pregnant

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).  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, you baby is filling out the space in your uterus. Lying flat on your back can actually put pressure on the vena cava artery restricting blood flow to your heart. This ultimately can restrict 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, if you plan on lying down for longer periods, it’s best to workout elevated, using a wedge or bolster. 

Working out during pregnancy in hot conditions is 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.  Pregnant women are actually more likely to become overheated and dehydrated during exercise, so stay out of the heat, drink plenty of water and take plenty of cooling breaks.

Myths

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

Getting your heart rate up during exercise is completely healthy 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 guidelines for heart rate, but if you get symptoms such as dizziness, headache or heat exhaustion, this may be 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. Always consult with your doctor before exercise.

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 a great way 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, you may want to look into hiring a prenatal trainer to help you with the proper techniques. 

 You shouldn’t exercise your abs while pregnant.

Spinal flexion exercises, like sit ups and crunches, during pregnancy may cause separation of the abdominal wall. This condition is know as diastus recti.  During the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, you also want to avoid ab exercises that require you to lie on your back for long periods of time. Lying on your back can compress the vena cava artery, restricting blood flow to you fetus. The best exercises to strengthen your core during pregnancy are isometric spine stabilizing exercises. These exercises include, planks, side planks, Paloff Presses, bridges, bird dogs and single leg lowerings. 

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. If you are unfamiliar with how you should exercise or what activities are safe, invest in taking prenatal fitness classes or hiring a prenatal trainer.