of time. However, at this point, crunches probably do not feel great. If any exercise does not feel right in your body, do not do it. Pregnancy is not the time to test your limits or do crazy, new exercises that might make you feel uncomfortable. At this point, you will want to avoid any loaded rotations. Again, great time for planks, side planks and low back work. Bridges can still be done but can be modified by using a physio ball to support the head, neck and shoulders.
At this point, core work might feel downright uncomfortable as you might be having a hard time activating any core muscles as the baby gets bigger and bigger. However, if you can still manage to work your core for even a few min during each workout, the benefits can pay off.
This is the time to be modifying most core exercises. Most women will want to do planks on their knees and side planks with one knee down. A great low back exercise is a bird dog as seen below.
I was so anxious to get the baby weight off and regain a strong and flat stomach. I was a little shocked/disappointed in how long this took.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, I took a week off and then started walking slowly and adding in very light weights. Based on how I felt each week, I started adding more exercises unless something hurt. I did not do any specific core work for a while but knew my core was getting worked when lifting and walking at an incline and then eventually running. I am only speaking from an uncomplicated vaginal birth and know that C-section recommendations are different. Speaking to my client who has had 4 C-sections, her Dr. recommended not to do anything but light walking as anything could injure the area.
These recommendations are for uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. If you had any abdominal trauma or diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves) talk to your doctor about specific recommendations.
I just slowly added in very short plank holds and as I felt a little stronger added in additional core work on the BOSU and physio ball. Be patient! This was by far the hardest part of my fitness to regain.
Core work is important to any exercise routine but can be really essential for pregnant women to help with delivery and recovery.
This is a controversial topic, not only because CrossFit (CF) is generally a controversial topic but because doing CrossFit while pregnant brings out even more opinions about what is safe and unsafe during pregnancy. Much of this controversy has been fueled by women who are very pregnant posting pictures of themselves doing Crossfit typical moves such as an overhead squat.
I am not intending for this blog to fuel any controversy but simply want to discuss the topic since CF continues to be a huge trend in fitness.
I did not CrossFit through my pregnancy. I did not start CrossFitting until about 4 months after I had Caleb when one of my former employees opened his own CrossFit gym. I had been working out since a few weeks after having Caleb, building a base and strength again. I first went to support him but then really enjoyed it. I can see why people hate CrossFit, I can also see why people love it. I do love the workouts but I only go 2 maybe 3 times at most during the week. I like the intensity, I like the camaraderie and I like the competitiveness. I work harder than I do on my own. I like being coached in a small group setting. I do not want to go 5 days a week as I personally think it would be too hard on my body. I also like too many other forms of exercise. I want to be able to take and teach group exercise classes, do yoga, ride and run outside and lift on my own. I personally would never recommend anyone going 5 days a week, just as I would not tell anyone to go to hot yoga 5 days a week. I think a mix of activities is best for your mind and body.
I hope to continue CrossFit through my next pregnancy but am a little worried due to the intensity and competitiveness. Pregnancy is not the time to be competitive and I am scared I will have a hard time scaling the workouts. If you do not know how CF works, the workouts are generally fairly short (8-30 minutes and very intense.) Workouts are varied and include anything from typical weightlifting to running or rowing to plyometrics to core work. Athletes post their name on the board and will have their time or score recorded for the day. This not only allows to see your progress but fuels competitiveness of the workout. It might make some people anxious at first to have their score posted but most get used to it and I think end up liking it. I asked one of my best friends Jianna about her experience doing CF while pregnant. Jianna did CF about 3x week and up until about 20 weeks. She would have continued but moved away from her CF gym. She mentioned that she went “slow and low” meaning that she moved through the workouts at a slower pace and dropped the weight. Jianna also said that she had an amazing coach that she trusted 100% who helped her with alternate and safe moves. Having a coach or trainer that you trust is very important.
