We often hear the above advice from our prenatal care practitioners regarding working out while pregnant. And if they say it’s ok, it must be true, right? Not exactly.
We aren’t trying to put down anyone’s doctor and we are 100% beyond grateful for modern medicine, but it’s important to remember that it’s not your care provider’s job to make sure you are exercising in a way that preserves your body during pregnancy. It’s their job to make sure you are healthy, the baby is safe and that you have a safe delivery. Because science has proven that exercise greatly benefits the mom and growing baby, providers are going to encourage women to stay active and continue their pre-pregnancy workouts.
The doctor’s recommendation is coming from a very good place. There are loads of benefits of working out while pregnant. That said, they have lots of other concerns to worry about so they haven’t spent countless hours geeking out over the exercise science that ensures an easier pregnancy (physically), stronger delivery and complete postpartum recovery.
Prenatal Exercise with Intent
That’s where a pre/postnatal corrective exercise specialist steps in. We want you to continue your favorite workouts as well, but pregnancy is the time to do them with more intention, better posture and a deeper understanding of how to incorporate your entire core from the diaphragm to the pelvic floor.
When it comes to exercise and pregnancy, while some exercises may not seem like they are doing you any harm, when done incorrectly they are putting your core and pelvic floor at risk.
While some exercises may not seem like they are doing you any harm (holding planks, or tucking and pulsing during your barre classes for example), when done incorrectly, they can put your core and pelvic floor at risk for increased pressure and complications such as diastasis recti (abdominal splitting) or pelvic organ prolapse that may require physical therapy post birth. Prevention is key when it comes to a strong body pre and post birth so we recommend learning the foundation for movement as soon as you start thinking about becoming pregnant.
The foundation for safe prenatal exercise and a complete postpartum recovery can be learned in these 4 steps:
Step 1: Breathe
Most of us are dysfunctional stress breathers, meaning we either suck in our stomachs as we inhale, hold our tummies in constantly or we spend all our time breathing into our upper chest and shoulders (aka fight or flight mode). Try this instead…
Inhale fully and allow the belly to soften while using the image of sending the air all the way down to your pelvis. If you place one hand on your chest and on your diaphragm, you should feel a slight rise and fall in your bottom hand, not the top.
Step 2: Think about your pelvic floor (practice your kegels)
The pelvic floor is a complex network of 19 muscles that runs from your pubic bone to your tailbone, front to back, and from sitz bone to sitz bone, side to side. To activate, imagine the pubic bone, tailbone, and both sitz bones all drawing closer together. Imagine it drawing in and up through the center of the body (aka a kegel). It’s important to activate the entire pelvic floor and not just one section. Many of us are taught to kegel by “stopping the flow of urine” and that’s not correct. You also have to think of the muscles through the center and the back end. You can think of activating the back end by imaging that you are stopping yourself from passing gas. But don’t use your glutes!
The pelvic floor and diaphragm should work in concert with one another. To strengthen your pelvic floor, you can practice lifting and doing kegels on your exhale and then allowing the muscles to fully release and relax on your inhale. This release is just as important as the activation.
Step 3: Engage the TVA (Belly Pump)
Place both hands low on your belly and as you kegel, try to sink your hands back toward your body. When you inhale, relax your pelvic floor and let your belly muscles fully let go. What you are doing is activating your Transverse Abdominus (TVA). This is a deep corset-like muscle that starts in the middle of your back. It wraps around your side body and under the 6 pack muscles. Every inhale should release the TVA, while every exhale fully wraps the muscles closer to your body. If you are pregnant, you can think of hugging the baby to your body as you exhale. We call this the belly pump.
Step 4: Make it functional
Once you master coordinating your breath, kegels and belly pump together, you can use them to help you during your workouts. You can also incorporate these skills in to everyday movements. Think about turning on (engaging) your kegels and belly pump whenever you lift something heavy. Engage them when you twist suddenly, or bend down to pick something up. Basically, every time you feel like you need more balance, support and stability, you want your core activation to turn on to assist you.
Mastering this technique takes some time but it’s teaching our bodies to move on a very fundamental level. It’s also the key to keeping your core and pelvic floor healthy and strong throughout you pre-pregnancy and pregnancy. This of course also helps you make a full recovery in postpartum as well.