The truths and myths of working out while pregnant.

The truth about fitness and pregnancy from the eyes of a prenatal trainer

As a Prenatal and Postnatal Certified Personal Trainer, I have worked with a variety of clients in all different phases of motherhood.  I get a lot of questions about working out through your pregnancy, so I wanted to write this article to point out some common myths and also share some experiences from my clients that I have trained in the past.

TRUTHS

 Sit Ups and Crunches during and after pregnancy should be avoided.

It’s true, sit ups and crunches may cause splitting of the abdominal wall, also known as Diastus Recti. This can be permanent if not treated.  Not only are sit ups and crunches one of the least effective core exercises in general, but they also put too much emphasis on the upper part of your core (rectus abdominis) which usually is the most overactive part of your abdominals.  Your growing fetus is already stretching the linea alba, which is the connective tissue that attaches the muscles at the midline of your stomach. Repetitive spinal flexion can cause irritation to that tissue, which is what causes the separation know as diastius recti.  You are better off doing isometric exercises that work the abdominal muscles while stabilizing the spine.  Strengthening these muscles can help reduce lower back pain during pregnancy.  Some examples of isometric core exercises are bridge, bird dog, plank, side plank, and Paloff Press.

You shouldn’t lay on your back for long periods of time while exercising during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.

Once you are in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, space in your uterus starts to become limited and lying flat on your back can actually put pressure on the vena cava artery restricting blood flow to your heart, which ultimately restricts blood flow to your baby.  The warning signs are clear because you will start feeling dizzy and nauseous in that position.  While short periods of time on your back may have no effect, and not every woman may experience discomfort in this position, if you plan on lying down, it’s best to workout elevated, using a wedge or bolster. 

Working out during pregnancy in hot conditions bad.

Heat is hard on the body whether or not you are pregnant.  While it’s healthy to sweat and get your heart rate elevated during your workouts, if your body temperature becomes higher than 102.2 degrees fahrenheit, you may be over heating.  This can cause headaches, heat stroke, dehydration, dizziness or heat exhaustion.  This is not healthy for you or your baby’s circulation.  As a pregnant woman, you are actually more likely to become overheated and dehydrated, than a regular person. Your baby is already warm enough surrounded in amniotic fluid, which is a slightly higher temperature than your body heat at roughly 99.7 degrees.  Saunas or jacuzzis are a definite no.  So it’s true, just to be safe, stay out of the heat while you are exercising.  Drink plenty of water, stay in shaded or air conditioned areas while working out and take plenty of cooling breaks.

Myths

You should keep your heart rate below 140 beats when you exercise.

When it comes to getting your heart rate up during pregnancy, it’s completely healthy and actually good for you and your baby.  According to the the Department of Health and Human Services, a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise spread throughout the week is recommended.  There are no specific heart rate guidelines to follow, however you can use the talk test. If you are working so hard that you can’t speak during your workout, this may be a sign that you are overdoing it, especially if you start overheating, getting a headache, flushing in your face or getting dizzy.  These symptoms are a sign that you should stop exercise immediately, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you are decreasing blood flow to your fetus.  Know the warning signs and listen to your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain conditions like history of preterm labor, incompetent cervix, placenta previa, heart disease, high blood pressure or type 1 diabetes may cause higher risk of health problems during exercise, so always consult with your doctor and stop if you feel discomfort.  

Lifting weight is dangerous.

As long as you have proper technique and correct breathing, there is no harm in lifting weights while pregnant.  In fact, functional strength training exercises like squats and lunges are great to build strength in your core, hips and glutes.  This can prevent lower back pain and ease labor.  However, if you are not familiar with weightlifting and functional strength training, or you were not doing it before your pregnancy, you may want to look into hiring a prenatal trainer to help you with the proper techniques.  The last thing you want to do is hurt your back or strain a muscle while you are pregnant because of bad form.  The best and the most common repetition scheme that I use for my clients while weight lifting is 2-3 rounds of 12-20 reps of light to moderate weights.

 You shouldn’t exercise your abs while pregnant.

