Points to Consider When Exercising During Pregnancy

Fiona Sullivan is a level 3 qualified Personal Trainer, having completed the Diploma in Personal Training with YMCA Fitness, one of the UK’s leading trainers of fitness professionals. She’s passionate about exercise and taking up new challenges, as well as encouraging others to reach their own health and fitness goals and making exercise an important part of their lives. Here are her thoughts on exercising during pregnancy.

When I was pregnant with my first child I wanted to do everything I could to make sure the baby was safe, I guess that is a mother’s natural instinct and number one priority and so it should be. There are many arguments for and against exercising whilst pregnant and it is a completely individual choice. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth….

1. Background

I am a runner and in the same year but prior to falling pregnant, I completed the London marathon for the second time. I wanted to continue running whilst pregnant but personally I just didn’t feel comfortable, the thought of the baby bouncing around didn’t sit right with me. I was curious at the time to find out whether it was in fact safe to run whilst pregnant, or what other exercises were recommended. This curiosity led to me completing the qualification in ante and post natal exercise, having achieved my Diploma in Personal Training. When I became pregnant for the second time, after completing these qualifications, I decided to try running again and this time it felt more comfortable, perhaps it was more of a mental barrier the first time and being equipped with the knowledge I had gained gave me the confidence to continue. I kept on running as long as I felt comfortable doing so, which in my case was around 22 weeks. Each person is different though and I know that some professional athletes carry on training whilst pregnant even in to the last trimester.

It completely depends on what your body is used to and how fit you are in your current lifestyle. 

2. Reasons FOR exercising when pregnant

  • less backache, improved posture
  • faster post natal recovery
  • helps to control weight gain
  • better circulation, meaning a reduction in leg cramps and varicose veins which are common during pregnancy
  • improved sleep
  • a beneficial effect on labour

3. Reasons AGAINST exercising when pregnant

  • reduction in blood flow to uterus
  • risk of muscular injury
  • risk of maternal and fetal hypoglycaemia
  • lower birth weight of infants at delivery (certainly not the case with my 9lb 3 baby!)
  • hyperthermia

4. Exercise sensibly

Being pregnant it is not the time to start on a vigorous training plan, if your body is used to exercising regularly then you can continue much the same, up until the 3rd trimester at least but with caution and some alterations. If you don’t currently do much exercise then it may be an idea to start upon something more gentle that will assist you with your labour and once the baby is born. You can avoid all of the risks listed above by being aware of your body, not pushing your heart rate too high, making sure you stay hydrated and eat a nutritious, balanced diet, wear appropriate clothing. 

5. Changes to the body that will impact on exercising:

  • Abdominal muscles

During pregnancy the abdominal muscles have to stretch to accommodate the growing uterus, they also help control the tilt of the pelvis and stabilise the spine. It is important to exercise them during pregnancy so they are better able to do this. It will also help these muscles regain strength and tone more quickly after the birth.

  • Pelvic Floor

The pelvis floor muscles support the abdominal organs and growing foetus and has the ability to stretch to allow for the birth of the baby. If these muscles are strong they will be able to stretch to allow the baby to pass through and return to normal afterwards. If the muscles are weak this can leas to stress incontinence. Therefore pelvic floor exercises are particularly important before and after birth.

  • Relaxin

The role of this hormone is to relax the ligaments of the pelvis and allow separation of the joint surfaces, however Relaxin is not able to confine its effects to just the pelvic area, so it can affect other parts of the body and this must be taken into consideration when exercising.

6. The stages of pregnancy

Exercise will vary per trimester. In the first trimester it is common to experience morning sickness so you might not feel like exercising or may have to plan it at different times of the day. This is a critical time for foetal development when the nervous system, sensory system and main organs are formed. It is important therefore to reduce intensity of training to be on the safe side and focus on correct technique. During the second trimester you may feel quite tired so it is important to rest when your body needs to. When working with pregnant clients, I recommend resting during the last trimester with just some light walking and pelvic floor exercises. This is time to prepare for birth with possibly some breathing exercises and relaxation such as pregnancy yoga.

7. Recommendations

I highly recommend seeing a Personal Trainer or exercise professional before embarking on any form of exercise programme to ensure the exercises are appropriate and safe. It is really important to monitor intensity during exercise also and a PT can do this for you. I have worked with several pregnant clients who want to stay fit and healthy through their pregnancy. Don’t just take my word for it though, here is a quote from Vanessa:

            “I trained with Fiona when I was pregnant with my third child last year. She really made me feel at ease with my changing body shape and adapted all exercises accordingly. We worked specifically on Pelvic Floor exercises on a weekly basis and, although tough at the time, I definitely think this has helped in the recovery process post-birth. Exercising throughout pregnancy helped me feel fitter and stronger, both physically but also, as importantly, emotionally and mentally. Fiona always allowed me to dictate the pace and intensity of our workouts depending on how I was feeling that day. I would wholly recommend exercising through pregnancy and really enjoyed our sessions together!”

For any further advice please get in touch:

email: fionasullivanpt@outlook.com

telephone: 07737.565.610

twitter: @fesullivan

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www.personaltrainersullivan.co.uk