Do’s and Don’ts for Working Out During Pregnancy

prenatal exercise

Despite what the name of this article suggests  it’s not quite so black and white. I did a quick Google search to see what others in the field were saying and felt strongly that I needed to start by saying this: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Sure, there are activities that are generally “better” for pregnant women, but it may be that some of those preferred activities (say, for example, walking) just don’t work for you. Maybe your low back feels achy after, or maybe your ankles and calves scream at you for a week after that 30-minute walk (in which case, maybe you swim or practice prenatal yoga), or maybe you feel amazing after a walk. Whatever the case may be, only ever do what feels good to your body (both during and after exercise).

Whatever the case may be, only ever do what feels good to your body (both during and after exercise).

How and When to Modify

The other big misconception is this notion that you’re somehow “less” pregnant in your first trimester. To be sure, it’s the trimester where your pregnancy is least visible, but in many respects, your first trimester is when your body undergoes the most change (as evidenced by the fact that most women are the most exhausted in their first trimester). There is generally this belief that women don’t need to modify so early on – but know that the size of your belly doesn’t reflect what’s going on inside. In Yoga, one clear example is twisting a practice meant to wring out the contents of the belly – which should be immediately suspended when a woman knows she’s pregnant, or as soon as she decides she would like to become pregnant. Working with a qualified provider who focuses specifically on pre-pregnancy through postpartum can help you make these adjustments appropriately.  

Your first trimester is when your body undergoes the most change.

Thinking about your ‘Core’

In response to an adjustment I gave to a pregnant woman in my “regular” yoga class, she approached me after class and very reasonably explained she was confused: wasn’t she supposed to work her core? The answer is yes, but only parts of her core. Your core is comprised of the following muscle groupsthe transverse abdominus, obliques, rectus abdominus and quadratus lumborum muscles. During pregnancy, it’s especially important to strengthen your transverse abs, while intentionally NOT engaging your rectus abdominus (i.e. your six pack abs). Put in plainer english, these are the kinds of core exercises you do not want to do: planks, mountain climbers, ab crunches, roll ups & roll downs, teasers, or even really big cat/cows – all of which require your six pack abs to activate. Especially as you get further along, you’ll also want to avoid exercises on your belly (think upward facing dogs and the like) and flat on your back. Generally, it’s time to stop these kinds of exercises in your third month of pregnancy (but, if they don’t feel good at week 8, don’t do them). 

There are SO many exercises you can do.

That said, there are SO many exercises you can do. Typically, low-impact exercises (as compared to high intensity workouts, for example) are preferred. However, if you were an avid runner before you became pregnant, all indicators suggest it’s totally fine to keep it up (double check with your doctor/midwife and listen to your body!). Walking, swimming, biking, prenatal yoga & pilates are all excellent low-impact exercise options – choose which fits best for your lifestyle, body, and pregnancy.

Beneficial Exercises

Within the world of yoga, pilates, and barre – or if you’d like to do your own workout at home – these are some specific examples of exercises that are particularly beneficial for a pregnant body. Supported side planks are great to practice throughout your pregnancy because they strengthen all the right parts of your core. Another encouraged form of core work is on your hands and your knees (sometimes called all fours), where you focus on stabilizing your torso while lifting limbs in various patterns (be sure to not let your low back over-arch when you do this, which becomes harder to prevent as your baby grows heavier). Lunging and squatting are also fantastic for you (strengthening glutes is very important – you can also do this through side lying series often taught in pilates classes). You can do the more strengthening lunge and squat versions, where you bend and straighten legs (or just one leg, depending on which you’re doing) as you work on your balance (you can also do a wall squat, which I’m a big fan of – bum at the wall, thighs parallel to the floor, knees over ankles).

It’s equally important to lengthen the muscles you’re strengthening.  Supported squats (generally on a wall, like this, or even with a block or a low bench under you) or wide lunges with your hands on the floor are a great way of bringing a pleasing sense of spaciousness to the pelvic area, outer hips, while also stretching the low back. Supported inversions like downward facing dog are great to help strengthen the upper body while giving your back body a delightful stretch. Making stretching a more regular part of your routine (even if it’s just 5 minutes) can make a huge difference to the way you feel throughout your pregnancy, as it’s common to feel substantially tighter during pregnancy.

Main Takeaways

(1) Listen to your body – don’t do anything that doesn’t feel good (it can be challenging but no pain or discomfort at any point during or after).

(2) Avoid exercises that engage your six pack abs (such as planks, crunches, bicycles, etc.) and do not twist as soon as you learn you’re pregnant.

(3) Stick to low intensity exercises unless you habitually practiced higher impact sports and your doctor says it’s safe to continue.

(4) Work the right parts of your core through side planks and all fours exercises.

(5) Strengthen your glutes.

(6) Stretch regularly.

Be extra good to your body – it needs the extra love with all that extra work it’s doing for you and the bun. And if you have any questions, I’m here to support you.  

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