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Samantha Lee/Business Insider
© Hollie Grant
Keeping active during pregnancy is beneficial. Hollie Grant
- It's not only safe but beneficial to keep active during pregnancy.
- Keep intensity moderate and modify movements to protect your baby and yourself.
- Listen to your body and if in any doubt, seek medical advice.
- Read more Working It Out here.
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I've just found out I'm pregnant and I want to know how to exercise healthily. I'm on a slow and steady journey to getting fitter and I want to keep it up. My exercise is currently a mix of ballet, weights, and walking. What's the best way to approach exercise when pregnant? Thanks!
- Expectant Exerciser
Congratulations! Both on your pregnancy and on getting fitter, two very exciting pieces of news. It's also awesome to hear you want to stay fit and active throughout - despite what some people say, not only is exercising when pregnant safe (when done right), but it's beneficial.
You're really speaking my language with the mix of ballet, weights, and walking. I don't have any personal experience of being pregnant but have spoken to the experts to get you the best advice to help you have a happy, healthy, fit pregnancy.
Keeping active while pregnant has many benefits
Many expectant mothers are nervous about exercising for fear something might go wrong, but staying active doesn't increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists confirms.
In fact, keeping active is recommended for most women (if you have specific health conditions you should definitely consult your doctor first).
© Hollie Grant
Hollie Grant is a pilates instructor and pre-natal fitness expert. Hollie Grant
"There are many proven health benefits such as a reduction in hypertensive disorders, improved cardiorespiratory fitness, lower gestational weight gain, and reduction in risk of gestational diabetes," Hollie Grant, a pre-natal pilates instructor and founder of the Bump Plan, told Insider.
Don't do anything too intense
This is not the time to start striving for PBs (personal bests) or pushing yourself. Keep intensity moderate.
Dr. Sarah Murphy, an OB-GYN specializing in women's wellbeing, diet, and physical activity, told Insider a good general rule of thumb is to continue your current exercise level but don't increase it.
"For example, if you are currently doing 5km walks, keep going with them if it feels good. But don't suddenly increase to 10km," she said.
© Dr Sarah Murphy
Dr Sarah Murphy is an OB-GYN based in Dublin, Ireland. Dr Sarah Murphy
The next thing to think about is what Murphy and Grant call the "talk test:" "During exercise [when pregnant], you should be able to hold a conversation relatively easily. If you can't do this, it's a sign you need to take it easier."
Grant says a good way to measure this is thinking of a 1-10 effort scale - if 1 is sitting on the sofa and 10 is at the end of a marathon, aim for 6-7, and don't go above 8.
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It's also important to ensure you don't get too hot. "Your growing baby has no means of regulating his or her temperature, so pace yourself and keep cool," pregnancy and postnatal fitness specialist Dr. Joanna Helcké told Insider.
Don't bump the bump
When it comes to the actual type of exercise you're doing, it may sound obvious, but avoid anything that might hit your bumps like contact sport or unstable movements where you might fall.
Equally, avoid lying on your back.
"From around week 14 it isn't advised to lie flat on your back for longer than three minutes," Grant said. "This is due to the increased risk of Supine Hypotensive Syndrome which can leave you feeling dizzy, clammy, and short of breath. Instead aim for positions such as side-lying, four-point kneeling, or standing, which are far more functional anyway."
On which note, Grant advises focusing on functional movements that will build/maintain strength and will be useful as a mother.
"Strollers, car seats, and changing bags are all heavy, so let's make sure we are strong and capable for what is to come," she said. "Think squats, lunges, and deadlifts as you will be bending down to pick up a million items a day."
Include Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and reduce the risk of stress incontinence.
You may have to adapt your workouts in your 2nd and 3rd trimesters
According to Helcké, you can probably continue most of your workouts as normal in your first trimester, but you need to take a bit more care in the second and third.
With ballet, you need to be careful not to stretch too deep or push your flexibility. "In pregnancy, the levels of relaxin [a hormone secreted in the ovary] in your body increase substantially and the effect of this is to create greater laxity than you would normally have in the joints, making you more flexible," she said. "Avoid exploiting this added flexibility in your ballet classes because you could end up over-stretching your ligaments causing lasting joint instability." You will likely lose your balance more than normal too.
Weight-training is brilliant to continue as it will aid joint stability and counter the effects of relaxin, Helcké said. You need to make sure your technique is on point to avoid injury though, and as the pregnancy progresses, you will need to modify some movements: chest press, for example, should be performed on an incline rather than lying on your back.
"As your bump grows you need to consider protecting your back: deadlifts might not suit," Helcké said. "Test carefully and if you feel that your lower back is taking the strain, avoid this move. There are, after all, many other ways of working hamstrings, glutes, and postural muscles."
You should also avoid resisted abdominal work like sit-ups, planks, and bicycle crunches because your abs will start to stretch and lengthen to accommodate your baby.
Walking should be fine for you to continue throughout your pregnancy, but if you develop pain in the pelvic or groin areas, it might become too painful, so be careful.
Listen to your body
How much you want to move may depend on your trimester and how you feel each day, and that's OK. If you're struggling with morning sickness, for example, don't force yourself to work out.
Moving little and often can be a great way to stay active if you start to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of a workout - 10-minute activity chunks a few times a day can be enough.
Bear in mind that your posture will change incrementally every day over the course of your pregnancy too. "The weight of your bump can make it more likely that the pelvis tilts forward and deepens the curve in your lower back leading to pregnancy-related lower back pain (thought to affect around 50% of pregnant women)," said Grant, who recommends prenatal pilates to help manage this and bring awareness to a more neutral posture.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that you know your body best, and if something doesn't feel right, you should speak to your doctor. We're all different, so it's wise to talk to your midwife or seek out advice from a personal trainer who could offer you a more tailored plan specifically tailored to you.
Wishing you well,
As a senior lifestyle reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you're struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
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