Because I have only been doing CF for a little over a year and did not do it through my pregnancy, I wanted to interview one of my other very good friends and former co-workers Jocelyn for this blog. Jocelyn is a is a National Strength Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, Level 1 Certified CrossFit Coach, CrossFit Kids Coach, CrossFit Olympic Weightlifting Certified, AFAA Group Exercise Instructor and USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach. Jocelyn and her husband own CrossFit Generation in Horsham, PA. Jocelyn is also the mother of a beautiful 18 month old girl.
- Did you continue CrossFit once you found out you were pregnant? Yes, since I had been doing CF for about 5 years it was my routine form of exercise and therefore I stayed with my program. I worked out my entire pregnancy except for a 6 week stint where I had to stop due to an ultrasound that came back showing there was a possibility I had placenta previa. We had to wait a few weeks to confirm and in that period of time I was instructed not to workout, so I didn’t. Once I was cleared from the placenta previa, I started working out again.
- What modifications did you make? Did these change for each trimester? I definitely made modifications. In the first trimester I was out of breath pretty easily so I decreased my intensity. I also made sure I was hydrated and my nutrition was planned out for pre and post workouts. I somehow lucked out and had no morning sickness so it made it easy to continue on. In the second trimester I stopped doing anything on my back and put a little bit more emphasis on my core stabilization and kegel exercises. If I felt good, then I’d push myself, if not, I didn’t. That was always kind of my motto and it would change day to day. One day I’d run a little bit and then next day it wouldn’t feel comfortable and maybe the next week it would. Listening and responding to my body was key. Towards the end I was modifying pretty much everything. But working out at a basic level made me feel “normal” and gave me something to do and I knew it was so important for me and the baby. It not only helped me pass the time, but kept me grounded. I walked a lot too. My 3rd trimester was during the summer time so I really had to be mindful of my body temp and hydration. I knew if I was hot, my baby was even more hot, so I monitored that pretty seriously. Other specific modifications included not putting my name on the board and not looking at the clock so I did not have to worry about posting a good score, I went quite a bit lighter with the weights too. Once running was uncomfortable I walked. Once box jumps were uncomfortable, I did step-ups, ring rows instead of pull-ups. I also started doing many of the strength training moves from a hang position and then on boxes once I had a belly in the way.
- As a coach, what do you advise your athletes when they tell you they are pregnant? First and foremost they must listen to their doctor and work with their care team with their exercise plan. Second, (for my more intense CrossFitters) the concept of working out for THEIR BABY and not THEM comes into conversation. The emphasis needs to shift from setting personal bests in workouts to working out for baby and what’s best for their changing body. It’s a mindset shift that we work through. Finally, but just as important, we talk about listening to the body and trusting feelings. They make the rules, I help to guide them… so what they say goes. There are times when I have to step in as a coach though and make some decisions for them if they aren’t wanting to make them on their own (for example, I had a client who felt she could continue to do handstand pushups while well into her pregnancy to which I had to step in and say no).
- What would you tell those who think doing CrossFit is unsafe during pregnancy? Every individual is different and everyone has a different fitness background. If someone has been doing a style of workout prior to pregnancy and they make the appropriate changes as they progress through the pregnancy and are feeling good and their doctor visits are showing a healthy pregnancy, I see nothing wrong with it. It’s easy to judge a person based on a picture you see or a story you hear, but until you get the full details you simply shouldn’t judge the situation.
- What do you feel about the pictures circulating on social media of very pregnant women performing typical CF moves such as overhead squat etc.? My thoughts are two-fold. Initially, I was shocked. But, after digging deeper, I find it hard to judge someone based on a snapshot of their life. A picture is a moment in time. The woman who posted a picture of herself doing the OHS was blasted for doing that. But what wasn’t posted was that was a fraction of her max – it was super light for her. So, I can’t say confidently it was right or wrong. For some it may be dangerous, but for her, a trained professional, it may not have been that wrong. As you progress with pregnancy I do think you have to modify movements. That I know for sure, but I believe she did that. I also saw a picture of a woman who ran a marathon while pregnant. While I was initially thinking this wasn’t a good choice, I dug a little deeper to find out that this woman was an ultramarathon runner, so a marathon was not a big distance for her. So was that wrong of her? I’ve learned for me, I can’t say “I’ll never do this… or I’ll never do that” or judge someone else’s situation when I’m not sure of all the facts. I choose to focus on my own life, my own clients and give my responsibilities my best. I can’t get caught up with judging others.
