Fitness During Pregnancy Tips

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Why is the ball a good prenatal exercise?

Staying Stable

Incorporating the Stability Ball into prenatal conditioning effectively engages your core musculature. According to Sheila Watkins, of Healthy Moms Fitness:

“Clinical observations involving the use of a stability ball with prenatal clients have shown a low incidence of back pain in late pregnancy, strong, firm abdominal muscles and increased core stability.” Simply sitting on the ball improves your posture, making it a great place to perform strength- training exercises.

Strengthening your upper back muscles is a prenatal priority. After childbirth, you will be in a forward flexed posture for many hours of the day. Exercises requiring the shoulder blades to pull together prevent the round-shouldered posture sometimes seen in new moms.

A great exercise for these muscles requires a partner. You'll need two stability balls, and two resistance tubes with handles. Sit facing each other on the ball. Start out with your feet close to your partner's. Partners take the tubing behind their back, under the shoulder blades. Hold on to the handles of your partner's tube, one in each hand.

  • Inhale to prepare
  • Exhale. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows, pointing them behind your back.
  • Inhale and return
  • Keep your torso stable and upright
  • Important! Both partners work simultaneously, at the same speed! For a challenge, slowly straighten your legs as the elbows bend.
  • Hug the baby with your belly” on the concentric phase
  • Draw your pelvic floor up like a hammock” on the eccentric

The adductors or inner thigh muscles are important for expectant moms. When active, they stabilize your knees and your pelvis. Relaxin causes hyper-flexibility in your adductors, making you prone to injury. Many popular adductor exercises involve a range of motion that may be unsafe for a pregnant exerciser. The solution may be found in the medium sized balls sold at toy stores. Seated on the stability ball, place the smaller ball between your inner thighs. Inhale to prepare. Exhale and squeeze the ball. Good news! You can do this while performing most upper body exercises. Be sure to sequence your exercises so that you work the larger muscles, chest back and shoulders, prior to working your biceps and triceps.

This squat variation is great for pregnant women since it works many muscles simultaneously.

  • Stand on a resistance tube
  • Feet parallel, pelvic width apart
  • Hold one handle in each hand. Arms are straight.
  • Squat, as if you were sitting on a big chair.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together, bending your elbows, aligning them with your shoulders. On the third repetition, keep elbows bent, and slowly stand up. You will feel resistance on the way up.
  • Perform seven more repetitions of this sequence.

Why is functional exercise important during pregnancy?

Functional Fitness for Functional Moms

A recent trend in the field of sports conditioning advises us to “train the movement not the muscle.” Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with prenatal exercise? In many ways, pregnancy is an athletic event. Think about it. Your body must adapt to changes in your center of gravity. As the hormone relaxin takes effect, balance and stability are challenged.

The human body works as an integrated system, and should be trained with programs that use the sum of its parts working in concert, as opposed to single muscles working in isolation. Motherhood is the ultimate form of multi-tasking. Being a Mom is a dynamic activity. It requires dynamic strength, dynamic balance and dynamic flexibility. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “dynamic” as being “characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress,” and being “related to energy or to objects in motion.” The movements of motherhood involve consistent changes in energy, direction and intensity. Nothing is predictable. Toys are dropped. The baby gets bigger week by week. Mom is in constant motion as she goes about her day. Have you ever seen a mother stand still and “bicep curl” her baby? I think not!

Dynamic motherhood requires a dynamic training plan. Programs that enhance functional strength, balance and flexibility are more effective than static isolation exercises. The body's core stabilizers keep the “function” in the word functional.

The transverse abdominus and the pelvic floor are used in sport conditioning, as a means of enhancing alignment and stability. Core stability facilitates, agility, quickness and coordination. These qualities are basic requirements for the sport of Motherhood.

Let's take a look at a common movement of motherhood. Bending down to pick up either your baby, or your baby's toys, will be an essential part of your day. Your doctor will remind you to bend your knees to protect your lower back. Ironically, many women end up hurting their knees, if their legs are not strong enough.

