How to devise a ‘Pregnancy Friendly' Exercise Regime
There is no question - research has consistently shown that keeping fit and active during pregnancy is terrific for both the mother and the unborn baby.
However, many exercises require modifications to be considered safe during pregnancy. Now, what you may wish to know is what type of exercise would be considered particularly ‘pregnancy friendly’? How should you organize your week to fit in the types of exercise that could potentially be the most beneficial for you?
The following blog, by Women’s Health Physiotherapist Taryn Watson, will outline how to adapt cardio, resistance and core training to suit you during your pregnancy.
1. Cardio Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise is exercise that gets your heart rate up. Even in the non-pregnant population, international guidelines state that we should all aim to do at least 30 minutes per day of cardio exercise.
The levels of impact and intensity need to be considered when choosing cardio exercise in pregnancy.
While the non-pregnant population might choose to do the types of cardio exercise that involve impact like running, jumping and skipping, in pregnancy this is more likely than usual to lead to incontinence, vaginal prolapse and pelvic joint pain, due to the pregnancy hormones and the increased weight of the baby on the pelvic floor muscles.
We also need to remember with cardio exercise in pregnancy that for the safety of the baby, we should only be exercising at a level where we could still hold a conversation.
Some ideas for low impact, pregnancy-friendly cardio exercise include:
- Cross trainer
- Exercise bike
- Aqua aerobics
Aqua Aerobics is ideal in pregnancy for a number of reasons.
Many companies offer specific pregnant aqua aerobics classes, run by instructors who will monitor the level that you are working at and ensure that you’re not overheating. Exercising in warm water can to help relieve back pain, strengthen the core and reduce swelling.
Pregnancy-safe resistance exercises can be used as a cardio fitness option.
If resistance exercises (examples of which are given below) are done in a circuit, or as interval training, it will definitely raise the heart rate and give the benefits of both cardio and strength training.
2. Resistance Training
Resistance training can be in many forms, such as body weight resistance, dumbells, exercise band, kettle bells and more. Adding in a few sessions per week of 20 minutes or more would be terrific through your pregnancy.
Not all resistance training is appropriate in pregnancy - it is important to find an instructor who knows how to safely get the benefits of strength training without causing any harm.
There are many types of gym, pilates and yoga classes that do variations of resistance training, and usually they can be modified to be pregnancy-appropriate.
In general terms, this would mean implementing the following recommendations:
- Avoid lying flat on your back
- Avoid exercises where anything could fall onto or hit your belly
- Avoid exercises that put strain through your separated abdominal muscles or down onto your pelvic floor muscles
- Avoid single leg loaded exercises if they cause pelvic joint pain
Ideally, how about signing up for a specific pregnancy group fitness class run by a highly-skilled physiotherapist, fitness professional or exercise physiologist?
That way everyone in the class will be modifying their resistance exercises to suit pregnancy, plus you get the benefits of the support and camaraderie that comes with meeting other expectant mums.
3. Core Muscle Training
Exercising the six pack muscle while it is stretched and separated in the midline during pregnancy is not recommended. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot use the abdominal muscles at all, it just means that it’s recommended to use them in a way that doesn’t put unnecessary strain on them or make the abdomen ‘dome’.
To a Women's Health and Continence Physiotherapist like myself, 'The Core' is a term to describe the supporting muscles deep inside the trunk, the Pelvic Floor (PF) Muscles and the Transverse Abdominis (TA) Muscle.
The PF muscles have a very important role to play in:
- Maintaining bladder and bowel control
- Supporting the lower back and the pelvic joints, together with the corset-like TA muscle
- Keeping sex enjoyable
Pelvic Floor Muscle exercises, or Kegel exercises, can be integrated into a core muscle exercise program in pregnancy.
Pregnancy and birth are both factors that can stretch and weaken the PF and TA muscles, and therefore it is very important to exercise them regularly, and correctly, during this time. Pelvic floor muscle exercises are done by squeezing and lifting this sling of muscles inwards and upwards, as if stopping wee or wind, or lifting a tampon inside you, and TA exercises are done by gently drawing the lower tummy in like doing up a low button on a pair of jeans.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ training program for the PF and TA muscles, and many women are inadvertently contracting the core in the wrong way if they only learn from a brochure. it is essential for this to be individually assessed and an individualized program to be put in place.
However, once you have established that you are correctly activating these muscles, it would be ideal to implement some exercises involving the PF and TA muscles into a regular workout.
This is why (modified) pilates training is so ideal for pregnancy - because the whole idea of pilates is based around activating the core.
These exercises should be correctly taught in person, but as an example, you could try swapping sit ups, planks and pull ups for more pregnancy-friendly core exercise options:
- Sitting ball leg lifts
- Four-point kneeling opposite arm and leg lifts
- Modified side plank exercises
- Standing straight arm theraband pulls
FitRight Bump&Me exercise classes provide core muscle and low level resistance training for all stages of pregnancy, see the website for more information about these safe, physiotherapist-led, rebatable courses:
If you would like to learn more about safe exercise during and after pregnancy, and have a pelvic floor muscle assessment with a specialist physiotherapists, come and join us for one of our upcoming PregEd workshops: