Not only can you exercise during pregnancy, but it will also help you on so many levels. The right exercise can help minimise typical pregnancy aches such as lower back pain, stretch areas of tightness caused by the bump shifting your centre of gravity forwards, and it will keep you feeling positive and energised.
If your pregnancy is a straightforward, healthy, pregnancy with no complications you can exercise right up to your due date and even beyond if you go overdue! The important thing is to make sure that your health care practitioners are happy for you to exercise, and that the exercise you do is tailored for pregnancy by a specialist.
Starting new forms of exercise in the first trimester
Don’t attempt to start new forms of exercise during your first trimester. This is a key time and whilst people may not see that you’re expecting, the very foundations of your pregnancy are being laid down. Once you move into the second trimester certain aspects of your pre-pregnancy fitness regime will also need to be modified. For example, lying on your back for extended periods to perform exercises could make you feel faint and should be avoided. Classic abdominal exercises such as sit-ups, planks and Russian twists are no longer relevant and should be replaced by gentle activation of the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.
Not keeping exercise ‘moderate’
‘Moderate’ exercise means you should be able to workout comfortably and hold a conversation at the same time, without getting breathless. It’s important to remember that your ‘moderate’ is never going to be the same as someone else’s. If you see someone on Instagram doing burpees in her second or third trimester, this does not mean it’s right for you. It also does not mean that it’s wrong for her (although I wouldn’t advocate burpees in pregnancy for many reasons). It all depends on each person’s fitness levels.
There are certain forms of exercise that must be avoided in pregnancy, such as contact sports, competitive sports, scuba diving and dangerous activities such as horse rising, rock climbing and skiing.
Not listening to your body
Always tune into the signals that your body is sending you. Don’t feel like going on that run but feel like you ought to? Take note, be kind to yourself and go for a walk instead. Also think about your recovery time after exercise. If you’re starting to notice that recovery is taking longer and longer and that you’re having to force yourself to do that workout, it’s time to shift over to pregnancy-specific exercise.
You mustn’t allow yourself to overheat when exercising as this is not good for your baby. Overheating can adversely affect your growing baby, but this also applies to overheating in other situations. So no saunas, remember?
During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is designed to help with childbirth by loosening the ligaments in the pelvis. Unfortunately, the body can’t simply target relaxin to the pelvis so your ligaments are extra ‘stretchy’ throughout the body. Deep stretches will exploit this and you could end up with permanent instability in the joints. Keep your stretches gentle and short.
Relaxin also causes your blood vessels to dilate leading to what is called vascular underfill. This will make you feel faint if you do exercises that involve too much up and down movement. Avoid switching too much from the mat to standing.
No strength training
The dramatic increase in relaxin levels also causes a degree of laxity round the joins in the body. Everything is less stable and this can lead to classic aches and pains in the pelvis, back, knees and wrists. Keeping strong by strength training will help counter this instability as the strong muscles will support your joints.
If you’re a fan of cardio, don’t stop it in favour of strength training because it is likely what makes you happy! Or if you normally do strength training then keep going. If you’re the queen of cardio, carry on, but add in strength work. The likelihood is that it will improve your cardio performance too!
Intense exercise post-birth
It’s incredibly tempting to dive in at the fitness deep-end after birth. You’re done with pregnancy and think you can simply pick up your pre-pregnancy fitness routine where you left off. I cannot explain how detrimental this is. Intense exercise post-birth can lead to pelvic floor damage that requires surgery.
Don’t miss out on the basics: you need to rebuild your core and pelvic floor. These are the foundations that will help you get fitter and stronger than you ever were pre-pregnancy. Pelvic floor exercises can and should be started as soon as possible after birth. They can even help speed up healing by promoting the flow of blood to the perineum.
Walking is another great way to get going post-birth. It’s something you can do with your baby and it gets you outdoors in the fresh air.
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