Practicing squats may be a solution. Stand with your feet in parallel alignment, about hip width apart. Pretend that you are going to sit on a big, comfy chair. Bend your knees, maintaining parallel alignment. As you bend, think of “hugging your baby with your stomach” to activate your transverse. As you straighten your legs and return to the starting position, feel your pelvic floor being drawn up like a hammock. To make this exercise even more functional, add weight. You can use resistance tubing under your feet, hand weights, or a body bar. Hold the resistance with both hands. When you come down into the squat, perform a “row”. Bend both elbows, making a letter “T” with your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Straighten your arms. Then straighten your legs.

Why should I practice core exercise during pregancy?

The Core of Pregnancy

Even if you decide to work at a lower intensity, pregnancy is a great time to develop an awareness of your deeper core muscles.

Interactions between the transverse abdominal muscle and low back pain were researched at the University of Queensland, Australia. The transverse should activate prior to movement to provide stability. Muscle tests showed that individuals without low back pain activate their transverse abdominal muscle before using the muscles needed for specific movement. People with back pain activate the transverse after the other muscles, thus compromising spinal stability.

Core activation may alleviate some of the back pain associated with pregnancy. Practicing your Kegels will activate another core stabilizer, the pelvic floor. Although many images are used to find these muscles, some women like to imagine it as a hammock drawing upwards. Try it now! Does your back feel straighter?

To find your transverse abdominal muscle, exhale. Upon exhalation, this muscle presses against your diaphragm to expel the air. Give it a try! Gently place your hand against your belly. First inhale. Now exhale. Notice how your belly pulls away from your hand? You can also activate your transverse abdominal muscle by gently drawing your abdominal muscle inwards. Think of “hugging your baby with your belly.”

During labor, your transverse abdominal muscle and pelvic floor will be active. Activating them at will, serves as a “dress rehearsal” for the big event. Using your breath to find the transverse abdominal muscle enhances strength training efficiency. And as your labor coach will tell you, breathing is important during labor.

Strength training coaches advise us to “exhale on exertion.” The exertion phase of a movement is called concentric contraction. The muscle shortens as it goes through the movement cycle. During this phase, exhaling on movement initiation enhances form. Inhale in preparation for the movement. Exhale as you move, “hugging the baby with your belly.”

The return phase of a strength training exercise is called eccentric contraction. The muscle lengthens with contraction. Maintaining good form during this phase doubles the exercise benefits. Practice your Kegels during eccentric movement. Inhale and return. Draw your pelvic floor up like a hammock.

What are the benefits of prenatal strength training?

Benefits of Prenatal Strength Training

Being a mom is an athletic feat. It's a dynamic, activity, requiring constant changes in energy, direction and intensity. While new moms prepare for the challenge of lifting a child whose weight increases weekly, expectant moms adapt to changes in their center of gravity and postural alignment. Pregnancy hormones may cause too much mobility, making balance and stability a challenge. A fitness plan that integrates strength training with postural alignment and stability will prepare you for the first “Main Event,” childbirth, and the subsequent events involved in “bringing up baby.”

An article in "The Physician and Sports Medicine" journal describes the benefits of strength training for women.

  • Enhanced bone modeling to increase bone strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Stronger connective tissues to increase joint stability and help prevent injury
  • Increased functional strength for sports and daily activity
  • Increased lean body mass and decreased nonfunctional body fat
  • Higher metabolic rate because of an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence

For expectant moms:
  • Reducing the risk of osteoporosis means that you will be active with your child reaches adolescence. Increasing joint stability is an important component of prenatal fitness programs. The hormone relaxin increases with pregnancy. While its purpose is to relax the pelvis for labor, its systemic effect might cause instability. Strengthening the muscles around the joint prevents injuries, and enhances stability.
  • Functional strength training that uses different muscle groups simultaneously prepares you for the multi tasking involved in motherhood.
  • A toned muscle has an elevated metabolic rate. While weight loss during pregnancy is not an issue, strength training may prevent excessive weight gain.

James F Clapp MD. Discusses prenatal strength-training benefits in his book, Exercising through Your Pregnancy:

"Regular, sustained, weight bearing exercise is the best type of exercise for pregnant women because it clearly complements the adaptations to pregnancy. However, the proper frequency, duration and intensity will vary from woman to woman.

Many factors influence your frequency, duration and intensity. Participation in a strength- training routine prior to pregnancy may enable you to maintain that program, with some modifications, for most of your pregnancy. Inactive women should seek their doctor's advice.

