When I announced my current pregnancy to my parents back in March, the first thing they said was, ‘You should stop going to the gym now!’ I’m not kidding 🙂 The myth that pregnant women should avoid working out while pregnant runs deep in our society – it’s even deeper in Russia where my parents live. Thankfully, more and more women are witnessing great benefits of staying active for as long as they can while pregnant. More energy, less aches and pains, feeling stronger, having a better body image – what’s not to like?
(Please note that I’m talking about low-risk pregnancies here. If your pregnancy is taking a more complicated path, or if working out just doesn’t feel good to you – please take it easy. No judgement here!)
When I found out that I was pregnant, I did lots of research about working out during pregnancy to make sure I continued in a safe manner that would be beneficial both for me and my baby. I approached pregnancy after a year of lifting fairly heavy weights and doing some pretty intense cardio, so I was feeling physically strong and fit.
In my research of weightlifting during pregnancy, I saw that most pregnancy-related websites recommended activities like yoga, walking and swimming as generally safe, but I knew that I would be either bored or not feel challenged enough if I ditched weight-bearing exercise for the next nine months. After digging around on the internet, I found some bloggers who had shared their successful experience of lifting weights during pregnancy, and decided to proceed with caution.
I’ve definitely had my share of ebbs and flows with my workouts in the past few months, from feeling like I’m crushing it at the gym to skipping a planned workout completely and heading home to take a nap. As someone who does great when following a set plan, I’ve had a few disappointments when an exercise I’ve been doing for years suddenly stops feeling right or starts causing major discomfort. To talk myself out of total panic mode, I’ve been saying to myself, “This is only temporary. This is the reality for right now, not for the rest of your life.” I’ve heard this thought on Girls Gone WOD podcast after one of the two hosts had a baby a couple years ago and was going through the same struggles. I have a feeling that this will be my mantra for a while!
5 Things to Keep in Mind When Working Out During Pregnancy
As I was doing my research of safe ways to continue working out during pregnancy, I came across loads of advice both from health professionals and women who have already gone through this. Most of it can be boiled down to these five tips:
1. Watch your heart rate and exercise intensity. Most doctors recommend not to go over of 140 bpm in your workout efforts, but I’ve seen a lot of examples of women who routinely go beyond that number safely because they were used to intense workouts before they got pregnant. It’s very individual though – 140 bpm can feel way harder during pregnancy than it did before because of the increased blood volume and the fact that our bodies are working really hard taking care of the little human inside us. Most health professionals agree that a good way of keeping the workout intensity in the safe zone is to stay at a level that allows us to comfortably maintain a conversation while working out.
2. Avoid lying flat on your back, like during bench presses. This is especially important in later stages of pregnancy when our bellies start getting bigger. The growing baby can push down on a major vein called the vena cava, which may diminish blood flow to the heart, brain and uterus (source). The first sign of this happening may be feeling dizzy, however if you don’t change the position, you may pass out. Still want to do bench presses? Just raise the angle of the bench and proceed with caution.
3. Avoid horizontal positions like planks, push-ups, etc. later in pregnancy because they may contribute to developing diastasis recti – a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle along the mid-line fascia. Once our bellies start growing during pregnancy, planks put our midsection under a lot of pressure as the uterus pushes against the widening and thinning central ab muscles and connective tissue softened by hormones. Diastasis recti weakens our midsection, contributes to pelvic instability and may cause lower back pain. Plus, if you have a goal of getting washboard abs after pregnancy, it may get way harder to achieve. Some sources recommend staying away from crunches as well as pregnancy progresses to avoid developing diastasis recti.
4. Make sure to stabilize your core when lifting weights, especially standing up. A hormone called relaxin causes our connective tissue to soften as it prepares our body for delivery, which makes our joints less stable. This could spell trouble if we’re loading our core with weight without bracing it first – who wants to throw their back out at the gym during pregnancy? For the same reason, some exercises that make us turn to the side while holding a weight (think Russian twists) should be avoided as well.
5. Listen to your body (I know, this sounds pretty cliche 🙂 ). Now it’s more important than ever to watch your form, listen to your breathing, take longer breaks between sets, go down in weight if the previously comfortable number doesn’t feel right anymore, etc. I talked about this in more detail in my post about running during pregnancy. Pregnancy is not the time to push for PRs! There will always be time to kick some a$$ later, but for now, our goal is to stay active, strong and healthy while safely growing a human inside of us.Working out during #pregnancy: kick a$$ later, stay active & healthy now! Click To Tweet
In my next post, I’ll be sharing my typical workouts that I’ve done in each trimester of my pregnancy – stay tuned!
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