- Did you resume CF after having your baby? When did you start again? I did not jump right back into CF. I started walking first a few weeks after the baby. After a few weeks of walking I started doing very basic bootcamp style workouts on my own while focusing on my core. So much of my workouts rely on a strong core, so I knew I had to build back that foundation before jumping back into CrossFit. I felt pretty defeated because it felt like I was starting over again with exercise. It was hard to start back up again, but I had to remind myself that it was okay and it was going to be a process. Once (again) my mindset was right, I knew I could start “CrossFitting” again. I think it was about 4 months maybe post pregnancy I started doing CF classes again. I didn’t log workouts or record scores, I just worked out. Some days were good, some were bad. Either way, I had to appreciate the fact that I was working out and was just happy to be sweating! It must have been about 6 months post baby I started to feel like I was back with my routine.
- Do you think by doing CF while pregnant, you were able to regain your strength and lose the baby weight faster? Yes! Absolutely. It helped SO MUCH. Mentally and physically. It helped with my weight throughout pregnancy, post pregnancy and recovery from delivery. My weight settled back down very soon post pregnancy but my composition was still very off. It took a few months to feel myself again. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself though and I think that was important. My baby came first, but also my own health was a priority. Balancing the two was sometimes hard, but I managed to find a good balance.
- Did you have to make any modifications when coming back after having your baby? I started with just walking. The weather was nice so Emma and I walked together. I then went on my own to the gym to do some light weight training and core training. I had to build back a foundation as so much of CrossFit is core driven, multi-joint movements. I couldn’t jump right back in without a solid base back. So I spent time doing that first, then started CrossFit again.
Coach Jocelyn and Emma (8 weeks old) walking around the track.
I would love to hear your experiences of doing CrossFit while pregnant or after pregnancy or your thoughts on this subject!
Pregnancy is hard on our bodies in many ways. The extra weight women carry in front also causes the body to compensate in many ways. As pregnancy continues and women become even larger, many movements become more difficult and there is less mobility, balance suffers and many are not moving as naturally as before pregnancy. This compensation causes changes in posture which can wreak havoc on muscles that can lead to aches and pains. What I was also surprised with was how sore and achy I was after having my son from breastfeeding him and holding him with poor posture.
As requested by one of my pregnant friends, below are 5 stretches that can hopefully ease some of the aches and pains from pregnancy and from holding and feeding that beautiful newborn.
Low back pain is a very common complaint during pregnancy. The extra weight being carried in the front causes more stress on the low back. The cat cow stretch feels great for a few reasons. Even being on all fours can feel good for many women as it takes the pressure off their low back. The cat portion of the stretch is good for pulling the shoulders down and opening the chest (the opposite position mamas are in during feedings). By rounding, they are opening up their upper back and it often feels great on the low back as well. Complete 5-10 reps, inhaling in cow and exhaling as you round into cat.
Again, as pregnancy continues mobility and ease of movement tend to decrease. Most of us, regardless of pregnancy tend to have tight hips as we tend to move only in one plane of motion. Hip bridges not only open hips, they feel great on the low back as well. **Please note, this is best done on a physio ball or BOSU ball later in pregnancy. If you are far enough along and uncomfortable lying on your back, place head, neck and shoulders on a ball and lift and lower hips. Complete 5-10 reps, exhaling as you lift your hips.
