Let’s talk pregnancy myth versus reality as it relates to fitness. So many people have misconceptions about exercising while pregnant, that it can make it hard to show up at the gym with your belly and not get weird stares from your fellow gym-goers. The most frequently asked question I get is “...how long can you continue working out?” To which my answer is, “...until this baby comes out, I suppose.”
Fear not mommy-to-be. Exercising while preggers is actually very healthy for both you and your baby. It can even help you have an easier labor! And not to mention the obvious, the more active you are during pregnancy, the easier it is to control weight gain, which makes the bounce back to your pre-baby self sooo much easier. Hello regular clothes, how I’ve missed you.
We aren’t burning calories by sitting here, so let’s jump right in.
Being pregnant means eating for two
FALSE. Ohhh so false. During the first trimester, weeks one through twelve, there really isn’t much to change with either your diet or your fitness routine. You don’t need to start adding calories until the second trimester. And even then, you only need about 300 - 450 extra calories per day.
But the hunger pains are so real! It’s your hormones lying to you. Stave off hunger pains by eating something immediately after waking up. If you’re feeling nauseous in the early stages, grab something carbalicious (no, not a donut… more like whole grain toast or a granola bar). And for the extremely fatigued mommies, try varying your workout times to get it in when you can. Even 30 minutes, three to four times a week will make a difference.
Remember, if you plan on eating for two, you better plan on working out for two.
Working out while pregnant is not safe
FALSE. Nice try momma. Pregnancy is not a nine-month excuse to couch surf. Exercise is just as important during pregnancy as it is in everyday life. It helps with muscle tone, weight control, stress relief, and it releases endorphins (those wonderful little chemicals that mimic the positive effects of morphine… and also happen to be released during sex, which is what landed you here in the first place). Furthermore, exercise helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, swelling… you know, those annoying little symptoms that accompany becoming a mother. But, the number one reason to move those buns during pregnancy, it better prepares your body for labor, delivery, and recovery. Phew.
Newbies shouldn’t start a fitness regimen while pregnant
FALSE. While this used to be widely considered to be a true statement, that is no longer the case. Sorry y’all. No excuse works anymore. Starting a moderate exercise program while pregnant is considered safe by most doctors due to its numerous benefits (but obvs, check with your doctor first). While now is probably not the best time to join Crossfit and work on your snatches and handstand push-ups (wondering what those are? Don’t even worry about it)… there are plenty of great pregnancy choices for beginners. Give walking, hiking, light weights, the elliptical machine, or prenatal yoga/Pilates a try. All are excellent choices for pregnancy beginners and regulars.
You should modify your fitness intensity while pregnant
TRUE. Whoa, nelly, no need to aim for that 1,000 calorie burn sesh while growing a baby in your belly. While the standard rule used to be keeping your heart rate at 140 bpm or less (ahem, that’s beats per minute), this rule is more of a loose guideline than a restriction. If you’re a regular gym goer, you may find that 140 bpm isn’t particularly taxing, while newbies may find that 140 bpm is likely to kill them. The bottom line on this: listen to your body and know your limits. Pregnant women should work out at a moderate level.
What’s moderate? I’m glad you asked. You should be slightly breathless but still able to carry on a conversation; think light chat, versus a 45-minute vent session with your girlfriend.
Lifting weights while pregnant is a no-no
FALSE. Strength training is great for building muscle, which allows you to burn fat while at rest (hallelujah). However, there are caveats to this while pregnant.
First: Choose a weight that allows you to perform the repetitions properly and comfortably (i.e. you shouldn’t be grunting when picking up the weights). And after the first trimester, avoid any exercise done while lying flat on your back (this position may decrease blood flow to the uterus). Don’t be sad… crunches are by far not the best abdominal exercise anyways.
Second: Weight machines are ideal, especially for gym newbies, because they control your range of motion. However, if you're accustomed to doing free-weight exercises, go ahead and continue. As your pregnancy progresses, you may find yourself sitting down as you lift weights, which is A-OK. Find a bench that provides back support to help with your posture.
Third: Steer clear of any machine with a pad that presses against your belly… need I go into detail why? Furthermore, forgo exercises that force you to lay or lean down on your belly.
Fourth: Skip the overhead lifts, since this kind of motion can increase the curve in your lower spine (aka: hyperlordosis). There are plenty of other exercises to choose from.
Remember, your ligaments are nice and flexible right now, so your chances of pulling a muscle are greater than when you aren’t pregnant. Take it easy Gumby, and practice proper form.
You should increase your rest periods between sets
TRUE. Increasing your rest periods from 90 seconds to two minutes between supersets (pairing two strength training exercises together), will help you catch your breath and keep your heart rate at an acceptable level. And holding your breath is a no-no. Pay attention to your breathing. In and out. Repeat.
Low resistance for weight training is best when pregnant
TRUE and FALSE. Low to moderate is recommended as a general rule, but it depends on your fitness level and your stage of pregnancy. Pursuing personal best goals is generally not a good idea at this point (save that motivation for the post baby burn), and working to the point of muscle failure/exhaustion is also a tsk-tsk. Aim for 2-4 sets per body part, with 8-10 reps per set. If you are like, “WTF is muscle failure?”, no worries… it probably isn’t a concern.
Jumping, squatting, lunging, etc. should be avoided
TRUE and FALSE. Early in pregnancy, these are totally ok to do if you are accustomed to performing them. As you progress in pregnancy, the growing bambino will start to throw your balance off, making some of these more difficult (and potentially dangerous). If you notice a loss of balance, replace these exercises with things like seated leg curls and leg extensions. Free weights may also throw you off balance during the later stages of your pregnancy, so switching to weight machines may help with stability.
Working out while preggers is not only healthy, but recommended. While your number one course of action should always be to check with your doctor first, fit pregnancies are all the rage these days. And that is a trend that we won’t see dying out anytime soon.
Pics below: 14 weeks through 22 weeks (baby boy #2)