Prenatal exercise: here are the basics

The internet and your trainer do not always know what’s best for you.

This post is by no means meant to scare you or to belittle the work personal trainers and instructors do. I want you to exercise, I just want you to be safe while you are doing so. And unfortunately, there’s plenty of misinformation out there on the internet and on the gym floor about what’s safe and what’s not. So instead of going over every exercise possible to woman, let’s just go over some basic guidelines.

Source: Kristian Sekulic/E+/Getty Images

Source: Kristian Sekulic/E+/Getty Images

  1. Exercise is safe during an uncomplicated pregnancy: According to the guidelines established by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (ACOG's), daily exercise has been shown to improve fitness, encourages a healthy weight, and even reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in some women. Regular, moderate intensity exercise of 20-30 min each day, can be in the form of aerobic exercise and strength training.

  2. Listen to your body: if it doesn’t feel right, change the intensity or load, or just stop. In order to know when something is off, you must first learn how to listen. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, heart palpitations, or breathing becomes challenging, take that as a sign to slow down. Listening to your body can also mean keeping a close eye on your body which leads to the next few points.

  3. Build strength in your abdominals: there’s nothing wrong with exercising your abdominals during pregnancy, it’s how to do so that matters more. Do keep in mind, you will not be successful in building tons of strength in your abdominals that are also stretching to make room for baby (or babies). Your goal during this time period will be to maintain as much abdominal strength as possible.

  4. Strengthen your abdominals the right way: not all abdominal exercises are appropriate during pregnancy, in fact, many of them are just not suitable. High intensity exercises that put excessive pressure on the abdominal muscles include crunches, planks, leg lifts, and pikes, and those are just a few. A good way to know if “that exercise” is right for you is to look at your abdominals. If you notice weird bulging while you do the exercise (such as in the picture above), you’re setting yourself up for diastasis recti that can potentially linger even after baby is here. Instead, try exercises like bird/dog, cat/cow, or modified plank. And definitely don’t forget about the rest of your body. You can easily turn any exercise into a “core” exercise by exhaling and engaging your deep abdominals and pelvic floor (since they act as muscle stabilizers when you move any other part of your body) as you move.

  5. Breathe: please, please, please breathe. If you can’t do a particular exercise and breathe at the same time, it’s too hard for you. This is a clear sign, you should back off. Try exhaling and lifting your pelvic floor (aka kegel) as you perform the hardest part of the exercise to see if it changes the effort for you. And if you’re working with an instructor/trainer who tells you to hold your breath, casually smile and slowly walk away without them noticing. OK but seriously, you should find another trainer who is specially trained in working with the prenatal population.

Remember that our body has undergone miraculous changes in order to grow another life inside of you. Although this can seem like a process that takes longer than it should, especially towards the end, this is a very short chapter in your book of life. During this very short time period of your life, honor and respect your body, take special care of it so that your future self will thank you for not doing harm.

Your pilates instructor, personal trainer, yoga teacher, or that woman you saw on Instagram and YouTube don’t get to live in your body for the rest of their lives; you do. What those social media women do will not have the same effect on your body in this pregnancy, as every body is different.

If you remember nothing else from this, just remember these final thoughts. Make sure your primary care provider knows what exercise program you participate in. And most importantly, work with someone who is specially trained in working with the prenatal population such as a pelvic floor or women’s health physical therapist, or prenatal pilates/exercise instructor. ASK THEM where they were trained and how that makes them qualified to work with you. If they take offense to your probing, move on. Your health is way more important than their ego.

Have a happy and safe exercise!

Main image source: skynesher/Getty Images