Wide Legged Child’s Pose
This stretch feels great as it targets a few different areas. The wide legs allows the belly to come between the legs vs. resting uncomfortably on the knees. This can feel great on the low back. Again, regardless of pregnancy, many of us are tight in the chest from rounded shoulders. I was surprised how incredibly tight I became in the chest and tension in my neck and shoulders a few weeks after having Caleb. I was constantly hunching because I was a) nervous with my fragile newborn and was holding him fairly tightly and was not relaxed the first few weeks and b) was constantly hunching over while breastfeeding. Until I became more used to feeding and holding him, I was constantly hunching creating so much tension in my neck and shoulders. The wide legged child’s pose felt great to stretch out my shoulders and chest, hips and back. Sit and relax in this pose for at least 30 seconds.
Chest openers should be a part of anyone’s stretching routine since we spend most of our day hunched over a computer, hunched at our steering wheel etc. But again, as stated above I tended to hunch so much during breastfeeding and holding my son that I did not realize how much tension I was creating in my body. This chest opener feels great for the entire upper body. If you feel comfortable and want to take it one step further, you can take a wide stance and forward fold keeping your hands behind your back for a more intense stretch. Try holding this stretch for 10-20 seconds.
Downward dog is one of the most common yoga poses. It is a great stretch for the back, shoulders, chest, hamstrings and calves. As pregnancy progresses and balance is compromised, take a wide legged stance to make sure you feel comfortable in this pose. Make sure you slowly enter and exit this stretch as to not feel dizzy. Try staying in downward dog for 20-30 seconds.
Hopefully, you can try some of these stretches to help relieve some tension. I would love to hear if there are any more stretches that you love to help ease some of the aches and pains!
Natural Health Magazine
Finding out you are pregnant is exciting and joyous but also can be nerve-racking and fill many with fear. It took us so long to get pregnant that I was of course overjoyed but also pretty scared. As I have mentioned in some previous blogs, working out during pregnancy can be a little scary as many women might not know or understand the recommendations for exercise (one of the reasons I started this blog…to provide quality, researched information) or you might be scared that certain exercises will hurt the baby or scared to get your heart rate elevated and much more.
Though I love to read and research anything involved with exercise and nutrition, there is only so much you can research, some things need to be experienced. I found this to be very true with pregnancy. Below are 5 things that I changed immediately during my workouts once I found out I was pregnant. Some were based on initial research I had done on exercise and pregnancy for my clients but many of them based on personal experience during my first trimester.
- My Mindset
For me, this was the number one thing I had to change from the get go. I was no longer working out for fat loss or really performance anymore. I was now working out for someone else besides myself. I knew the benefits of exercise for both of us but knew that I could not push as hard as I wanted to, that I would need to modify certain exercises and monitor my workouts and my body more closely.
- Not Going Breathless (on purpose)
I love super hard, breathless workouts, this is one of the reasons I like Crossfit. I liked to be pushed, I like to go all out, and I like to be sore. I have mentioned the myth of the 140 bpm heart rate in this blog Myths of Exercising While Pregnant. There is no particular heart rate that any OBGYN can give to a pregnant women to stay below due to many factors. However, the one thing I recommend to my clients and followed myself was not to go breathless. Going breathless in a workout is usually great! It challenges you, can actually make your heart more efficient, creates beneficial hormonal changes and in some cases can help increase your anaerobic threshold. However, none of these are needed during pregnancy. While you are working out, the fetal heart rate does increase indicating mild stress (which is can actually lead to the baby dealing with the stress of labor better). However, as the intensity increases uterine blood flow can decrease. Though there are studies showing no harm in very fit women working out at 85% of their maximum capacity, working out too hard can cause the fetal heart rate to increase and then drop after exercise (the decrease was shown in unfit pregnant women working out too hard too fast). Regardless, you do not want your baby’s heart rate too high nor too low. There is no need to push that hard during pregnancy.
