Top 5 Exercise Principles That Every Mom-to-Be Should Follow
Aug 18, 2020
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! NOW, WHAT?!
If you look online, you’ll be bombarded with well-meaning fitness advice from well-intentioned trainers. This is not the time to put your body in the hands of an amateur. If we were friends (and I hope someday we will be!), here’s what I’d tell you:
- Immediately upon the egg implanting into your womb, your vessels experience dilation. But, you have the same amount of blood coursing through these now larger vessels which can lead to many of those pesky “first trimester” symptoms like nausea, fatigue, dizziness. While we’re on the topic, it really takes your body until about 16 or 17 weeks to correct the “underfill” by making more plasma so most women won’t feel miraculously better at the 12 week mark like they promise us! I digress. As a result of all of this, your heart rate can be elevated even at rest. For this reason, using an arbitrary max heart rate number like 140 bpm, which doesn’t account for body mass index or previous fitness level, can be misleading. Instead I recommend women follow the Rating of Perceived Exertion scale and hover between 11 and 13. This is equivalent to exercise that is somewhat hard, feels like an effort, but you are able to continue. Or use the “Talk Test”. If, while exercising, you are able to participate in a conversation and get the words out without gasping for breath and taking multiple breaks, you’re probably doing OK.
- Respect your hormonal environment. Now that you’re pregnant, you have increased amounts of progesterone and relaxin in your system, serving to soften all the soft tissues, not just the soft tissue around your pelvis, making you more predisposed to injury. Avoid exercises that encourage asymmetrical pelvic positions such as kick-boxing or advanced step classes. Instead flock to exercises that keep equal weight through both feet, like squatting and lunging. While your pregnant body needs some stretching still, this isn’t the time for an overly-ambitious or aggressive stretching regimen given the laxity in your joints as a result of the influx of hormones.
- Appreciate you are at increased risk for diastasis rectus abdominus, an abnormal separation between the rectus abdominus or “6-pack” muscles. Some studies show that 100% of women will have this by their 3rd trimester. You can help your body by minimizing the stress on the connective tissue between those muscles by avoiding the “jack-knife” maneuver when getting up from a lying down position (instead roll to your side to get up). Also refrain from abdominal exercises such as full sit-ups, oblique curls, double leg lowering, weighted twists, and limit your time in the all 4’s position with your belly just hanging towards the floor. These moves make it difficult for most pregnant women to control their intra-abdominal pressure and may put unnecessary strain on the connective tissue. Pay attention to any movements that create a doing or tenting affect between the muscles, and modify the activity to avoid the increased pressure to this area. Focus instead on your deepest layer of abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominus.
- Learn how to properly contract AND relax your pelvic floor (yes, these are Kegels). These are the group of muscles that run underneath your pelvis, from your pubic bone to your tailbone, and between your two sitting bones. An optimally functioning muscle knows how to contract (shorten) and relax (lengthen). We need strong muscles here to support the extra weight of your growing uterus and baby. But we also need muscles that know how to soften, yield and relax to help slide your baby out when the time comes. To practice contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles, start in sitting with a good, upright posture. Inhale and allow your pelvic muscles to soften, like melted butter, into the surface you are sitting on. Next, exhale as you contract your muscles like you are
stopping the flow of urine without letting your tummy or butt muscles help out. You can also practice by imagining you are lifting a ripe blueberry a few inches into the vaginal opening without squishing it. If you have trouble relaxing, imagine you are sitting over a ripe strawberry and intentionally bring these muscles down, smashing your strawberry and making jam. Don’t bear down, this strawberry is going to spoil any day so it’s really soft. A quality exercise program will encourage both strengthening and relaxing. So the moral of the story is, use the internet with caution and make sure the exercises you choose take into account all that is happening in your miraculous body during pregnancy and all the components it needs to thrive during birth!
- Look at the demands of your “event” which in this case is labor and delivery. You need to be prepared to assume a variety of positions including side-lying, supine, squatting, and all 4’s. This means your exercise program should reflect a variety of positions so they’re there for you when you need them the most. Be dynamic and choose exercise programs that encourage you to move in a variety of different ways, and then practice these positions all the way up to the day you deliver!
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