Research and studies have shown that if done properly, exercise during pregnancy is not harmful. It did however take a few years to come to this conclusion. Guidelines released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have changed significantly from the 1950’s to now.
Back in 1950, the recommended exercise guideline suggested no more than 1 mile of walking per day, broken up into parts. In the 1980’s the guidelines increased to, no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise with a maximum heart rate of 140 beats per minute. Still not very generous.
Finally in 2002, the ACOG released its most recent guidelines for Exercise while Pregnant, which states that healthy pregnant women can adopt the activity recommendation for the general population, which is 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week.
But what type of exercise is best while pregnant? The answer to this just depends on what your fitness level was prior to becoming pregnant. If you weren’t particularly active before, now is not the time to pick up a work out regime, however if you were already active and plan to continue throughout your pregnancy, it’s important to know what to AVOID doing while pregnant.
Exercises Requiring Excessive Skill
This is not the time to start learning new, complex movements. Stick to what you know and are already good at. Which means, try to avoid any fancy “Instagram” exercises, or complicated movements like olympic lifts and kettlebell complexes that look cool, unless you are already competent in them.
High Impact Activities
During pregnancy, your body increases the production of certain hormones, that increase joint laxity and soften the ligaments around joints. Thus, doing activities that subject your body to quick sudden movements, especially with directional changes, ie. agility drills and high impact sports such as football, rugby and soccer should be scaled back or avoided.
The problem with heavy weights isn’t necessarily with the weights themselves. On the contrary, you should actually be trying to maintain your strength and muscle tone, with moderately challenging weights, to contrast the increased joint laxity. The problem occurs, when you hold your breath attempting to lift a heavy weight. This causes an unnecessary increase in your heart rate and blood pressure and can divert blood away from the womb while holding your breath in an attempt to move a heavy weight.
As we already know, your body naturally becomes more relaxed and flexible during pregnancy due to an increase of certain hormones, relaxin and progesterone. Thus, stretching during pregnancy should not be excessive. You will want to avoid “forcing” any positions, hyper-extending any joints, excessive flexion of the spine and instead focus on relaxing through your stretches to help alleviate any discomfort or pain.
Extended Time in the Supine Position
While laying on your back may seem like a great idea, after the first trimester, the fetus can compress your vena cava, a major vein that runs up the back side of the abdomen, which is responsible for returning blood to your heart. Besides affecting the mother, this restriction can potentially reduce blood flow to the uterus as well. So avoid long periods of supine exercise and instead switch to side-lying exercises when appropriate.
Not Listening to Your Body
This seems like a “common sense” rule, and it really is. For example, while running may seem like an off-limits exercise, if you are an experienced runner (or experienced exerciser), you should be very in-tune with your body, and you will know when you need to stop running or how much you need to scale back by. The general rule of thumb is to scale back your normal intensity by 20%, but if you are in-tune with your body, you will know if you need to scale it back more, or less.
Not Being Consistent
I wish everyone understood this rule, as it hold true to everyone, not just expectant mothers. Regular and consistent exercise activity is safer and more beneficial than intermittent, sporadic on-again, off-again exercise. At least 3 days a week of moderate exercise or activity is recommended.
Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
This blog post was contributed by Ryan Couri, a Strength, Conditioning and Fat Loss Coach and Head Coach of Instinctive Performance. He is a Martial Artist, Movement Explorer and Master Trainer for Fitness Kickboxing Canada. Instinctive Performance specializes in Small Group Personal Training, both online and offline, for women who are looking to get stronger, fitter and feel more confident.
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