by Lori Heck
Attention all new mommies and mommies to be! You are an ATHLETE! That’s right! You are or are about to enter the arena of multi-movement. Whether it is lifting your child, pushing the stroller, carrying the car seat, bending over to change a diaper, or pulling your screaming toddler out of the store, your body is moving in all directions, and more than likely, doing so with some type of resistance! Like an athlete who has trained for weeks to become stronger, agile, powerful, and flexible to take on the demands of his or her sport, you too need to train for the demands of motherhood! However, depending on your fitness level pre-pregnancy, it is important to be aware of the physiological and physical changes that will affect exercise, exercise modifications that will or may be necessary, the wonderful benefits it will deliver, and the precautions to take during and after pregnancy.
EXERCISE FOR MOMMIES TO BE
It is important to include proper exercise and good nutrition into your pregnancy plans not only for the health and well being of yourself, but for that of your baby. Unless your physician has stated otherwise, you will be able to start or continue with your exercise program. In 2002, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended that women who are pregnant should exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes on all or most days of the week. Some of the benefits derived from exercise during pregnancy are:
- Feel more in control of body and mental health
- May help prevent or treat gestational diabetes
- Improved sleep
- Relief of back aches and improved posture
- Helps to cope with the discomfort of labor/delivery
- Reduction in constipation by increasing the movement in the small intestine
- Will regain pre-pregnancy shape more quickly after delivery
Though there are great benefits to exercising while pregnant, there are instances when exercise should be avoided. They are:
- pregnancy-induced hypertension
- preterm rupture of placenta membranes
- preterm labor during current or previous pregnancy
- incompetent cervix
- persistent bleeding during the second or third trimester
- intrauterine growth retardation
Finally, if any of the following occur at any time during your pregnancy you should stop exercise and seek medical attention immediately!
- Vaginal bleeding
- Uterine contractions
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Chest pain
- Increased shortness of breath
- Calf pain or swelling
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from vagina
- Muscle weakness
As long as you do not have any of the above conditions and are cleared by your physician, you are ready to begin an amazing journey of exercise during pregnancy!
If you did not exercise prior to pregnancy or you were sporadic with your workouts, you will want to, if possible, hire a certified personal trainer with para-natal experience. Your certified trainer will ease you into your workouts and prescribe exercises that will increase your muscle strength and endurance for delivery and for the sport of ‘mommy-hood.’ Your trainer will also help give you the confidence and motivation on those days when all you want to do is stay in your pajamas and lounge. If hiring a certified personal trainer is not possible, it is imperative that you educate yourself on what to do, warning signs to watch for, and how to progress. It is not a time to lose weight, unless your physician advises otherwise. It is also not an excuse to gorge on all foods and say you are eating for two, when you actually may be eating for four plus. In fact, an additional 200-300 calories per day is what is recommended for the nutritional needs of both you and baby.
Intermediate to Advanced Exerciser
If you were at an intermediate to advanced level of exercise before pregnancy, you are able to continue at a relatively high level of exercise compared to one who is just beginning. Obviously there are exercises to avoid and precautions to take. For example, any exercise or sport (marathons or triathlons) that place great stress on the body or could potentially cause physical trauma (contact sports) should be avoided. You should be careful not to overheat- the best tool to use for intensity level is the rate of perceived exertion. If you are feeling good then you are probably good; if feeling bad, it’s probably time to back off or stop. Again, if you were at this level pre-pregnancy, you can continue to do most of the movements that you were doing before, but at a lower intensity and making sure it is safe.
Basic Exercises to Increase Muscle Strength and Endurance
A Certified Personal trainer will prescribe, demonstrate, instruct, and correct specific exercises that will mimic the various movements you will use once the baby is born. For example, your trainer would put together movements and utilize equipment such as a medicine ball, kettle bell, or dumb bells to mimic the movement of lifting a baby out of its playpen or crib or even giving him/her a bath. It is important to strengthen and prepare those muscles for the work ahead so that you can perform more efficiently and safely.
Your trainer will also take into account the compromised balance, reaction time, and joint stability as pregnancy progresses. Other changes that will be accounted for when designing a program are the pelvic floor pressure, joint laxity, increased cardiac output, enlarged/sore breasts, and increased heating and cooling capacity (which means extending warm-up and cool-down).
Below are some basic exercises that will help to strengthen and prepare the muscles that will be needed once the baby arrives. For a beginner, it is best to use lighter resistance, higher repetition, and longer rest periods while circuiting through (perform first exercise then move into the next) the exercises.
Exercise Ball Squats with db arm curl: a multi-body movement that will primarily work the legs and biceps.
Push-ups (on knees or toes)- increase strength and endurance in chest, shoulders, and triceps. Will help make pushing movements easier (pushing the stroller, pushing your tot in the swing)
Multi-planar lunges– lunging in different directions. If you know your balance isn’t the best, I highly recommend using a stable object, such as a chair, to help steady yourself until you feel more confident with the movement.
Rows-increase the muscle strength and endurance of the upper and lower back. Will help with any pulling movement and improve posture.
Quadruped– this is a great balance movement the will challenge your core muscles as well as your backside and coordination.
POST-PREGNANCY & EXERCISE
A woman’s body has just endured major changes and events. It will continue to go through changes for several weeks and months after delivery. For a woman who gave birth vaginally, it could be anywhere from 4-6 weeks of recovery before getting back to exercise. For a woman who gave birth via cesarean, it will be longer. Again, the trainer will take into consideration the following physiological factors when designing the postpartum workout:
- Overstretched uterine ligaments
- Possible cramping due to the shrinking of the uterus
- Hot/cold flashes
- Pelvic floor and abdominal recovery
- Possible scar tissue
- Possible postpartum emotional issues
Once cleared by the physician, you will want to ease back into the workouts and focus on enjoying the journey back to pre-pregnancy status. It will happen! Be patient and consistent and focus on the positive. Before you know it you will feel energized, healthy, and fit! Your reward is the amazing person that has now entered your life! By embracing an exercise regimen during and after pregnancy, and hopefully for a lifetime, you are setting a great example for your little one!
Lori is certified through the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) and trains out of Gold’s Gym in Eau Claire. Contact Lori at email@example.com or call 715-271-9678 if interested in free small group training session!