Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Depending on how you’re feeling, what trimester you’re in and your fitness level, you can definitely exercise during pregnancy. Regular exercise during pregnancy can lower your risk of gestational diabetes, depression, help you sleep better and you may have a shorter less complicated delivery.
Additional potential benefits of sticking to an exercise regime during pregnancy are having less aches and pains, decreased pregnancy swelling, a boost in your moods and an increase in your energy levels.
Research tells us that in a normal and healthy pregnancy, moderate exercise is safe. One of the most powerful statements made in the (SOGC/CSEP, 2003) guideline is as follows:
Women and their care providers should consider the risks of NOT participating in exercise activities during pregnancy, including loss of muscular and cardiovascular fitness, excessive maternal weight gain, higher risk of gestational diabetes or pregnancy induced hypertension, development of varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis, a higher incidence of physical complaints such as dyspnea or lower back pain, and poor psychological adjustment to the physical changes of pregnancy.
The SOGC/CSEP guideline also states, “Many women find that the best time to start an exercise program is in the second trimester, when the nausea, vomiting, and profound fatigue of the first trimester have passed and before the physical limitations of the third trimester begin.” To clarify, healthy women without contraindications should be encouraged to exercise regardless of trimester, but some might find it more comfortable to begin in the 2nd trimester.
Before you begin an exercise program while pregnant
You MUST seek medical advice and clearance from your health care provider before beginning an exercise program, as there may be activities and exercises that may not be advisable due to your medical history and pregnancy.
Some tips & guidelines for exercise
- Never lock your knees; they should always be in a semi-relaxed position.
- Focus on activating your core – Inhale into the belly, exhale and gently lift your pelvic floor muscles + “pull baby towards spine” which helps keep your spine in a neutral (not arched or in a hunched position).
- Avoid doing crunches, planks and push-ups that will cause too much intra-abdominal pressure on the abdominal wall.
- Pelvic tilt – “hugging your baby” will help maintain better posture, alleviate back pain and help support the pelvis during pregnancy.
- Always make sure you are in a good stable position before you begin any exercise. Hold onto a bench for support and balance.
- Make sure you have a firm hold with your weights.
- Always exhale on exertion.
- Stay hydrated and wear comfortable clothing.
Remember that every pregnancy is different and if you have any questions or are feeling apprehensive about a particular exercise or exercising in general during pregnancy, please consult with your healthcare provider.
Complete 3 sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise
Instructional videos on the Precision Athletics website
Dumbbell weights suitable for muscular endurance should be used. Most pregnant women will need 3-8 lbs for shoulder work and 8-12 lbs for arm, chest and back work though this can change a little depending on your pregnancy, health and history prior to pregnancy.
Single arm dumbbell rows are one of the best ways to work your back muscles during pregnancy.
Strengthening your back will ultimately help your posture which is being compromised by your growing belly and breasts. This extra weight on your body can cause you to hunch over and round your shoulders.
Using a bench to support you means less stress on your core and by focusing on one side at a time you can concentrate on your back muscles stretching and contracting throughout the movement.
- Use a bench or platform that’s long enough to support your knee and hand on one side of your body, slowly come into an all fours position on the bench.
- Once you are in position and have a good sense of your balance, stick one leg out with your foot securely on the floor.
- With one dumbbell in your hand, row the weight up towards your armpit (short hold / pause at the top) with your elbow coming up above your back. Contracting your back muscles. It is important to not rotate your body with this exercise and keep your chest facing down throughout the movement.
- Slowly return the dumbbell down to the stretched starting position and repeat.
Goblet Squats strengthens your glutes, gives your body a big muscle group to focus on and to help stabilise the weight of your baby bump. This stability and strength exercise reduces your chances of getting lower back pain, while supporting your growing baby as your belly starts to grow.
- Hold one dumbbell in a goblet style hold, with both hands, close to your chest and underneath your chin.
- Keep your stance shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Throughout this exercise, make sure you have a neutral back as you hinge your hips back and sit back and down into your squat or the chair position.
- Pause when you reach the bottom, tighten your glutes and pelvic floor, press your heels into the ground to return to your standing position.
- Make sure that your heels do not lift off the ground, especially at the bottom position. Flexing your legs and glute muscles at the top.
Overhead press strengthens deltoids and triceps, in combination with core activation and diaphragmatic breathing, TVA (transverse abdominals) and core are also strengthened. Upper body strength will help to maintain alignment and core stability.
- While sitting in a chair or on a bench and your spine in a neutral position, hold light dumbbells in each hand.
- Bend your elbows so the weights are at shoulder height and slightly to the side. Exhale and press straight up and overhead, keeping your elbows straight but not locked, your bicep is in-line with your ear.
- Lower with control. Inhale and repeat. Focus on keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position and your shoulders relaxed.
Additional exercise guidelines:
- Women should choose activities that will minimize the risk of loss or balance that could cause fetal trauma.
- Reasonable goals of aerobic conditioning in pregnancy should be to maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness or train for an athletic competition.
Warnings to stop exercising and seek medical attention from CSEP’s PARmed’X for Pregnancy:
- Excessive shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Painful uterine contractions (more than 6-8 per hour)
- Vaginal bleeding • Any “gush” of fluid from vagina (suggesting premature rupture of the membranes)
- Dizziness or faintness
Enjoy your pregnancy, listen to your body, see your health care professional regularly and always consult with your health care professional before starting any type of exercise during or after pregnancy.
Josee Picco is a Certified Personal Trainer, certified in Pre and Postnatal Fitness, helping women stay strong and healthy in their bodies during pregnancy and after pregnancy.
Resources: Fit 4 Two Pre and Postnatal Fitness Inc.