During pregnancy your body undergoes substantial physiological changes. Relaxin is one of the hormones that increases during pregnancy and it makes ligaments and muscles more flexible. This, as well as the gradual increase in weight during pregnancy puts more load on your muscles, joints and ligaments and often leads to musculoskeletal pain/discomfort. To help prevent and manage any pain/discomfort as well as promote a healthy pregnancy most health authorities recommend 30 minutes of exercise every day for women with an uncomplicated pregnancy. As your stomach and bust grows it is common to experience fatigue in your back and shoulders. Strengthening your body can be a good idea to increase your tolerance to the physical changes that occur. Moderate strength and cardio training both provide strong benefits. By having a strong posture capacity you will have more options in how you stand, sit and move; which can potentially decrease the risk of discomfort and keep you more active. Observational studies shows that women who are regularly physically active during their pregnancy:
- Increase less in weight
- Have a decreased risk of pre-natal diabetes
- Generally experiences an easier pregnancy and childbirth
- Have a lower chance of developing pregnancy-/postnatal depression
- Have more normal vaginal deliveries, shorter active redemption time and fewer complications before birth
Good guidelines to follow during an active pregnancy:
The goal of your pregnancy should be to keep the baby and yourself safe and in the best possible condition and environment for a successful birth and post-natal experience. Since everyone has a different background, lifestyle, as well as reaction to pregnancy, the exercise protocols need to be individualised. Your previous experience with exercise will be a good guideline for how to progress.
Low – moderate strength and cardio training:
Upper and lower body can benefit from strength and cardio training during the pregnancy such as being able to carry the gradually increasing load and to carry the baby after birth. Reduce the intensity of the workout by 20-30% or decrease the volume to 6-8 reps from your previous experience with exercising before pregnancy. Limit activities that include jumping and landing or explosive lifting. After your first trimester you can experience dizziness, nausea and lightheadedness by lying or exercising in supine position. This may occur since the position could cause the weight of your enlarging uterus to compress on blood vessels and restrict circulation to you and your baby.
Cardio can consist of aerobics/running/swimming in the pool, cycling, fitness ball, interval walking/jogging. To train strength may not necessarily mean that you should use weights. It might as well be using for example your own bodyweight, TRX, rubber bands or a fitness ball. There is no specific reason why you should train moderately, but it is recommended to be sure that the blood flow level is stable and that your body temperature does not get too high. Studies done on pregnant athletes show that the fetus is not harmed by the mother exercising up to 80% of maximum heart rate. While doing exercise it is important to listen to the signals your body is giving you and adapt your exercise to it.
Activation of the abdominal muscles
This is particularly important to help the back to support the growing belly, and to have some extra help during the press phase of birth. When exercising the abdomen you should avoid the tougher abdominal exercises such as sit-ups and long static plank variations. This is because about halfway through the pregnancy (earlier for the second time pregnant and later for first time pregnant women), the rectus abdominis muscle divides (rectus diastasis) to make room for the growing belly. Many feel, therefore, that the stomach comes forward as a “peak” and increases the abdominal pressure. Recommended exercises as dynamic plank with a holding time of 5 seconds or simple exercises for activation standing on your all fours or supine. If you are able to complete exercises in supine position without any of the symptoms mentioned above. TRX, training with fitness ball and abdominal workout from a sitting or standing position are other good options for abdominal exercise.
Pelvic floor exercises
A good starting exercise is to try to stop urination while on the toilet. When doing this you get the correct contact with the muscles in your pelvic floor. When you have the connection with the right muscle you can start doing contraction exercises of the pelvic floor. A good position for activating the pelvic floor is in a standing or seated position. These exercises can also be done in supine position as long as you do not experience any of the symptoms mentioned above. It is important to not contract the glutes or thighs while doing the pelvic floor exercises.
During pregnancy stretching of the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors can be important. This is because these muscle groups can get shorter and tense because of the changes in the posture that may occur. At the same time we know that the ligaments and muscles are extra flexible during the pregnancy and it is not recommended to stretch each muscle for longer than 20-30 seconds.
If you experience any pain or discomfort in the pelvis you should stop. Alternative exercises with lower impact are always possible. Remember all pregnancies are different.
Have fun and enjoy your pregnancy and working out.