Yet, I did end up going breathless sometimes in my first trimester but not on purpose. I noticed working out at what would be a moderate pace for me was leaving me breathless. My heart rate was not very high but I felt very out of breath. This feeling of breathlessness is due to a few factors. The hormone progesterone changes the way your body absorbs oxygen in your blood stream through your lungs and therefore you become more sensitive to the levels of carbon dioxide you breathe out. Overall, your body is generally more efficient during pregnancy and it does a better job of processing oxygen and carbon dioxide. Though you are actually breathing at the same rate you did before you were pregnant, you are breathing more deeply which can feel like breathlessness.
Recommendation for pregnant women is to workout at a challenging pace but where you are still able to talk.
- Nutrition before my workout
I do not like eating before I work out as I prefer to workout first thing in the morning. Even if I am working out not super early, I still would prefer to just have coffee before working out. I believe this is a very personal preference and I feel better working out on an empty stomach (there is a HUGE amount of disagreement in the exercise science world if it is better to workout on an empty stomach but that is an entirely different topic). However, when working out while pregnant, I do not want my blood sugar to drop too low. Upon waking, I am already in a fasted state since I have not eaten in at least 8-10 hours. I do not want to go another few hours without eating due to my blood sugar dropping. When I was pregnant, I would eat (sometimes force myself) to eat a little something before working out. This was generally half of a protein or nut/fruit bar. As my pregnancy continued, some mornings I would wake up pretty hungry so it was easier on those days. J
Though I always have my client’s warm-up and cool down, I am guilty of not always cooling down. I always warm up but often when I am done with my workout, I figure my walk to my car is good enough. J However, when I was pregnant, I made sure to cool-down. You do not want to get overheated while working out while pregnant so a cool-down was helpful. I made sure to walk for a few min on the treadmill and let my heart rate and breathing to return to normal.
- More Rest Days and More Forgiveness
I am a pretty religious exerciser and like to workout 6 days a week. I know that this is not doable for many women (remember, exercising and teaching is part of my job). And though I did exercise consistently and frequently throughout my pregnancy, I had to let go of the idea of 6 days a week. As many women know, your energy levels wax and wane throughout pregnancy and I firmly believe in embracing that. On the days I felt good, I exercised. On the days I did not feel well, I gave myself permission either take just a short walk or not exercise at all. I had to learn to forgive myself if every workout was not awesome and productive. I had to be proud in the amount of exercise I was doing and if I needed a few days off, to take it. My job when I was pregnant was fairly physical (even when I stopped teaching) as I was still training clients and realized I had to be forgiving of my body.
Notice that not of these 5 things said ‘lift lighter weights.’ This is something I did not change much throughout my pregnancy. I still tried to lift fairly heavy until I was forced to modify due to my changing body. For example, I would not try to lift super heavy back squats when my low back was already fatigued from the extra baby weight. But I always tried to lift fairly heavy and actually lifting was one of my favorite workouts because I felt I could get a really good, fairly hard workout without getting my heart rate too high or a lot of movement and bouncing.
Remember, the listed above was specific to my pregnancy and you might find that some of these changes were not needed or maybe you had even more. As always I would love to hear from you. What changes did you make? I will follow up with later blogs on 5 things I changed during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
McCormack MC, Wise RA. 2009. Respiratory physiology in pregnancy. In: Bourjeily D, Rosene-Montella K. eds. Pulmonary problems in pregnancy. Springer: Humana Press 19-26http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a219/breathlessness-in-pregnancy#ixzz3KzhdA2AL
Bothamley J, Boyle M. 2009. Medical conditions affecting pregnancy and childbirth. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing, 139-55http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a219/breathlessness-in-pregnancy#ixzz3Kzidi0bW
Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, Dr. James Clapp
Just like most recommendations while pregnant, there is no a black and white answer. The ‘official’ medical answer from the ACOG is “In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women.” However, many of us know how hard it is to exercise every day even when you are not pregnant!
