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Pregnancy Exercise: Do's and Don'ts

Pregnancy can be a confusing time. All we want is to do the best for ourselves and for our baby. When it comes to exercise, we are advised to stay active and healthy yet there is so much we’re told we can’t do. Even as a trainer, I have been muddled in the past over what exactly is safe to do. I can see why many women may shy away from doing any exercise at all.

Some of the statements I have heard previously are: Pregnant women shouldn’t lift heavy. Pregnant women shouldn’t do core exercises. Pregnant women shouldn’t let their heart rate go beyond 140 bpm. Pregnant women shouldn’t lift overhead. Pregnant women shouldn’t run. Pregnant women shouldn’t lie on their backs...

And I’m sure there’s more that you’ve heard of. With this list, I’d be scared to move at all. The reality is that pregnant women still have jobs, children, responsibilities and still need to function as normal human beings. In truth, there are only a few things a pregnant woman, who has no complications, can not do. Firstly, any sports that could result in a blow to the stomach such as squash or kickboxing, which is fairly obvious I’d say. Then there are sports that could result in falling such as horse riding or down hill skiing that - if you are experienced in you should take extra care however I wouldn’t choose to take up these kinds of sports in pregnancy, again pretty obvious. When it comes to the usual exercises that the everyday woman may consider, it really isn’t that limited and most of the limitations depend on the woman herself.

Sit ups, crunches or any movement that creates an increase in abdominal pressure should be avoided in the second and third trimester. Core work should definitely be included in pregnancy but we want to concentrate on breathing, TVA, pelvic floor, glutes and the back. As the abdominal wall stretches, focusing on the superficial layer can be more damaging than good.

Lifting heavy is an interesting one. Firstly, what is heavy? This question is so subjective. Squatting with a 20 kg weight may feel heavy to some and light to others. The answer lies in the overall level of intensity which is unique to that person. I tell clients to aim for no more than a 15 out of 20 for effort level or I use the talk test which is as simple as it sounds; if a client can still hold a conversation while performing the exercise then the intensity is ok. This goes for the 140 bpm theory too which is quite an outdated method. Some women can comfortably train over this threshold without a problem so let's keep the measurement individual to you.

Lying on your back for long periods of time is not recommended from 16- 20 weeks. The reason being that the weight of the baby can restrict the blood flow of one of the body’s major blood vessels and can make you feel light headed. Two things to address here are - this is not a strict no lying on your back rule and again is dependent on the specific woman and her body. Secondly, floor based core exercises are not always the best or the most functional to the pregnant woman. Exercises performed on all 4’s or standing may be preferable and more translatable to everyday life.

Exercise in pregnancy isn’t as limited as you may think. All women come into pregnancy with different levels of experience and fitness, therefore their abilities in pregnancy differ too. Generalised statements such as “Pregnant woman can’t run” are not helpful to anyone. If the woman in question was running marathons prior to pregnancy, then she may be comfortable running during pregnancy. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend taking up running at this time if you have never run before. I believe that pregnancy is a time where being in tune with your body and mindful of your movements is more important than ever. If something doesn’t feel right then stop and seek advice. Hopefully, I have not only helped to clarify some of the definite “do’s” and “don'ts” but also, made you aware that pregnant women can do more than you think!

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