THREE PART PREGNANCY SERIES #1: EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY

Exercise during pregnancy can be a controversial and confusing topic. Often women fall pregnant and then immediately worry if the exercise they have been doing is safe for their baby and what they can now continue doing, some women give up their exercise routine altogether. It can be confusing when trying to look for information on safe and effective workouts for all stages of pregnancy. Even with social media you see those that encourage very low impact and intensity exercise to those continue kickboxing or powerlifting up until delivery date - what is actually right for you?

Being pregnant doesn't mean you have to give up resistance training or any form of activity that you enjoy for that matter. There are many benefits to continue incorporating regular physical activity into your weekly routine given that you have consistently undertaken this form of exercise prior to falling pregnant and have no contraindications. Regular activity during pregnancy is beneficial to both you and your baby, not just physically but for your mind and spirit also. 

EVERYONE'S PREGNANCY JOURNEY IS DIFFERENT:

  • You may find that you have morning sickness (that lasts all day) up until 16-20 weeks, or you may have none at all.
  • You may get pubic symphysis dysfunction or pelvic girdle pain, you might not
  • Your energy levels may be rock bottom, or they may be similar to before you fell pregnant.

The list is endless, but it is important to recognize that everyone is different and what one woman is able to continue doing may be completely different to another.

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT IS AND ISN'T SAFE FOR ME?

Early on in pregnancy you may be experiencing morning sickness, have a desire to keep your pregnancy a secret and be dressing and exercising as though you are not pregnant. In the early trimester you need to be mindful of your baby’s organ development and your body’s core temperature as early miscarriage is more prevalent in these early weeks.

Once you reach about 16 weeks (some practitioners recommend at 12 weeks), it is advised you avoid any exercises that involve you lying flat on your back to avoid supine hypertension. Exercising on an inclined bench however is a great option to still perform a wide range of exercises or attend your favourite weekly Pump class.

As you enter your second trimester you may start to notice your baby bump, altered posture and possible back pain. The hormone relaxin is also increasing within your body which increases joint vulnerability, so whilst you may feel a little more bendy at your yoga class, its important not to over stretch. There is also added pressure and weight on your pelvic floor and altered mechanics of your core so it Is important to avoid performing any kind of abdominal crunch or trunk flexion from here on in.

As you reach 28+ weeks and enter your third trimester this is a major time of growth for your baby. You may experience feelings of fatigue(again), interrupted sleep, fluid retention and weight gain which adds to the additional load on your legs, back and pelvis and can often be when you begin to experience pelvic joint pain.

CONTRAINDICATIONS TO EXERCISE WHILST PREGNANT:

If you have any of the following you should discuss with your doctor or medical practitioner prior to undertaking exercise to understand your condition and ensure you do not do anything that could aggravate or worsen it. Then seek advice from an adequately trained fitness professional in the pre/post natal field such as a suitably qualified personal trainer or women’s health Physio:

  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Restrictive lung disease
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Ruptured membranes (water have broken)
  • Maternal heart disease
  • Preterm labour
  • Persistent bleeding
  • Uncontrolled hypertension

RESISTANCE TRAINING:

If you have been a regular weight trainer prior to falling pregnant it is great to continue lifting weights throughout your pregnancy. Keep the following in mind though and be sure to adjust the intensity, duration and rest throughout your workouts:

  • Decrease the intensity
  • Volume can remain high, given that the load remains low
  • Monitor your heart rate and use the Rate of Perceived Exertion to keep your workouts in a comfortable and safe zone (you will notice that you feel less fit than you used to with all that extra blood volume pumping around your body)
  • Increase your rest periods
  • Body weight, fit ball and resistance tubing workouts are great to keep load on the muscles but decrease the intensity
  • Decrease the load
  • Monitor the duration – don’t try to be a hero and do you normal 60 minute workouts. 20-30 minute circuits are great to target your anearboic energy systems and give your body that ‘after-burn’ effect, whilst not flogging yourself.

CARDIO:

Again, monitor your heart rate and use the Rate of Perceived Exertion to keep your workouts in a comfortable and safe zone. Your heart rate zone will be dependent on your pre-pregnancy fitness levels, but generally keeping it below 150bpm is advised. Otherwise the RPE scale means that you want be exercising at an intensity that you would be able to hold a conversation or sing whilst you are exercising, on a scale of 6-20 you want to be about a 12-14.

  • Avoid high impact or contact activities. You can still do your favorite aerobics class but be sure to take the lower options.
  • Swimming, cycling and walking are great low impact cardio forms. Listen to your body
  • Keep sessions short but regular. Maybe you used to do 60 minutes of cardio regularly, to be mindful of your heart rate and core body temperature anywhere from 20-40 minutes is plenty.