Yes, it is true you do not want to do spinal flexion exercises like sit ups and crunches during pregnancy because that may cause separation of the abdominal wall know as diastus recti.  You also do not want to do ab exercises on your back for long periods of time in the 2nd and 3rd trimester since that can compress the vena cava artery as the fetus grows (lying on an incline is recommended).  With my clients, I usually strengthen their core as much as I possibly can during the 1st and early 2nd trimesters.  I focus on isometric spine stabilizing exercises that strengthen the transverse abdominals, obliques and rectus abdominals.  These exercises include, planks, side planks, Paloff Presses, bridges, bird dogs and single leg lowerings.  During the 3rd trimester, I commonly hear that core exercises can become uncomfortable for some women as the belly gets bigger and there is more pressure on the core muscles.  With my experience, this varies from woman to woman.  I once had a client that I had doing planks until 3 days before she gave birth and she ended up having a very easy labor.  Other client’s I have had, prefer to skip certain core exercises because they feel it’s uncomfortable.  In that case, squats are a great core and pelvic exercise that puts less pressure directly on the core muscles.

Truth

Listen to your body, be familiar with the exercises or activities you choose to do and avoid activities that put you in an uncomfortable position or physically harm the fetus.  If you are unfamiliar with how you should exercise or what activities are safe, invest the money in taking prenatal fitness classes or hiring a prenatal trainer.  Learn how to move correctly and strengthen the proper muscle groups so that you may have the safest and healthiest pregnancy possible.  It’s your health and your baby, so it’s worth it!

Are you training for your body type?

The best way to find a training style that will work for you is to first, identify your body type. The three main body types are Ectomorph, Endomorph, and Mesomorph.  Knowing what body type you are will influence the way you respond to diet and exercise.  Here are the different types…and you can definitely be a combination of multiple.

Ectomorph- Long and lean, may have difficulty building muscle or gaining fat, fast metabolism, low body fat percentage.

Endomorph- Bigger build, shorter, curvy high body fat, usually round or pear-shaped, stores body fat easily, slow metabolism, high body fat percentage.

Mesomorph- Athletic build, muscular, strong, tends to build and retain muscle easily, gains fat easier than ectomorphs but harder than endomorphs.

Ectomorphs have a very fast metabolism and trouble storing fat. This makes building muscle very difficult for this body type.  Cardio is usually limited to the minimal healthy limit because burning calories through high-intensity cardiovascular training is not required.  Ectomorphs need a lot of calories in order to gain muscle or body fat, so basically, you can eat like a horse!  This type of person can usually consume more carbohydrates than other body types because ectomorphs need a high carb diet to sustain energy since their metabolism is very fast.  Now, remember that not all carbohydrates are created the same.  White bread, sugar, white rice are quickly processed by your body and turned into sugar, which will not provide sustainable energy.  Complex carbs are the best way to get sustained energy, i.e. whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, lentils, and beans.  Ectomorphs should also eat a good amount of protein and healthy fat in order to build and retain lean muscle mass.  If an ectomorph is trying to gain weight or build muscle, I recommend eating protein and complex carbs frequently throughout the day and right before you go to bed.

The recommended training regimen for Ectomorphs is a strength training program that focuses on big muscle groups, perhaps a 3-day split of moderate to high volume of total body functional movements. The rep scheme for endomorphs is  4-6 sets of 8-12 reps and you will need to use heavy weights.  This keeps your muscles under tension longer, so you will build more.  Rest between sets is usually 1-3 minutes since the lifting is more intense.  You can even implement supersets or a pyramid rep scheme to build more strength. 

Overall, a solid strength training program is prioritized over cardio for this body type.  Men, make sure to strength training your bigger muscle groups, like your legs and core, it will actually pump more testosterone to your body so that you will build more muscle overall! So don’t skip leg day! 

Endomorphs have a slower metabolism and tend to store fat more easily. A strict diet is more important for this body type, limiting carbs, alcohol and sugary foods while replacing it with vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbs and lean protein.  Leafy greens, protein and healthy fats like avocados will help the body burn fat to keep you lean.  Overall this person needs a very nutrient dense diet in order to help store less body fat.  Sorry endomorphs, but your diet is the most strict, but the good news is, if you get your diet on point, you will respond relatively quickly to a training program.

Beginner endomorphs should start on a low impact exercise plan to avoid injury and overtraining, but eventually, work up to daily moderate to high-intensity cardio and total body circuit style training.  The typical strength training rep scheme to lose weight and lean out is 15-30 repetitions, 2-3 sets.  Intermediate to advanced endomorphs can implement moderate to intense circuit style training into their regimen to lose more weight.  30/30 interval training (30 seconds intense work, 30 seconds rest)  is a great way to keep you moving during your workouts and keep them entertaining.  You can play around with interval training using a combination of total body exercises, plyometrics or just hop on a treadmill and run uphill. Tabata, (20/10 interval training) for four minutes is a really challenging one.  It’s a miserable workout, but you’ll feel on top of the world at the end.

Overall Endomorphs should prioritize fat burning through circuit-style/interval training into their routines, and for best results, really hone in on perfecting your diet.

