Pregnancy Workouts …What are you waiting for?

Yes, pregnancy workouts! There’s no need to wait for that jogging stroller and your new little workout partner to get moving. Exciting news of a new baby and nine months of “taking it easy” is a thing of the past. Lucky for us gym rats, there is no evidence that kick butt exercise can harm our baby or even cause a miscarriage. That is just old, out-dated information that leaves us moms-to-be, scared, confused and frustrated.

How Hard Can my Pregnancy Workout be?

Like I said before, the idea of keeping your heart rate below 140 bpm during your pregnancy workouts is outdated as well. A more accurate evaluation of intensity would be your Rate of Perceived Exersion (RPE), or how you feel based on a scale from one to ten. No, this isn’t the time to start training for a marathon or pushing yourself to the max in an effort to increase your fitness level. These next nine months are about maintaining your current level of fitness so that you can pick up as close to where you left off after your little workout partner arrives. So, as a general rule, keep your RPE in the 5-6 range during pregnancy workouts.

What does RPE mean?

Just to give you a heads up…your 6 (RPE) pre-pregnancy probably won’t be the same as your 6 while you are carrying. In short, we naturally produce more blood during pregnancy and our heart has to work over- time to circulate all that extra blood. This increase in blood is responsible for fatigue, nausea and dizziness during the first trimester…just a side note (Clapp, James F III MD, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy).

Since our heart is already working harder, we don’t need to exercise as hard during our pregnancy workouts to reach the same intensity level we would before pregnancy. So, don’t panic because your warm-up now feels like your peak intensity… you’re still receiving the same heart healthy benefits that will pay off in the delivery room and after.

It also doesn’t help that moms-to-be naturally breathes 40-50% more air in an effort to get rid of all that extra carbon dioxide that is circulating around their blood (Clapp, James F III MD, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy). As a result, you will feel out of breath at a lower intensity…no, you’re not out of shape. It’s just your body’s way of adapting to having a new little someone inside you...all the more reason to listen to your body and follow the Rate of Perceived Exersion scale.

What does RPE mean?

Side note…no the baby isn’t being deprived of oxygen during your pregnancy workouts. Exercise actually makes the placenta stronger and more efficient, according to James F. Clapp III, M.D.

First Trimester

  • Cardio…keep doing what you were doing. No restrictions…still, not a time to rapidly increase your intensity or duration.
  • Strength Training…keep it up! It is safe to continuing lifting the same amount of weight you were lifting before. However, no need to increase weight. And, never hold your breath while you are lifting. BREATHE!

    More on Strength Training and the amount of weight and number of reps you should do.

  • Resist the urge to skip your pregnancy workouts. ACOG recommends 30 minutes most days of the week. I remember being so tired during this trimester. I would decrease my intensity or commit to a shorter run. Those endorphins would kick in and lift my mood…sometimes my shorter run turned into a long run because I felt so good! Five days of structured exercise is still okay!
  • Stretching should be a part of every one’s exercise regimen. It’s a great time to try a pregnancy yoga or pilates class. It’s a great addition to any program and you’ll meet moms-to-be that are experiencing the same things you are.
  • No need exclude moves that are performed on your back yet…that’s a misunderstood guideline too, but we will cover that later.
  • New to exercising…start out slow and find a type of cardio you enjoy at an intensity that you can sustain for 15-20 minutes, 3 times a week…work your way up to 5 structured days of exercise. In terms of strength training, start out with moves that use your body weight (wall sits, wall pushups) and or light weight exercises to build your strength slowly. Do 12-15 reps and work your way up to 2-3 sets. Don’t forget, never hold your breath!

    More on Cardio Exercise

    More on Strength Training

Second Trimester

  • It’s time to kick those activities that hold high risk of abdomen trauma to the curb. Avoid activites such as softball and you bike enthusiasts should find a good indoor cycling class as that belly starts to throw our balance off.
  • As discussed earlier, this is the trimester that your heart starts working harder to circulate the increased volume of blood that accompanies pregnancy. Decrease your intensity by 10-20% to offset this, says Clapp. Listen to your body and continue to work at an RPE of 5-6. You might not be running as fast, but your body is still working just as hard!
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness is also a side effect of the increase in blood volume. Avoid positions that put your head below your heart…downward dog for you pilate and yoga enthusiasts.
  • Strength Training…again, avoid moves that bend at the waist causing your head to dip down lower than you heart (single leg deadlift, bent over rows). Also, avoid over head moves such as the military press as they put undue stress on your lower back. As our bellies grow, so does the lumbar curve in our back…no need to put any more pressure on it. However, continue to strength train 3 times a week (never consecutive days) using 12-15 reps.

    More on the amount of weight and number of reps you should do

  • Abs…don’t quit now! Abdominal strength is so important when it comes to supporting that belly bump and preventing back pain. They also help guard against those dreaded leaks that might occur when you laugh or sneeze by reducing the stress on your pelvic floor. They will also come in handy when it is time to push during labor.
    • ACOG recommends that you avoid crunches on your back after 20 weeks. However, according to Clapp (and numerous articles I have read in Shape, Fit Pregnancy, American Baby, etc), performing exercises in the supine position (on your back) for a short amount of time in not likely to harm the baby.

    • Even Bruce K. Young, co-auther of Miscarriages, Medicine and Miracles (Bantam,2008) believes “you would feel uncomfortable long before your blood flow (to the uterus) was compromised” (American Baby, July 08).

    • Again, listen to your body…if you become uncomfortable or light-headed, switch to your side (I will post some ab exercises you can do on your side soon!).

Third Trimester

One More Thing

Almost forgot, increase your warm up to 8-12 minutes at low resistance (3-4 rpe). This is very important when it comes to avoiding joint injuries. You have less synovial fluid in you joints which lubricate your joints. A longer warm-up ensures that the synovial fluid is releases.

Also, don't disregard your cool-down either. Give yourself about 5 minutes to let your heart rate return back to normal and aid in decreasing the lactic acid build up that is responsible for the delayed on set soreness.

Always consult with your doc before starting your pregnancy workouts. If you have a history of miscarriages, you might want to avoid high intensity exercise. There just isn’t enough research yet. Talk to your doctor to find a workout plan that fits your situation. Swimming is always a good option!

Bottom Line!

If you are a healthy mom-to-be with a normal pregnancy, have at it! Pregnancy workouts are truly is the secret to counteracting that oh so dreaded postpartum weight gain.

More Interesting Pages

Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy
Third Trimester Exercise
Exercise After Pregnancy
Warning Signs…Know when to stop!
What does RPE mean?
Pregnancy Diet Fit 2 Deliver
Tips and Tricks to help with Morning Sickness
Foods to Avoid during pregnancy

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