What are some of the benefits of prenatal exercise?

Benefits of Prenatal Aerobic Exercise

Dr. James Clapp is one of the most respected authorities on prenatal exercise. In his book, Exercising through Your Pregnancy, he advises women that moderate exercise during pregnancy regulates weight gain and alleviates back pain. In a study that appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics, December 1996, Dr. Clapp found that women who exercised during pregnancy experience an average of 21 percent less weight gain than sedentary women. He also found that children of exercising mothers measured about 10 percent less in skinfold and weight measures than those of the non-exercising mothers. So exercise during pregnancy night even be a way to prevent your children from having future weight problems.

Some of the other benefits of prenatal exercise include:

  • Improved circulation and flexibility
  • Increased energy, strength, endurance, and muscular coordination
  • Reduced discomfort from water retention
  • Reduced tension, stress and depression
  • Fewer stretch-marks, varicose veins, and abdominal separation
  • Decreased likelihood of postpartum depression
  • Increased ability to relax
  • Improved calcium absorption

Can I lie on my back during pregnancy?

Prenatal Exercise: ACOG Guidelines

In 2002, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also known as ACOG revised their stance on exercise during pregnancy. While past guidelines for prenatal exercise have always been conservative, the newer guidelines present far fewer restrictions. Perhaps the most radical changes in position involve their recommendations regarding heart rate during prenatal aerobic exercise. It was once believed that heart rate should not exceed 140. However, given that a pregnant women's maximal heart rate is often higher than the usual 220-minus age, many women were hitting that 140 beats per minute mark without any significant exertion. The modified guidelines suggest that pregnant women follow the perceived exertion scale. Here are some of the other ACOG guidelines for prenatal exercise.

  • Women are advised to avoid exercise in the supine position (lying on the back) after the first trimester. Since the weight of the growing fetus puts pressure on the vena cava, the supine position is associated with decreased cardiac output in most pregnant women.
  • Pregnant women who exercise in the first trimester should protect themselves from excessive heat by drinking plenty of fluids and wearing loose comfortable clothing. Steer clear of yoga classes where the heat is turned up to 100degrees..
  • Contraindications to Exercise: Some conditions should be considered contraindications to exercise during pregnancy. These include pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and second or third trimester bleeding. Additionally, if you have medical or obstetric conditions such as chronic hypertension or active thyroid, cardiac, vascular, or pulmonary disease, ACOG advises you to consult your doctor about participating in a prenatal exercise program.

Is it safe to exercise after delivery?

Post Partum Exercise

Although most experts agree that you can resume exercise when your body feels ready, many will advise you to wait until after your six-week post partum check-up. In general, if you were active throughout your pregnancy, provided you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you can safely perform a moderate workout within in a few days after delivery. However, if you had a c-section, it behooves you to wait six to eight weeks after delivery. That being said, light walking during this time frame will help prevent blood clots and other complications.

Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a c-section, the relaxin hormones will remain in your system for three to five months after delivery. This will cause your joints and ligaments to be somewhat lax. For this reason, you will need to exert caution when practicing yoga or other flexibility exercises.

Many women are concerned that post partum exercise might interfere with their ability to breastfeed. However, research has shown that even vigorous aerobic exercise will not affect the composition of your breast milk.

Post Partum Abdominal Exercise, Closing the Gap: During you pregnancy, it is possible that you have developed a gap in your abdominal muscle. In general, it takes four to eight weeks to close this gap. Although you should avoid doing crunches until the gap is closed, continuing to practice your Kegel exercises will keep your deeper core muscles healthy and active.

Which exercises will get me in shape after having my baby?

Pospartum Exercises

It is important to allow your body time to heal before jumping into a fitness health routine. Here is some advice for your postnatal workouts:

Kegel Exercises: Your doctor probably told you to do these while you were pregnant, but it is very important to include these in your postnatal workout. These strengthen your pelvic muscles and help you with bladder control. Do them by contracting the muscles of your pelvic floor, similar to what you do when you hold your pee. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times per day.

Abdominal Exercises: When you are pregnant your abdominal muscles actually develop a gap as your belly expands. After you give birth, it can take up to eight weeks for this gap to close. To prevent muscle damage, avoid doing crunches or any other abdominal exercises before this gap heals.

