Is it safe to train during pregnancy?

First time mothers tend to have a lot of different opinions floating around them from friends and loved ones regarding training during pregnancy. The majority of these opinions have a tendency to be geared towards resting and not putting the body through ‘stress’. This is not just limited to first time mothers. Some mothers who are pregnant with another child still get these opinions expressed to them, so were going to tackle some of the main issues as to why people believe that training during pregnancy is a negative thing, including this barrier.

Training whilst pregnant is such a taboo subject and has been for a while. I completely understand where this has come from because before I became qualified to train pre & post natal clients, I used to be one of the people who believed that exercise would impair pregnancy. I was scared to go near pregnant ladies because I was worried that I could damage the baby!

Once I became qualified, my view on this changed drastically. In fact, my view was the complete reverse! Post qualification, the idea of not training during pregnancy was unfathomable. Training during pregnancy has increased some women’s control over how they feel, how they eat, the birth and the post natal period.

So, lets go through some of the ideas that may turn you off when it comes to training during pregnancy. 

 

What if my heart rate goes too high?

Classic question that has mum’s to be feeling skeptical to continue/begin training during pregnancy. The mythology of a high heart rate during pregnancy comes from old research that suggested healthy women should keep their heart rate between 140 - 150 beats per minute (bpm) but recent research suggests that something called the ‘talk test’ should be used to measure exertion levels because not everyone’s fitness levels are the same. For instance, someone who had run multiple marathon’s before becoming pregnant would most likely require a greater push to reach a high heart rate as opposed to someone who is very sedentary and doesn’t train at all. This talk test would be used to measure how hard someone is working based on whether they can hold a conversation whilst training. I suppose using this test would allow us as trainers to push our pre natal clients to a much more specific threshold rather than using just heart rate to measure difficulty.

Of course, it would be foolish to totally disregard heart rate as a measure of intensity, and it should be used to base the foundation on how you, the client, should be feeling. Remember, you’re in charge. Only you know how your body feels and therefore you are the true measure of intensity. My advice is, if it doesn't feel good, don’t do it!

 

Im not allowed to do any work on my core!

Actually, thats not entirely true. Some core work will benefit you throughout both the pre & post natal periods. Now before you begin going for a quick set of crunches, we need to be clear on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Diastasis Recti, or abdominal seperation is quite common and noticeable in the post natal section of pregnancy and happens when the foetus pushes against the abdominal walls and forces them to separate from the middle. This can be made worse by the crunching of the oblique muscles which are found on the side of the lower part of your torso, so any kind of side bends or crunches to this area are a no-no. This is the same for the rectus section of the abs, which is traditionally known as the ‘six pack’, so basically, no crunches really. 

So what can I do?

Isometric contractions are types of contractions where the length of the muscle doesn't change and these are the kind of exercises we want to incorporate into the training programme to strengthen the core, so exercises such as plank's or V sits would be much better.

 

I can’t be bothered to workout, I'm so tired!

This is a common concern in the pre-natal period, in particular the third trimester. As weight increases from the growing foetus, the stomach protrudes forward more which, to put it into context for the guys, is like carrying at least 5 bag’s of potatoes. Not very comfortable. That additional weight can make everyday tasks such as walking very arduous. 

Bearing this in mind, the idea of exercise would turn many people off, but there are many advantages to training during this crucial stage of pregnancy. I mean, there are a few exercises that can be done seated which is always a bonus for weary legs. Firstly, keeping the body moving is important not only for physical benefits but also metal benefits. Exercise for some women during pregnancy can be used as stress and/or pain relief, fun, and control over gaining any excess weight. This brings me onto my next point…

 

I don’t want to put on too much weight!

Putting on weight during pregnancy is completely normal and most women put on somewhere between 11-20 kilograms (kg). It is important to understand that during pregnancy, were not training for an aesthetic look, nor are we training to improve our bodies in terms of any fitness aspects (e.g. strength, speed, etc). Training should be based around maintenance of current muscle and of base fitness levels which can, effectively can keep the body shape and body fat in a good place.

To answer the question that this article poses, yes, it is safe to train during pregnancy. There are many benefits to exercising before and after childbirth including increased energy, stronger core and possibly even an easier birth! Of course, all exercise should be checked and approved by your doctor before your take part.

 

References

  1. R Artal, M O’Toole - Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians an Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol 37, 2003
  2. Dianne Duncombe, BB.Sc. (Hons), Eleanor H. Wertheim, MA Ph.D. , Helen Skouteris, Ph.D., Susan J. Paxton, Ph.D., Leanne Kelly, BB.Sc. (Hons) - Factors related to exercise over the course of pregnancy including women’s beliefs about the safety of exercise during pregnancy. Midwifery, Vol 37, 2009
  3. Kelly R. Evenson, PhD, MS, FACSM, Ruben Barakat, PhD, Wendy J. Brown, PhD, MSc, FACSM, Patricia Dargent-Molina, PhD, Megumi Haruna, Ph.D., Ellen M. Mikkelsen, PhD, MPH, RN, Michelle F. Mottola, PhD, FACSM, Katrine M. Owe, PhD, Emily K. Rousham, PhD, and SeonAe Yeo, PhD - Guidelines for Physical Activity during Pregnancy: Comparisons From Around the World. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Vol 8, 2014.