In this era of prenatal fitness, most women know that exercise during a normal pregnancy is safe. Yet, when it comes to the particulars – Is it ok to work my abs? Do I have to stop running? Should I keep my heart rate low? Can I START exercising now? These myths and misconceptions that hold women back seem to persist. I’m here to offer you a reality check on the fitness myths that just won't die.
Pregnancy is the ideal time to get moving. When you’re considering activity during pregnancy, the real risk is inactivity. Inactivity, especially during pregnancy, contributes to excess weight gain, high blood pressure, increased aches and pains, and puts pregnant women at an increased risk for Cesarean section and gestational diabetes. If you have no prenatal medical complications, as much as 60 minutes of moderate activity is safe for you to perform. There is no need to go any higher than a moderate rate of exertion as you can get all of the benefits from that pace.
Strength (resistance) training during pregnancy can lead to joint injury. While it’s an absolute truth that pregnancy fills your body with a hormone called relaxin, a low to moderate strength intensity program is safe…even for novices. In a 2011 study, 32 women tracked over 12 weeks showed no adverse effects while performing a low to moderate about of resistance training. Be mindful of your intensity to control blood pressure responses and make sure to let your doctor know if you experience any dizziness, headache or pelvic pain. Consider hiring a personal trainer who is experienced in prenatal training to help you get started on a safe program. Machines, free weights and body weight exercises are all options to have a safe and healthful strength training program….and no, squats will not trigger labor!
Athletes can no longer train to the level they’re used to. Although your doctor (and hopefully your common sense) will not recommend an all out, full intensity workout, you can maintain your regular training program as long as you have no complications and your doctor gives you the “OK.” A recommendation of closer medical supervision may be a wise choice. Make sure you’re watching your core body temperature, stay hydrated, and avoid exercising in the heat of the day. Avoid working so hard that you can’t catch your breath, but otherwise, there is no need to limit your heart rate to the requisite 140 beats per minute. Decades ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended a ceiling of 140 heartbeats per minute for pregnant women, but the guideline was later withdrawn because heart rate differed so much from one woman to the next. Just listen to your body, make sure you can speak comfortably, be flexible, and back off on days you don't feel as energetic.
Running is unsafe during pregnancy. This is an easy one to debunk. You are not going to shake your baby loose; he or she is extremely safe in the amniotic fluid. As long as there are no changes in your joints and ligaments you can continue running. Again, listen to your body!
Core exercise is a no-go. Expecting women can absolutely perform core exercise. In fact, strengthening your core can lead to a better delivery experience and a faster recovery postpartum. According to the ACOG, “Strengthening of abdominal and back muscles could minimize this risk (of low back pain). Blood volume, heart rate, stroke volume, and cardiac output normally increase during pregnancy, while systemic vascular resistance decreases. These hemodynamic changes establish the circulatory reserve necessary to sustain the pregnant woman and fetus at rest and during exercise. Motionless postures, such as certain yoga positions and the supine position, may result in decreased venous return and hypotension in 10–20% of all pregnant women and should be avoided as much as possible”.
Consider performing your abdominal exercise in a standing or kneeling or semi-upright position. Stand upright and exhale, drawing your navel in toward your spine (like you’re trying to pull up your skinny jeans!) and hold for 20 seconds. Inhale and repeat. Perform this exercise 10-12 times once or twice per day. You will thank yourself during those hours of pushing to bring your baby to the world.
The bottom line on prenatal exercise is that you are making a life but that doesn't mean that you need to put your life on hold! Throw out the old thought process that you need to be relegated to power walking and Kegels (although those are SUPER IMPORTANT) and get moving!