I also recommend adding in regular yoga or pilates to your workout routine whilst pregnant. Yoga is a fantastic form of exercise to help you connect with your breath, baby and body and a great stress relief. It can help you prepare for the fears of labour and birth and nourish your mind, body and soul. Pilates is also a great form of exercise to connect with your pelvic floor muscles, posture and abdominals in a safe and effective manner to keep the core unit and pelvic muscles strong as they become stretched and loaded over the 9 months.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

  • Avoid overheating – keep exercise to the cooler parts of the day, in air conditioned environment and always have water with you
  • Keep well hydrated before, during and after exercise – drink all the water ladies
  • Be mindful of your centre of gravity – as your belly grows your COG beings to shift and you may find you are off balance more easily
  • Listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right – STOP. If you heart rate is feeling a little high or you a re out of breath – REST. Now is not the time to be running marathons. You may feel great while you are exercising, you may find you are shattered later that afternoon or pull up quite sore the following day.
  • You don’t want to finish your workout feeling completely smashed. Your body is already working overtime to grow and nourish that little human inside of you.
  • Seek professional advice – if you are unsure, speak to a suitably qualified professional, womens health physio or your doctor
  • Everyone is different – just because the lady next to you is still jogging, doesn’t mean that is right for you and your body.
  • Fuel your body with a wide variety of healthy, whole and nourishing foods. Give your bub the best possible head start – everything you eat goes towards your baby. Try your best to eat well.
  • Enjoy the journey! Remember physical activity is to keep your mind and body healthy as you progress through pregnancy. The added benefits of regular exercise are just a bonus.

This topic could be discussed in great detail… and for days! There is no way that I can cover it all in this blog, and I am not attempting to. What I do encourage is for Mumma's to keep moving in a safe and effective manner that is suitable for them. The above are general guidelines and we are each completely different on our pregnancy journey's, there is no right or wrong way to go about it.

Regular physical activity during pregnancy is beneficial to both mum and bub, with some key considerations to be taken into account. Remember to monitor your intensity levels, watch the impact and listen to your body. I encourage you to keep physically active throughout your pregnancy and make time for you. Movement does great things for our mental and physical health, so keep moving, keep positive and always listen to your body.

If you are unsure remember to seek advice from a trusted professional. You should always consult with your doctor prior to undertaking a new or continuing with a current fitness regime to ensure you do not have any of the contraindications listed above. I also recommend seeing a women's health physio to assist in making an assessment of your pelvic floor so that you can do you best to safely keep moving Mumma’s!

If you'd like a safe and effective exercise program whether pre or post natal in the comfort of your home or the gym get in touch with me  x

To make sure you don't miss out on the next blog in this three part series be sure to subscribe below! Part two coming soon: Nutrition during pregnancy.

Photography thanks to Matthew Jewkes

SHAPING YOUR LOWER BODY - BENEFITS OF UNILATERAL MOVEMENTS

Squats, deadlifts, leg press; all great compound exercises that are effective in building strength and conditioning your lower body.

Often overlooked though are the unilateral or single leg movements that should be incorporated into your workouts if you are after shape, tone and strength through your lower body.

I am a big lover of unilateral movements. I find them very challenging and it helps you realise what areas or sides of the body require a little more work when they are singled out.

Unfortunately I’ve recently started to avoid the single leg movements for the lower body and will do for the remainder of my pregnancy as it started to contribute to some pelvic girdle pain. I can honestly say I’m missing my lunges and single leg squats. But for those of you that don’t have any PGP and are looking to change up your leg routine a little and start seeing some changes to your lower body, I highly recommend incorporating some unilateral exercises.

Unilateral movements are fantastic for:

  • Increasing your strength – that one leg has nowhere to hide and can’t rely on its buddy to help it out of the exercise. All of the focus is in the one leg at a time. When coupled with a healthy diet assists in improving muscle tone and shape of the area due to the recruitment and activation of various muscle fibres.
  • Improving your balance – standing on one leg can be challenging at the best of times. When you add movement into that or some added resistance it will really challenge both your balance and posture, leading to:
  • Improved core strength and stability – your core muscles need to work harder and remain activated to assist in balance throughout the movements, resulting in a stronger core.
  • Assists with muscle activation and recruitment – performing unilateral movement’s forces you to focus on the specific muscle groups you want to recruit to successfully complete the exercise. This helps build that mind-muscle connection and activate muscle fibres that might normally go unnoticed when performing a normal squat or deadlift.

Some of my favourite single legged exercises for shaping and toning the lower body are:

  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Back stepping lunges
  • Side lunges
  • Single leg hamstring curl
  • Single legged press
  • 45 degree side single leg press
  • Single legged deadlift
  • Pistol squat
  • Cable kickbacks
  • Donkey kicks

When performing single leg exercises form is super important and in benefiting from the results and avoiding injury. Be sure to start with body weight or light resistance. Some of the above exercises also really challenge your balance so are great at assisting to improve this and your proprioception. To make them more challenging keep the tempo to a 1:3 or 3:1 ratio or even super slow, add in some bottom half pulses or isometric holds to really feel the burn.

Add 1-2 of these exercises into your next leg routine, or perform a circuit of 3-4 of them on a regular basis to help see some changes to that lower body.

Brooke x

IS IT TIME TO MIX UP YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE?

It has been shown that cross training is an effective (and fun) way to reach you fitness and weight loss goals

When we continually do the same thing over again our clever bodies adapts to the energy systems used and become more efficient.

This is why you may feel that you stop seeing results in terms of a weight loss goal you may have, that your best time of a 5k time trial is just not improving or that you just can't seem to increase the weight on your bar in the squat track in pump of the gym.

Depending on your goal there may be one form of training that works for you. However incorporating a mix of strength and conditioning, plyometrics, stretching and endurance/steady state based training into an exercise plan can often be more effective than one of these on their own.

So do you regularly hit the pavement, gym or prefer it in the pool? It might be time to change it up to challenge your body and fitness trying something different - even add in a few intervals to your usual lap routine, an incline to your daily jog or some time under tension to your weights.

Keep the body guessing!

Brooke x