Pilates and Yoga Poses: These are excellent ways to slide back into your fitness routine. They reduce stress and improve your circulation. There are certain poses to avoid, so sign up for a postnatal yoga class at your local gym.

Walking: This is an excellent activity to do after giving birth. Walk for up to a half hour three times per week during the first few weeks of postnatal exercise. After a month increase the frequency of your walks and incorporate some light sculpting moves.

Why is it so imortant to stay hydrated when you're pregnant?

Drink Plenty of Fluids!

If you make the decision to exercise during pregnancy, it is extremely important to stay hydrated. When you are pregnant, you loose two to three quarts of water per day through urination and perspiration. There is about one quart of amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby and is replenished by your body every couple of hours. You also need fluids to transfer nutrients to your cells and take away waste products. Because of these reasons it is important to drink the recommended 64 ounces of water per day.

When you workout and perform pregnancy exercises, or anything that elevates your temperature, you lose more body fluids. Make sure you drink water before and after you exercise. Avoid caffeinated beverages, as these dehydrate instead of hydrate you. Keeping hydrated will also prevent ailments such as constipation, bladder infection and even premature labor.

If you drink plenty of fluids and stick to healthy recipes, you will be well on your way to having a healthy body and baby.

How can I gain weight in a healthy way while I am pregnant?

Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Most women gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy, though this can change depending on your BMI. Stick to healthy recipes and moderate exercise to keep off extra weight and maintain your fitness health.
Add about 300 extra calories per day to your diet and take prenatal vitamins to ensure that you get the right amount of nutrients. Most women get intense cravings during pregnancy which could be the result of nutritional deficiencies. It is okay to indulge in your food cravings every once in a while, but try to discover the root of your craving to truly satiate it. Are you craving something salty, sweet or sour? Creamy or crunchy?

Some women opt to keep a daily journal in which they record their weight and diet for the day. It is important to keep track of your weight to ensure that you grow at a healthy pace and get the right nutrients. During their first trimester women usually see marginal weight gains, but when women get into their second and third trimesters weight gains rocket to about a pound per week.

What stretches can I do while pregnant?

Pregnancy Stretches

Stretching is one of the best ways to maintain your fitness health level during your pregnancy. It keeps your muscles from tensing and helps you relax. Besides the basic yoga poses, there are lots of other stretches that will help you feel more comfortable and relieve the pressure on of your joints.

  • To stretch your lower back, lie on your back with your arms outstretched and knees bent. Slowly angle your pelvis and legs to one side so your knees rest on the floor. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and switch sides.
  • With extra carried weight, your hamstrings may become tired and tight. To stretch them out, sit on the floor with one leg extended and one leg bent towards you, forming a “4” shape with your legs. Reach for your extended foot with both hands. When you feel a stretch, hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then switch legs.
  • Stretch your chest and shoulder area by standing towards the corner of a room with your feet about two or three feet away from the wall. Keeping your feet planted, put one hand facing upwards on one wall and the other hand on the other wall also facing upwards. Bend your elbows and lean towards the wall, keeping your legs straight. You should feel a stretch across your chest and shoulders. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • For a good inner thigh stretch, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. With your feet flat on the floor, sink into a squatting position using a chair or wall for balance. Rest your elbows on your knees and relax your abdominals. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

If you do these stretches along with pregnancy exercises it will ease the birthing process and make it easier for your body to slip back to your pre-baby weight.

Can I do yoga while I am pregnant?

Yoga During Pregnancy

Yoga is one of the best ways to exercise during pregnancy. Not only can it help you with the physical stress of pregnancy, it can also help you manage the emotional stress that often comes with having a child.

After the first trimester, avoid yoga poses that require you to lie on your back or stretch or put pressure on your abdominal muscles. Use a chair or wall to steady yourself during standing poses, as your center of gravity shifts along with your pregnancy. Most importantly, if you feel discomfort, STOP. Here are some yoga poses that are safe for pregnant women in any trimester:

Cow Stretch- This stretch can help prevent back pain. Starting on all fours, drop your stomach and relax your abdominals, curling your toes under your feet. Look towards the ceiling and hold.

