Safe and Effective Exercise in Pregnancy

As featured in the August 2013 issue of Zest Magazine

So you and your bump want to do some exercise? Here is how to keep mummy and baby happy and healthy during each stage of your pregnancy. What is most important during pregnancy is that you listen to your own body and trust your intuition. Below are some great exercise tips, but every baby is different and so is every pregnancy. What might be right for another mum-to-be may not work for you. No two pregnancies are the same and how you feel can also depend on if it’s your first baby or not. I would always advise seeking out specific antenatal classes or a fitness professional that specialises in pregnancy exercise, as you’ll get far greater benefit.

Enjoy the process, learning more about your body and keep a positive attitude towards yourself as you and your baby grow together!

First trimester

  • In your first trimester I advise doing functional, low-impact circuit training e.g. squats, middle row, lunges, bent over row as well as core exercises.
  • Start with this and then lower the intensity as you progress, your baby grows in size and your energy levels may vary.
  • Exercise like this will help to set you up with a strong and efficient body. You will be primed to burn fat more effectively than long cardio sessions, and to offset excessive weight gain. Your circulation and lung efficiency will also improve which will benefit both you and your baby.

When doing bodyweight or resistance training, exhale on exertion (generally on the upwards movement) e.g. standing up from a squat, pulling a dumbbell upwards in a bent over row. Doing this switches on your core and pelvic floor muscles, doubling the benefits. Integrating breath with the movement is highly effective and is used in Pilates and antenatal yoga classes also. Learning from a specialist how to contract and also release the pelvic floor will help you have greater control for pregnancy and the birth itself.

Second trimester

  • As your baby grows, you will want to focus on keeping strong for everyday tasks, like lifting heavy shopping/children, as well as promoting good posture, therefore helping to reduce back pain and other complaints.
  • Yoga is fantastic for increasing your fitness in a stress-free, low impact style workout. It also helps in building strength while shaping and toning your muscles, improving posture and building self-awareness and relaxation.
  • Treat yourself to a one-to-one session with a specialist antenatal yoga teacher. This will provide you with tailor made sessions for you and your changing body. Investing in this and getting all the attention to yourself will allow to really reap rewards from your practice.

Poses such as downward facing dog are excellent for strengthening the arms and legs whilst stretching the hamstrings, calves, chest, the arches of the feet and the hands. It is also known to ease stress and improve digestion. Arms binds and chest opening poses will help to reduce tight chest and shoulder muscles and strengthen the back.

Third trimester

  • As you get heavier, begin to focus on the remedial side of physical activity. Buy yourself a ‘Grid’ foam roller, which is a great self-massage tool to release tight muscles using light pressure on key areas e.g. piriformis (muscle in the middle of your buttock), calves, thighs, upper back. You’ll even get a bit of a workout for your arms doing this as you have to support yourself while rolling. Bonus!
  • As your centre of balance shifts with your growing tummy, take time to walk slowly, treading softly through the feet, becoming more grounded as you do so. This will help to improve your sense of balance.
  • In the third trimester, you can still do gentle training but just take longer breaks in between exercises and keep hydrated.

Again, listen to your body. Focus more on pulling exercises than pushing. While cradling and feeding your baby the shoulders can be drawn forwards and upper back begin to round. Therefore pulling exercises like a middle/high row, lat pull down, bent over row will strengthen your back and open up the chest, bringing you more upright while reducing shoulder and neck tension. Add relaxation/meditation and gentle stretching into your day. Never underestimate the power of what a few minutes of calm can do for your body and mind.

Tips:

  • Avoid lying on your back for long periods as the weight of the baby can put pressure on one of the major veins, causing reduced blood flow to the uterus.
  • Swimming is excellent during pregnancy, as you can enjoy feeling weightless.
  • A hormone called relaxin is released into the body to promote joint flexibility in the hips and areas that adapt to make room for the baby. You may become more flexible but take care not to over extend, especially in stretch sessions or yoga class. Avoid workouts with stop-start, jerky or bouncy movements such as squash, as the relaxin makes your ligaments stretchy and joints looser, so you are more prone to injury and falling over.
  • Get into the habit of getting up from lying down with care, by rolling onto your side, pushing up to sitting, kneeling first (or legs over the side of the bed) then standing up as you exhale.
  • Do not exercise if you are experiencing Braxton Hicks in any trimester.
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