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Pregnancy Workout - How To Stay Fit When You're Expecting

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If you’re reading this because you’re a mum-to-be, congratulations! In this article we'll be giving you tips to help you to stay fit and healthy and sharing how you can keep exercising safely while pregnant.

Exercising when pregnant

If you’re not yet expecting but would like to have children in future, rest assured that this huge life and body change doesn’t mean you have to give up your workout routine, in fact the very opposite will be true, as pregnancy-appropriate exercise will help both mum and baby stay healthy during pregnancy and beyond.

My girls are now 6 and 9 years old and I’ve always been active. Terrible morning sickness for the first 3 months aside (when I could barely move from the sofa), I knew that staying active would make the whole journey of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood easier; and both myself and my baby would be getting the benefits.

Unless you’ve been told by your doctor or midwife to avoid exercise for medical reasons, staying active during pregnancy will keep both you and baby healthier, often result in an easier labour, help prevent complications such as gestational diabetes, and reduce excessive weight gain.

If you were active before you became pregnant, there’s no reason to stop what you were doing, though some tweaks may need to be made – especially as you reach the 3rd trimester. If you’re not already exercising, now is not the time to start training for your first triathlon but introducing some activity gradually will really benefit you and baby. Being responsible for another human as well as yourself is a great incentive to start implementing some healthy movement into your life.

Working when pregnant

I already had a job that kept me on my feet most of the day with my first pregnancy, and standing or walking rather than sitting meant I didn’t once get backache because I wasn’t sitting hunched over a computer desk all day. I continued to walk as much as possible (to the shops, or just to go for a walk with my husband or mum), and took up antenatal yoga, Pilates and aquarobics. I wasn’t strength training at the time and knew these would be still beneficial while gentle enough to turn up to a class without the need to hire a trainer. Plus it was a great way to meet other expectant mums and share experiences and tips.

In both pregnancies I had no complications, simple births, and a quick recovery. I credit much of this to being as fit as I could manage, and since exercise is a powerful anti-depressant and mood booster, it helped me to deal with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with becoming a parent too. After both girls were born I got out of the house for daily walks with the pram as soon as possible for some fresh air, exercise and to clear my sleep-deprived head. In fact, even though they’re older, exercise is still my preferred way to spend ‘me time’, and it’s a daily ritual that well and truly keeps me sane throughout the challenges of motherhood.

A little tip; if in the early stages of labour it’s being slow to get going, going for a walk and staying active can really help get things get moving again. I stalled mid-labour at home with my second baby, Bella, and a deliberate power walk up and down the street had us heading to the hospital within the hour it was so effective!

The benefits of exercising while pregnant

By the time you reach 9 months that’s a big bump you’ll be carrying; one that will strain your back if you’re not strong enough to manage the weight. Strong core, back and glute muscles make carrying a baby and the surrounding water weight easier. Those same strong muscles will also come in handy during birth, when your body is tasked with creating contractions to push the baby out. If you’ve not yet experienced that then trust me when I say labour definitely gives a triathlon a run for its money in terms of strength and endurance needed! You become very front heavy with bigger boobs as well as baby bump, so a strong back, glutes and hamstrings are a must for holding up the extra weight.

Then there’s those pelvic floor exercise you hear about and should be doing (you’ll be thankful you did later). What you may not know is these can be incorporated into weight lifting as you brace yourself to lift the weight. An antenatal personal trainer should be able to show you how.

On that note, while weight lifting is excellent for maintaining strength, some lifts and positions may need to be adjusted as you get bigger. This goes for many other exercise types too, as your changing centre of gravity, growing bump, and looser joints (blame hormones for that one) means exercises should be adapted to fit your changing body.

How to stay active during pregnancy

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise classes are usually low impact and a good way to get your heart rate up without pushing yourself to extremes.

Cycling

Low impact and puts very little strain on joints, cycling may only become more difficult once your bump becomes very heavy and your balance may not be as good.

Pilates

Balance, strength, flexibility and posture are all helped with Pilates, which will help you as your bump gets big and heavy to carry. There are special pregnancy Pilates classes all over the country too, which double up as a good way to meet other expectant mothers.

Running

You can continue running while pregnant unless your midwife tells you otherwise. Note that your joints are looser which may aggravate old knee injuries etc, so you could try knee supports while running to see if that helps if this becomes a problem. You might also get out of breath sooner as your growing bump pushes up on your diaphragm and lungs.

Strength exercises

Weight training, body weight training and using hand weights and resistance bands all count. These make your muscles stronger which will really help you as your bump becomes increasingly heavy. Parenting is hard work and you don’t get much respite, so being physically strong will help you beyond the 9 months of pregnancy. If you’ve never weight trained before get some help from someone qualified to coach pregnant women. If you already strength train, most exercises can be continued but it’s worth finding out (either through an antenatal trainer, or find some decent resources online or from books) what may need to be tweaked slightly, especially towards the end when your bump is very heavy.

Swimming

Low impact on (looser) joints, the water supports your bump, and you can go at your own pace while staying cooler in the water. Swimming is fab for expectant mothers, and there are antenatal swim classes in most areas of the country.

Walking

I recommend as much walking as possible to anyone and everyone; it’s free, sociable, can be done in most weathers, gets you some fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, and conveniently just outside your front door! Walking with the pram is an excellent way to get out and active once baby is born too.

Yoga

Like Pilates, yoga is great for posture, strength and flexibility, and also has a big mental and psychological aspect to it using breathing techniques, making it great for relaxation and calming any anxieties you have. Tell your instructor you’re pregnant in case any poses need to be adjusted for you.

Considerations for exercise during pregnancy

Always tell your class leader or personal trainer you’re pregnant, even in the very early weeks, in case they need to give you an alternative exercise to do.

Listen to your body, if you get too hot, feel faint, or something hurts, stop until you feel better. If it keeps happening, tell your midwife and consider whether you’re pushing yourself too hard right now.

Don’t lie on your back for long periods after 16 weeks, and avoid stomach ‘crunch’ exercises and sit ups.

Always carry a drink with you to sip regularly, and don’t let yourself get too thirsty or hot.

High altitude exercise (e.g. mountain climbing) is not advised for anyone who hasn’t trained for these conditions, and this is especially important when pregnant.

Be careful if you are doing exercises where you could lose your balance, such as cycling, horse riding or skiing.

Avoid contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, football, judo or squash (though if you’re in a team you can still continue to do any non-contact training).

During pregnancy, joints become looser and are more prone to injury, so be aware of how your joints feel while exercising and if something hurts, stop and seek advice. It may be as simple as wearing a support garment while exercising, or slightly tweaking some of the exercises you do. Hips are particularly susceptible as they expand to make room for birth.

D-Day and Beyond

Pregnancy and labour experiences are different for each mother and not everything is in our control. But by having a strong, fit body you’ll be as prepared as you can for any challenges that you face. A healthier body is better able to cope with sleepless nights and you’ll have more energy to enjoy time with your new-born. While those early days can be a bit of a foggy whirlwind, especially if it’s your first baby, making time for a 10-minute walk round the block each day then working up to doing some more structured exercise, even if it’s just a few yoga poses at home in your pyjamas each morning, really will help make you a happier and healthier mum. Once your little one is a bit older you can have lots of fun together making a game out of exercise and instilling active living into their daily life too. There’s a place for exercise at every stage of life, and thankfully, that includes pregnancy too!

About the author: Polly Hale is a personal trainer who specialises in training mothers and people with children. 

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