Should Pregnant Women Push Through Workouts?
There could be a lot of pushing before a pregnant woman enters the delivery room, if she trains correctly. Being pregnant and training regularly throughout pregnancy is like the girl at the gym who’s on the stair climber with ankle weights. She’s working twice as hard just to keep up! It’s the perfect opportunity for women to see progress beyond aesthetics. In my first pregnancy as well as my current 8-month pregnancy, I gained muscle, burned fat, and accomplished athletic goals that resulted in me being stronger during and after pregnancy.
Why Should Pregnant Women Work Out?
Despite the extra fatigue and back/body aches involved in pregnancy, not exercising will only make those symptoms worse, unless you have other complications going on. In a healthy pregnancy, exercise not only prevents excess weight gain, but it can also increase a woman’s energy and overall content.
The fact that no pregnancy is alike makes it difficult to declare that fitness is a fix-all for pregnancy blues. However, that fact also prevents me from evaluating pregnancy fitness without giving anecdotal support.
The last thing I want to do is highlight myself, and really, this article is not about patting myself on the back. I’ve trained many pregnant women and been one myself, which has given me the most insight to truly being able to understand the need for pregnant clients to workout.
My intent is to enlighten women to look forward to training instead of fearing it. I truly believe that my high intensity approach to fitness led to my pretty sweet experience of pregnancy:
- Complication-free pregnancy (no high blood pressure, sciatica, etc)
- A mere 25-pound weight gain
- 10-minute duration: start to finish pushing in delivery room
- Healthy 7 lb. 4 oz. baby who passed all his post-natal exams with flying colors
- Ability to enter into my normal fitness routine after only three weeks
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy:
- Reduce backaches, bloating and swelling
- Increase digestion and reduce constipation
- Promotes longer, deeper sleep
- Helps the active woman maintain her pre-pregnant active life and ability to bounce back after delivery
- Increases mental and physical stamina and toughness
- Reduces threat of depression or mental stress
- Sweating helps to detox your body daily
Where Should Pregnant Women Begin?
Discovering a good starting point during pregnancy depends on your fitness level before pregnancy. If you have little to no experience exercising before pregnancy, you should start with 10 minutes or less of easy aerobic movements in order to assess her tolerance. You can still progress naturally like any other person, as you build both cardio and muscular endurance. You can even try new fitness formats that may help hold your interest, as long as you pace yourself appropriately.
What’s a Good Pregnant Pace?
The best pace setting for a pregnant woman is to assess your perceived exertion (PE). On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s usually best to keep PE below a 9 or 10, to prevent your heart rate from getting and staying too high. As long as your heart rate doesn’t linger at or above 85 percent of your max heart rate, there’s not usually any danger to hold a high intensity.
The more active you are before pregnancy, the more room there is to climb up that perceived exertion scale. With a history of exercising at a moderate to high intensity, your body is most likely efficient at recovering to an acceptable heart rate (less than 85 percent of max heart rate). The more proficient you are at recovering your heart rate before, the more proficient you will be now.
Heart Rate Training vs Perceived Exertion
If you’re experienced in fitness, you’re more likely to accurately determine when you’ve reached your highest intensity based on perceived exertion. If not, a heart rate monitor might be an opportunity to educate you on how perceived exertion relates to heart rate activity. Over time, you’ll become more intuitive and rely less on the monitor.
Further into pregnancy, what you do to peak intensity will change over time, so it’s important that you assess perceived exertion consistently. For example, during the first trimester, your intensity may peak at 8 mph on the treadmill. By the third trimester, you may peak at 6 mph. In my experience being pregnant, I found that it was easier to maintain a jogging pace with higher incline and maintain my heart rate, rather than only working speed. Per cardio endurance, you might experiment with different modes of intensity: incline, gears on elliptical/bike, etc.
Can Pregnant Women Lift Weights?
Most definitely. Weight-bearing exercises are one of the best ways to increase core control, strength and balance. I can’t think of a time you need all of those more than pregnancy.