Cobbler's Pose- This stretch, which is also known as a butterfly stretch, will open your hips and stretch your groin muscles. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Keep your back straight while keeping your feet together and bring them towards your body. Stop when you feel a stretch and tilt your pelvis towards your feet.

Pelvic Tilt- This move should ease the muscles in your lower back. Start this subtle movement by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. If you are uncomfortable lying down you may stand. As you exhale, tilt your pelvis towards your head and feel your lower back press against the floor. Hold this position for several seconds and then relax your muscles.

Is it safe to work out while pregnant?

Is it Safe to Exercise While Pregnant?

For years doctors believed that exercise during pregnancy damaged the fetus. Recently, however, that belief changed and there is even evidence to suggest that women who exercise during pregnancy deliver healthier babies. Exercise also affects common conditions during pregnancy such as fatigue, swollen ankles and back pain.

It is safe to follow your normal fitness routine during your first trimester. Pay attention to your body and scale down your fitness health workout if you feel as though it is too much. Do not exercise in excessive heat or humidity. Your body temperature affects your baby's body temperature, so do not become overheated. Monitor your heart rate and breathing when exercising and do not allow your heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute, as your baby's heart rate is reflective of your own.

Reduce the intensity of your workout as your pregnancy progresses. High impact exercises such as running and biking can be uncomfortable. Try switching to a lower impact activity such as yoga or Pilates. It is especially important to avoid bouncing movements in your third trimester, as this puts pressure on your pelvic floor. Make sure to talk with your obstetrician before starting an exercise routine during pregnancy to ensure that you and your baby will be safe.

Is it safe to do Pilates during pregnancy?

Prenatal Pilates

By now you are probably aware that no two women's bodies respond the same way to pregnancy. Some workouts will be suitable for some women during pregnancy and not for others. Researchers have found that during a normal, healthy pregnancy, moderate exercise will not harm the fetus. Exercise is also said to prevent some of the problems associated with pregnancy, which include varicose veins, hemorrhoids and low back pain. However, a woman's body goes through dramatic changes during pregnancy. As such, your Pilates program must be adapted and modified as your pregnancy progresses.

For example, during the first trimester, Pilates sessions may need to be adjusted around your fatigue levels. As your pregnancy progresses, the demand on your superficial abdominal muscles will need to decrease. During the second trimester, these muscles have a tendency to become overstretched. This can sometimes results in what is called a diastasis recti, which is a separation of the abdominal muscles. Since a diastasis recti can reduce abdominal support, there is a greater risk of injuring the lower back.

Furthermore, because of the secretion of relaxin, a hormone that is prolific during pregnancy, the ligaments which surround the joints may become lax, thereby leaving them loose and susceptible to injury. For this reason, you need to be careful not to overstretch. However, it is important to continue strengthening and rebalancing the muscles around the joint. This will support he body as it goes through the pregnancy-related postural changes and prevent the injuries associated with hyper-flexibility.

Today many guidelines for pregnancy suggest that after approximately the 16th week of gestation, the client should avoid lying on her back. This is due to the fact that the maternal blood supply and subsequently the fetal blood supply may be adversely affected in this position. However, by using the spine supporter as well as various modified positions on the reformer and Cadillac, you will be able to safely continue with your Pilates program.

What aerobic exxercises can I do while pregnant?

Aerobic Exercises for Pregnant Women

You made the right decision by deciding to maintain your fitness during your pregnancy, but perhaps you are wondering which aerobic exercises are best for you and your baby.

Trade contact sports and other activities that could put your body in harm for low impact exercise such as power walking or swimming. Water takes pressure off your joints and allows you to exercise most of the muscles in your body. Check your local gym for low impact aerobics classes specifically designed for pregnant women. Yoga and Pilates offer great low-impact exercise and also help mothers-to-be with deep breathing and stress reduction methods. Yoga poses offer great stretches and help you locate your center of gravity, which is ever-shifting while you are pregnant.

Be aware of the intensity and frequency of your workouts and stay in tune with your body. Always speak with your obstetrician before you start exercise during pregnancy. Healthy recipes for pregnancies do not include overexertion and exhaustion, so make sure you get plenty of rest between workouts and listen to what your body needs.

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.
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