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Exercising While Pregnant: What An Expert Wants You To Know

Whether you’re planning a pregnancy or currently counting trimesters, you’re probably already aware that exercise is very much recommended for most, uncomplicated pregnancies.

Staying home shouldn’t mean staying still.

With the body undergoing so many changes, prenatal exercise can contribute towards a healthy pregnancy and birth experience—so don’t let lockdown stop you, once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, of course. 

We asked FFS Coach, PT and Head of Pregnancy and Postnatal Training Aoife MacNeill for some tips on how you can adjust your routine and stay active while pregnant. 

1. Speak with the coach

"Whether you’re back in the gym or joining via video, let the coach know you’re pregnant," Aoife says. "A good coach will either know what adjustments need to be made or recommend a more suitable class."

2. Mindset

"A coach or class teacher will always encourage everyone in the room to give it their all. Pregnancy is a time to exercise for the health of you and the baby, rather than chasing those extra metres on the rower or reps of a squat," she says.

"So it’s important to adjust your mindset and think of it as a 7-8/10 intensity rather than 10/10. This adjustment can be a tough change for women who train a lot or who are very competitive."

3. Be informed

"No gym will treat pregnancy the same way in terms of how the class is adjusted for you. If you’re unsure why something is being done a certain way, ask the coach or class teacher and only continue if you feel confident in the approach."

4. Don't bump the bump

"If a class, exercise or type of training puts you at risk of impact or falling then it’s not suitable," Aoife says.

5. Hydration and nutrition

"Make sure you have water with you and sip it throughout the class. Avoiding overheating is important so if you feel toasty, take a break and get some air. If you’re craving less nutritious food remember that it will impact your energy levels when exercising."

6. Stay familiar

"On the whole, do what your body and mind are used to," Aoife says. "If it’s safe, keep up your favourite type of training. If you want to try a new class make sure to do it with a qualified prenatal coach and speak to them before beginning."

7. Feeling bendy

"Relaxin is a hormone that relaxes your pelvis to make way for the baby as they grow and for birth. But it tends to relax all the joints in your body. So if you’re feeling extra bendy try to not stretch further or drop into that mobility as you may risk injury.

As for general advice, Aoife recommends sticking to what your body is used to – whether that's HIIT classes or resistance training or swimming and yoga – just to keep the points above in mind. 

"Resistance training during pregnancy is not only safe, but fully recommended," she says.

"The two crucial adjustments are to maintain a steady breath and keep all movements well within your ability."

Her list of recommended exercises – and exercises to avoid – can be found below. 

The best exercises to do while pregnant:

1. Squats and lunges

Adjust the load and range as necessary as your bump grows. (Leg, hip and glute strength are beneficial for managing the physical demands on pregnancy as well as preparing for birth. Doing these well will also work your core which is important in managing low back pain.

2. Rowing

I.e. TRX or rings rows and anything where you pull against resistance. Pulling exercises help with good posture and upper back strength is key in minimising and managing low back pain during pregnancy.

3. Arms and shoulders

Newborns spend a lot of time in our arms as well as going in and out of carriers and cots which makes strong arms and shoulders invaluable. The majority of exercise for arms and shoulders are done standing so they’re perfectly safe during pregnancy. 

4. Bum and hamstrings

Deadlifts are great, just make sure the weight you're lifting is elevated, if needed, as the set up can be challenging as your bump gets bigger. Kettlebell swings are brilliant for getting your heart rate up and excellent for hamstrings. If you’ll be training at home long-term this year, investing in a kettlebell is well worth it – keep an eye on sports retailers for stock coming back in.

5. Core

Side planks are great and very challenging. Count your time in breaths rather than seconds to make sure you’re breathing steadily. Adjust to knees when needed. Pallof press is excellent, ask a coach to show you how it’s done.

6. Machines

A stationary bike, rower and ski erg are all really useful in feeling the hit of a good aerobic workout but unfortunately out of bounds for most until gyms reopen. You’ll likely need to drop the knees out on the rower later in pregnancy and start each stroke with knees less bent. On the ski erg stay mindful of your lower back by making sure to always bend the knees. 

The exercises to avoid while pregnant:

1. Crunches

The muscles we use in any crunching or sit up exercises are under stretch as the baby grows and not available for us to use in the same way. A crunch movement also increases intra-abdominal pressure which is best avoided.

2. Burpees

It’s not a great idea to throw your body on the floor so don’t do burpees. But if impact exercises still feel good then a straight arm burpee to the floor or something higher like a bench is useful. Exercises lying on your front also need to be changed, a good guide is to remove them after 12 weeks.

3. Chin-ups

Chin-ups are unlikely to feel satisfying with a progressively heavier bodyweight and while low, there is a risk of falling or hurting an ankle by landing unevenly.

4. Lying flat on your back

The scientific jury is out on this one, no official harmful effects have been found but there have been a few signs to suggest it may not be ideal. Perhaps it's safer earlier in pregnancy but all in all, there’s usually a good alternative to any exercise on your back.

For more information on exercising while pregnant, postnatal training and pelvic floor exercises, check out Aoife's FFS blog posts here

Main image by @chloesevigny

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