Mesomorphs naturally have a stronger, more athletic and muscular build.  Mesomorphs gain fat easier than ectomorphs but harder than endomorphs. A high protein diet is preferred, with a sufficient amount of complex carbs for sustained energy.  Obviously, you can’t go wrong with a nutrient dense diet, so eat your leafy greens!  However, with this body type, if you have a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, you will become overweight.  Cardiovascular strength is usually not as strong in this body type, so endurance training is recommended.  Yes, I know long intensity cardio can be boring, but if it’s great for the heart than why not!  If you are trying to lose weight and lean out with this body type, moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular training, similar to what endomorphs do is very effective.  If you want to build muscle, you're in luck because you already have the genetic makeup to respond relatively quickly to a strength training program. Typically a total body strength training program of 2-3 times per week of moderate to heavy weights with a rep scheme of 6-12 reps, 3-5 sets will do the trick. 

So overall, depending on your goals, mesomorphs can focus on endurance training and total body strength training.  Oh, and did I forget to mention? Don’t skip leg day!

Sources:

Muscleandstrength.com

http://www.top.me/fitness/men-how-to-train-for-your-specific-body-type-1098.html

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Smoothie Recipes

Here are two of my favorite smoothie recipes!

Power Smoothie

1-2 Ripe Bananas

2 Dates

A scoop of Peanut Butter

Almond Milk or Whole Milk

Cinnamon

Ice

It's very filling and gives you lots of energy! 

Green Smoothie

1 Ripe Banana

Handfull of Spinach

Frozen or fresh mangos

Almond Milk or Coconut Water

1/2 TSP Vanilla

1/2 TSP Lime

Ice

A green smoothie you might enjoy! A great way to get your greens in!

 

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How to kick your sugar cravings.

First, we need to understand why we crave sugar.  

1. You aren't eating enough nutrient dense food and crave a quick fix.  If you haven't eaten enough nutrient-dense calories, your body's blood sugar levels are probably low and your energy is low, so you create a craving for sugar for that quick energy fix.  The problem is, sugar spikes your blood sugar levels temporarily and comes crashing down shortly thereafter.  If you do not feed your body with the proper nutrients for sustainable energy, you begin to crave more and more sugar and it becomes a habit.

2. You've made eating sugar a habit.  Sugar is addictive.  Every time we eat sweets, especially artificial and processed sugars, we get a dopamine rush, our insulin levels spike, creating a temporary rush of energy that makes us feel good. Like any drug, it's a temporary high that has consequences and it turns into a bad habit that can create weight gain, diabetes, quicker aging and a lot more health problems.  The more insulin produced in the body the more fat production. Your body seeks to store sugar in the muscles, but when that is full, it stores sugar as fat.  Processed sugars can even suppress hormones in your body that give you feeling of being full, which can cause you to eat an excess amount of junk food. If you find you are craving sugar, opt out for a healthy snack like a piece of fruit or nuts, because chances are, your body is depleted of nutrients that sustain long-term energy.  Continuously eat throughout the day so that you are not craving quick energy.  The rule of this is that if you avoid sugar for 21 days, you will curb the craving.

3. You need for fiber in your diet.  When your hormones are imbalanced, your body may crave sugar as a result of low insulin and leptin levels.  The best way to get the sustainable energy you need and to help balance out your hormones is to eat fiber rich foods with complex carbohydrates.  Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down into usable sugar, so your energy is sustained for a much longer period of time and does not spike insulin levels too high.  On the other hand, if you are eating carbohydrates that are not fiber rich, like pasta and white rice, you're body is absorbing that food just like it would absorb sugar.  Your body needs the fiber to satiate.

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How to prevent Diastasis Recti through a pregnancy.

Diastasis Recti is "caused by a stretching of the linea alba, the ... tissue that connects the two panels together in the middle,” explains Karen S. Weeks, physical therapist with the Northwestern Medicine Integrated Pelvic Health Program in Chicago.

Usually, this gap occurs during the last trimester and affects those with a multiple baby pregnancy, larger baby delivery or women who are over 35. 

There are some exercise no-no's to help avoid diastasis recti.  Sit-ups should be avoided. You don't want to do any repetitive flexion of the spine during this period, it will just agitate and potentially create more of a separation.  On the other hand, it is very important to do core isolated stabilizing exercises like plank, side plank, paloff press, and anti-rotational exercises before and after the pregnancy. These exercises will help hold together and tighten the muscles of core so that further separation is avoided.

 

Pregnancy Personal Training