The biggest risk to pregnant women lifting heavy weights is the abdominal pressure and the stress on your uterus. As long as you approach weight lifting with caution and learn to feel your muscles working when doing the exercise properly, pregnancy can be a prime opportunity to build strength and muscular endurance.
Note: as a woman progresses in pregnancy, the hormone relaxin causes her joints to be less stable, so it’s usually best to approach strength workouts with more reps and less weight.
Activities to Exercise Caution:
- Any exercises that require lying on the back (especially during the third trimester)
Instead, try an incline bench or cable machine where you can stand
- Classes that risk direct contact to the core, like boxing or martial arts
Instead, try shadow boxing, kickboxing with a bag or dance
- Activities that risk falling such as skiing or rollerblading
Instead, try walking, jogging, stairs, elliptical, indoor cycling, swimming
Come and Go Exercises
There are some exercises that may work one day, and then not the next day. Pregnant bellies tend to surface at different times. My belly didn’t really start to limit my range of motion until the end of my second trimester. However, I had friends who lost mobility by the end of their first. It’s important to try to find alternatives to exercises that require flexibility or long ranges of motion.
These exercises might work at times during a woman’s pregnancy and may be limited at other times due to range of motion, mobility, cramping, fatigue, etc.
- Deadlifts might turn into single-leg deadlifts.
- Planks may turn into high planks or bridges.
- Weight-bearing exercises may turn into work on the straps, bands or cable machines.
- Running may turn into power-walking up incline.
- Plyometric or high impact jumping may turn into pulsing or isometric movements.
Approved Aerobic Exercises
I’d advocate mommas-to-be always giving 100 percent effort and not slacking for any reason other than it causing harm to the baby, per their medical professional. Your perceived exertion can follow the same rules as everyone else during aerobic exercise as long as your heart rate does not linger above 85 percent of their maximum heart rate for longer than a couple minutes. This may not apply to everyone, but it is a good rule of thumb for the average athlete, in order to prevent an increased body temperature from harming the baby.
Some ideas include:
- Brisk walking
- Rowing (legs wide for belly)
- HIIT classes
How Often Should a Pregnant Woman Workout?
The frequency of workouts depends on your goals. If you’re trying to maintain your current fitness level, then you should shoot for no less than what you were doing before. If you’ve been advised to lose weight or fat before getting pregnant, then you should exercise at least 30 minutes 5-7 days per week.
When Should Pregnant Women Stop Training?
Currently, I’m 33 weeks pregnant and plan to workout aggressively up until the day of delivery. My perceived exertion scale has changed a bit, but the fact that I push my limits has not. In a study from the US National Library for Medicine, pregnant women and their fetal health were evaluated to determine fetal response after vigorous activity. Both active and inactive pregnant women were assessed after performing a peak treadmill test. The research concluded that short intervals of strenuous activity had no indicated negative effect on fetal health. It also concluded that there hasn’t been enough studies done to determine where the threshold for athletic intensity is.
Studies also support that pregnant clients can continue training hard unless they experience any of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Sharp stomach cramps or Braxton Hicks more than 3x in 10 mins
You’ll notice that most of these signs would be applicable for any type of person to exercise caution.
So, it’s okay to push myself even though I’m pregnant?
Absolutely! I’ve seen pregnant women who turn into the most motivated people in the gym. But, I’ve also seen pregnant women who lose all motivation, and this means they could use the endorphins and energy boost exercise promotes even more!
Truly, it’s about having the knowledge of how to address every setback, and that idea can be applied to any type of training or clientele. When it comes to exercise during pregnancy, you have to remember that it’s your body, and most of the time, you know it best. This season of exercise might actually break the plateau you’ve previously experienced, and renew your confidence. While your changing body challenges you in countless ways, it also develops the mental and physical toughness essential for a healthy delivery.
Learning to be intuitive is key in understanding how to push through any plateau and make a breakthrough in your fitness endeavors. Sometimes, we don’t work as intensely because of mental hindrances. If you haven’t mastered this already — now that you’re pregnant, it’s a perfect time to start.