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Workout Modifications & Tips For Training During Pregnancy

Assuming you already exercise regularly, pregnancy doesn’t mean you need to stop training but it does mean you need to adjust it. If you don’t exercise, now you have a good reason to start! Exercise can help prepare your body for all the changes during pregnancy, for the marathon of birth and for all the work you will need to do once baby is born. Strong and healthy mammas for the win!

Keep in mind you will want to make sure you check with your provider before you start to exercise. Typically it’s recommend that you maintain what you were doing pre pregnancy with a lower intensity but not to initiate any new rigorous training during this time.

Most of the changes you will need to make with be personal and specific to your own body and pregnancy but there are a few that are universal to all women. Typically higher reps, lower weights works well for pregnancy because of the change in ligaments and joints. Training specific areas that support great posture like rear delts, lower traps, glutes and transverse abdominals is important for keeping you aligned and easing discomfort. Avoiding movements that put added stress on the pelvic floor and rectus abdominis (the six pack abs) is important for long term health around pregnancy pre and postnatally. You’ll also likely feel more comfortable choosing exercises that on standing or sitting rather than lying on your back (or front), especially as pregnancy progresses

As a personal trainer, nutritionist and (currently pregnant) lover of exercise, I had an image of me training as hard as usual through my whole pregnancy. I figured I’d be squatting, hip thrusting and deadlifting at GoodLife Fitness till my hearts’s content. I knew I would need to modify according to our typical guidelines but I didn’t realize how different the body would actually feel when the time came.

Our bodies go through a lot during pregnancy and keep in mind each day, week and month you will notice changes. Stay in tune with how you feel throughout your entire pregnancy and focus on the changes needed to accommodate your new body. I like to say, stay committed to your goals but flexible in your methods.

Here are a few tips: 

  1. Get focused. This is a time to focus on health. You goals for exercise during pregnancy should be to move so you feel good, to benefit your body and baby and to prepare for labor and delivery. This is not a time to focus on weight loss or strength gain.
  2. Feel good. Your workouts should leave you feeling good and energized. You don’t want to be feeling overly tired or drained post workout. Typically it is recommended that intensity for training during pregnancy be between a 3-7 out of 10 depending on how you feel and your level of fitness. Also keep in mind that the exercises you choose my likely be different to accommodate your changing body.
  3. Be aware of your body’s needs. Respecting your body is always an important part of training well, even more so during pregnancy. If you don’t feel well enough lift don’t do it. Nausea and fatigue can be a big part of pregnancy for some women and that needs to be taken into consideration. Movement is good though so maybe just opt for some leisure walking or yoga movements. On the same note you will also find strength training is really beneficial and that certain strength movements can help reduce your aches and pains. Lower back pain is often reduced by strengthening the glutes. Upper back pain can be reduced by training your shoulders and upper back and by stretching your chest. You’ll also want to spend time in movement that are meant to prepare your body for labour. For example, a deep wall supported body-weight squat is a good one.
  4. Choose your exercises and weight appropriately. You want to keep the heaviness of your weights to somewhere that you can complete 10-12 reps per set. We avoid heavier sets of 8 or less during pregnancy because your body releases the relaxin hormone making your joints and ligaments more prone to hyper extension and injury. Certain movements likely won’t feel good like lying on your back or stomach and sometimes leaning over like in a deadlift will result in pulling across the belly that is uncomfortable. The other type of exercise that may no be ideal for you is high impact training like running and jumping. This is taxing on your pelvic floor with the already added weight of the baby. If you are a runner and don’t want to give it up I highly suggest you see a pelvic floor specialist throughout your pregnancy to avoid incontinence and possible prolapse issue postnatally.
  5. Know what Diastatis Recti is and if you have it. Distasis recti is a common stretching and separation of the abdominal connective tissue. It happens to most women to some degree during some point during pregnancy and it can range from mild to severe. We want to keep it from becoming severe and fully separating by being aware of what causes it and makes it worse is important. Watch out for pulling and doming in the ab area and avoid movements where you feel a direct pull on your abdominal centre line especially around your belly button. Be careful to lie down and get up by always rolling to your side and pushing your self up with your arm. Do not sit straight up. (I wrote a detailed post about DRA here). I highly suggest all my clients see a pelvic floor physio specialist during pregnancy and post pregnancy especially before starting or re starting any training. If you do have DRA don’t worry, it can usually be corrected through exercise and treatment post pregnancy but in some very severe cases surgery may be recommend.
  6. Eat well to fuel your exercise. Because we are not focused on fat loss (unless you are overweight to begin with) you will want to fuel your training. You will want to eat enough so that you are not exercising your way into caloric deficit when pregnant. A small meal containing protein, carbohydrates and fat before and after your workout will also make sure your blood sugar levels stay stable and help keep your energy up. A protein smoothie or chicken sandwich and salad could be a great option here.
  7. Movement is key. Even if you don’t feel well enough to lift wights you still want to get moving. A walk and some daily stretching will really help you stay in alignment and reduce many aches and pains. Spinning babies is a great resource for pregnancy. This is a list of daily movements you can do to help reduce discomfort as well as help get your baby into the ideal position for labor.

Ultimately your workout has to feel good during and after so as always tune into your own body and pay attention to what feels good (and what doesn’t). Keep moving and have a wonderful safe and healthy pregnancy! 

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