Congratulations! You’re going through one of the most amazing and exciting stages of life, you’re pregnant and you can’t wait to meet your new arrival. There are so many things to do, and so many new things to learn – who knew that pregnant women shouldn’t drink caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee?! One of the things many pregnant women are worried about is exercise and fitness. How much is OK? What type of exercise should you be doing? What should you avoid doing?
Why Should You Exercise While Pregnant?
As with every stage of your life, there are a whole load of benefits to exercise while you’re pregnant, including:
- Decreasing the risk/increased control of gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes is caused when your body can’t make enough insulin to break down sugars. While gestational diabetes only happens during pregnancy, the effects can be dangerous for both you and your baby. For more information on Gestational Diabetes, check out this section on Diabetes.ie.
- Improved posture – As your baby grows, your centre of gravity changes because of where your baby is within your body. This can put pressure on joints including your lower back, pelvis, and even your shoulders and chest, as your posture changes to stop you falling over! Added to this is a well-named hormone called relaxin. Relaxin helps your joints… relax! What this means is that you become more flexible in every joint, increasing the risk of over-extending and injuring yourself, and relaxin stays in your body for up to 12 months after you stop breast-feeding.
- Improved recovery after giving birth – Giving birth is one of the most challenging things your body will ever do, and it’s important to prepare yourself for a speedy recovery.
- Improved energy levels, sleep cycles, and stress management – Exercising releases endorphins (we’ve all heard this one, but what actually are endorphins?!) Endorphins are chemicals that interact with your brain to reduce your perception of pain. They also make you feel good, leaving you with more energy, better sleep, and less stress.
How Should You Exercise During Pregnancy?
Now that we know why you should exercise during pregnancy, let’s take a look at how to go about exercising safely and making the most of your workouts. Here are the important things to start with:
- Start with your Training Age – Your Training Age is how long you’ve been training for. If you’ve been a regular fixture in the weights room for years now, then you can keep training with a few tweaks to your routines. On the other hand, if the last time you exerted yourself was when you came third in the egg and spoon race in 1997, it’s probably not the best time to start that new bootcamp you’ve had your eye on.
- Listen to your body – You’ll know your body better than anybody else, and although you’re going through a lot of changes right now, you’ll know to slow down when you need to. Trust yourself and listen to how you’re feeling. There’s plenty of time to push yourself hard once you’ve had your baby and recovered from giving birth. Now isn’t the time to break records.
- Plan for each trimester – You’re going to fly through the different stages of pregnancy, so you’ll have to plan ahead to make sure you’re scaling back your workouts to accommodate the trimester you’re in. Once you hit trimester 2, it’s time to leave out exercises that require you to lie on your back. Trimester 3 is the time to remove lying on your front or back, and twisting exercises.
Whatever your level of fitness, here are some great low-impact cardio ideas to keep you moving during your pregnancy.
- Aqua Aerobics – with limited risk of falling or over-heating, aqua aerobics is a great way to keep moving. Invest in a pair of pool socks to make sure you don’t slip, and get cracking!
- Swimming – as with aqua aerobics, reduce your risk of falling or over-heating by taking to the water, and swimming some lengths. Aim for an exertion level of 3-5 out of 10, so you shouldn’t be so out of breath that you can’t string a sentence together.
- Walking – a 30 minute walk 3 times per week is a great way to keep your activity level up. Make sure you have a comfortable pair of runners, and bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
- Yoga – there are loads of different types of yoga, so find a class that’s more the gentle, relaxing variety, than the headstands type! Many yoga studios even offer yoga classes for pregnant women, so ask around and see what you can find.
- Pilates – great for maintaining core-strength, Pilates can be another excellent option for staying fit while your pregnant, just make sure your tutor knows you’re pregnant before the class begins.
Resistance Training While Pregnant
If you’re used to lifting weights, there are a few tweaks you’ll need to make to your programme. As always, listen to your body throughout your sessions, stay hydrated and cool, and rest whenever you need to.
- Make use of the machines – fixed path resistance machines are a great choice while you’re pregnant, because there’s a reduced risk of injury, falling, or dropping the weight during your lift.
- Skip overhead presses – overhead press exercises like military presses or shoulder presses can put pressure on your lower back. Since you’ve already got postural changes to deal with, this is one type of exercise to skip.
- Stay on solid ground – it’s important to reduce the risk of falling, so stick to exercises on a solid surface that let you keep your balance with ease. Avoid standing on an uneven surface like a swiss ball, bosu, plyometric (jumping) exercises like box jumps, or single-leg exercises like Bulgarian Split Squats.
- Keep training your core! – core training can help prevent abdominal separation, and also set you up for carrying your little one after delivery. Dead bugs, pallof presses, farmers walks, leg lowers, suitcase carries and half-kneeling positions are all great options.