As most of you would know by my Facebook and Twitter updates – I’ve just gone through my first pregnancy, what an incredible experience!
There’s so much scrutiny and talk about what women should or should not do in terms of exercising when they’re up the duff. I often get asked whether it’s okay to run when pregnant or lift weights or should one only do light sessions like yoga and pilates.
In this series, I’m going to attempt to educate all pregnant (or planning to be) women on what kind of exercises are okay for you and what the body can take when you’re in this beautiful, nurturing period of life.
I need to address this with a caveat that there is no ‘one size fits all’ prescription of exercise. That is why there is so much confusion out there. The saying of ‘listen to your body’ has never rung more true during pregnancy. I’ll break this into three posts, so that’s three trimesters each and I’m going to talk through everything I did and everything you may like to try.
Doctor’s approval: Of course, I’m going to start with the biggest and the most obvious disclaimer of all – get the OK from your doctor. These nine months are crucial for the little soul growing in you, so be mindful of the decisions you make for it. Speak to your doctor and enquire about what is okay for you. Everyone’s bodies are different and it is very important to know that.
Monitor the Heart Rate: Keeping track of your heart rate is the next important aspect. The magic number is 140 beats per minute. But to be honest, a fit person can push that a bit higher. I personally let my heart rate spike somewhere between 150-165 (note: do bare in mind that my average rate for a 3 hour 12 minutes marathon was a 183 beats/minute, so I have a naturally high heart rate).
For training while pregnancy, I made sure my average heart rate for the entire session was 140 or below but at certain times, I would let it peak to (occasionally to165-170) and instantly drop back down again. Doctors recommend 140-145 beats/minute for pregnant women.
Body temperature: If you’re pregnant in the summer time, then this is something to be mindful of for all your trimesters. You don’t want to overheat the body because the baby can’t regulate its own temperature. Some people go as far as to take their temperature midway through a session, and make sure its never over 38C (100.5F).
Hydration: Staying hydrated during your sessions is vital for the entire nine months. FYI, this is also important for those who aren’t pregnant.
Stress levels: If you’ve got a busy, stressful life, don’t add extra stress to it with exercise. Exercising during this time is not meant to feel hard; you should be able to talk the whole way through your training session.
Hormone Relaxin: This magical hormone helps prepare body for birth by loosening all the ligaments. The great thing about it is that you’ll never feel more relaxed in the muscles; to test, just have a massage and see how supple your muscles feel. But the negative is that a lot of your ligaments become loose. So you might experience more pain in your lower back and through your pelvis/hips further along in your pregnancy. Personally, I noticed it only half way along when I realised how loose my joints were and how it could potentially make you quite unstable – especially if you’re a hard trainer. So from about trimester two, I avoided wide leg or excessive split stance exercises. My squats became less deep, my lunge stance was shorter and not so deep.
Check your energy levels for the rest of the day: You should feel fab after your workout, not whacked. If you feel really tired or lethargic or you hit a wall later in the day (worse than the days you don’t train) then that is a sign that you’ve pushed too hard, so back off a bit next time.
Check for baby’s movements 30mins after the session: Another good idea is to observe your baby’s movements within 30mins of completing your session. A good sign is if you feel around four movements within that 30mins. For me, it was usually as soon as I sat down for breaky!
Now, starting with trimester 1 – that’s week 1 to week 13.
This is a really sensitive time for the body. It’s one of the riskiest times in the pregnancies because all the baby’s vital organs are being formed and developed, so any unnecessary or brand new stresses on the body are to be avoided. This is not the time to start a new exercise regime or to push yourself beyond what you’re already used to doing. But by all means, everything you were doing before, you can still do it – just reduce it all by 20 per cent.
What You Can Do
Continue doing what you were doing before but back off the intensity by about 25%. Don’t add anything new or dramatically different to your body.
What I Did
I trained for 4 days a week. Those mainly included, two cross fit session and two runs. I interspersed an occasional pump or spin class somewhere in there.
Also, there was one period where I didn’t train for two weeks because I got the flu, so I stopped completely.
Exercises I Enjoyed in the First Trimester
- Clean and Jerk: Great because it is a very functional exercise that uses your total body. It strengthens pretty much every muscle in the body including the ones that will working hard as you get bigger (Quads, hamstrings, glutes, back and core).
- Dead lifts: A great functional exercise that strengthens your legs, back and core. You’ll be bending over and picking up lots of things throughout the pregnancy, so why not teach your body to use the correct muscles to support that growing belly.
- Squats: Again a great functional activity that works pretty much every muscle in the body. I had zero back pain throughout my pregnancy and squatted the whole way through. I could just be lucky, but I did enjoy feeling strong, and coordinated throughout the nine months.
- Hip raises: I really wanted to keep my hips and core as stable as possible during my pregnancy so exercises like this one became a regular feature.