With the extra weight, swelling and tiredness, many pregnant women do not feel like exercising, yet it can really make you feel better. Even a short walk can boost energy and increase circulation.
Even with the general ACOG guidelines, there are no specific recommendations on what constitutes the 30 minutes of exercise. It could be 30 min of cardio, 30 min of strength training or 30 min of yoga. While you are pregnant, even more than ever, I think you should listen to your body. If you wake up feeling good and energetic then take advantage and exercise that day. If there are other days you are feeling nauseous, extremely fatigued, then take it easy and maybe try for a short walk or a day off.
I was blessed to feel good throughout the majority of my pregnancy so I was able to exercise most days of the week. For most of my pregnancy, I taught 2 spin classes a week, lifted 2-3 times a week, used the elliptical, walked my dog almost daily and did yoga about once a week. This is not a recommendation for everyone but simply wanted to share what a typical week was like for me. I am also fortunate to work in the fitness industry so teaching classes allowed me to get in my exercise a few days a week. I was able to teach up until I was 7 months pregnant and at that point I was getting a little too uncomfortable on the spin bike. Yoga was also becoming too uncomfortable. For the last few months of pregnancy, I relied heavily on the elliptical, lifting weights and walking.
When advising my pregnant clients, I encourage them to lift 2-3 times a week. I highly recommend lifting for my pregnant clients for a number of reasons. First of all, it is often an easier form of exercise to do vs. certain cardio exercises. It is not incredibly hard or jarring on your body (obviously depending on the load you are lifting.) I stopped running at 28 weeks. It felt weird, kind of hurt and was just awkward. However, I lifted up until the day I was due. Besides having to make a few modifications for my changing body, I was always able to lift. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I could not use the rowing machine, I was scared of falling off of the stair mill, I could not ride a stationary bike, I felt I could not do 95% of the yoga poses in yoga class and even swimming, my first true exercise love did not feel good. But lifting was always there. I could do it for 20 or 30 min and feel great.
Lifting also can help prepare your body for all the stages of pregnancy, the actual birth and the recovery. A strong core and low back for birth and strong upper body for holding that baby are just a few of the benefits. I cannot emphasize enough of the importance of lifting weights while pregnant.
Here is a quickie workout you can do at the gym or at home with minimal equipment. A medium and heavier sets of dumbbells is ideal.
Complete each round 3 times attempting minimal rest between each exercise to keep the heart rate slightly elevated. However, rest as much as you need between the circuits to feel comfortable. Ideally the last few reps of each exercise should feel challenging.
**This workout is suitable for those trying to get pregnant, all trimesters and post pregnancy (with clearance from your doctor). However, adjust rest periods as needed if completing while pregnant.
10 reps of each of the following and repeat each circuit 3 times before moving on to the next circuit.
Walking lunges with curl
Walking lunges with curl and press
Squat Row Extension
Incline Chest Press (this can be done on a bench or physio ball)
This workout should only take only 15-20 min but gives you an all body workout. I often do this workout in my basement even now when I am short on time. Let me know what you think!
As I stated in my first blog, I personally found it difficult to find good reliable information on exercising and pregnancy. I read numerous books and found the most reliable one as mentioned before, was Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by Dr. James Clapp. The other reference that I will be referring to often in this blog is The American Congress (formally College) of Obstetricians and Gynecology as they are recognized as the expert resource for pregnancies. They have their own published recommendations for exercising while pregnant which you can find as a separate tab on this blog. I will generally defer to the ACOG recommendations as most OBGYN’s will use this organization as a resource but still feel that some of their recommendations might not fit every pregnant women. I believe that the ACOG errs on the side of caution and believe they should as they are putting out general statements and not able to advise every pregnant person. Their recommendations are based on years of research.
With that being said, even the ACOG has changed their position on some of their recommendations in 1994 and again in 2002. Unfortunately, some OBGYN’s are not familiar with their new recommendations and either still have their old recommendations printed in posters or brochures at their office or clients have told me that their doctor told them an ACOG recommendation from nearly 20 years ago!
I want to discuss a few of the most common myths of exercising and pregnancy. In my next post I will get into more detail about specific recommendations.
“Keep your heart rate below 140 bpm”
This is my favorite ‘myth’ as I think it is the most common rule of pre-natal exercise that most women have heard. However, this used to be a recommendation in 1985 when the ACOG published their first exercise during pregnancy guidelines. Most of the early studies that these recommendations were based off of were performed on animals.
In 1994, the guidelines were revised and the 140 bpm limit was removed but no other specific heart rate guidelines were given mainly because no doctor or researcher wants to test on pregnant individuals (nor am I assuming many pregnant women would volunteer for a test to see what HR is safe). However, Dr. Clapp does state that “Heart rate is not a good predictor of how hard a women in working during pregnancy and therefore not a reliable measure of safely, health or fitness. Rate of perceived exertion may be a much better index.”
Just as with a non-pregnant person, HR cannot always quantify everything that is going on during a workout. HR can fluctuate based on training levels, hydration, recovery from previous workouts, sleep quality, medication, age and more. Therefore a 25-year old active pregnant person can have a very different heart rate than a sedentary 35-year old pregnant woman. Even genetics can create a 15-30 beat per minute difference while exercising at a moderate intensity. Giving women one specific heart rate to stay under did not make sense.
Once again in 2002 the guidelines were revised adding the recommendations that pregnant women (with the exception of contraindications) should get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most if not all days of the week! This is similar to the recommendations made by the Centers of Disease Control for all individuals showing that exercise is highly recommended during pregnancy.
“Exercising can hurt the baby”
This is a very valid fear. Even I had concerns when I was pregnant. How much exercise is too much? How high can my HR get? Does the baby get jostled when I run? Though there are certain types of exercises that are not recommended while pregnant (scuba diving, exercises that pose a risk to falling, i.e. horseback riding, skiing) if you have any questions about your type of exercise, PLEASE consult your OBGYN.
Dr. Clapp’s research he found the following:
“Continuing regular, vigorous exercise throughout early pregnancy does not increase the incidence of either miscarriage or birth defects or the incidence of either membrane rupture or preterm labor.” He found that the incidence of miscarriage was the same rate for exercisers and non-exercisers. He also found that “exercise habits are unrelated to ectopic pregnancy.”
The human body is an amazing thing. Even though it might feel that your baby is being ‘jostled’ when running, your womb is protecting the baby. Yes, you might have to modify your routine but it is safe for you to run.
“You should not lift weights, especially heavy weights during pregnancy”
Though I believe in listening to your body, getting plenty of rest, eating nutritious food (these are actually good recommendations if you are pregnant or not 🙂 ) I do not think pregnant women are as fragile as society sometimes perceives them to be. Of course, I think you should make safe and smart choices when expecting but that does not mean you have to lift 3lb weights because you are pregnant. I am also not advocating going for a PR on your power clean or bench press, you just might not need to modify as much as you might think.
Strength training should be a part of any well-rounded exercise program. Fortunately, the popularity of weight lifting has continued to grow for both men and woman of all ages. Weight lifting has so many benefits for any individual including pregnant women.
Resistance Training During Pregnancy: Safe and Effective Program Design, published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal is an excellent article covering many aspects of weight lifting while expecting (Check out the article here: http://www.trentsalo.com/uploads/1/3/0/5/13051674/resistance_training_during_pregnancy__safe_and.9.pdf)
Brad Schoenfeld recommends that weight lifting sets for pregnant women should be somewhat challenging but should not push to absolute muscular fatigue. (Again, more specifics to be posted later)
The author also states that “in the absence of any complication or contraindication, there appears to be no reason that in most cases training cannot continue until immediately before delivery.” So lift on ladies!
What other myths have you heard about exercising and pregnancy? I would love to hear from you!