For some women, learning they are pregnant sparks an instant desire to adopt a healthier lifestyle. They give up caffeine and alcohol (if it was ever a part of their lives), they sleep more, eat more nutrient dense foods, take prenatal vitamins, and continue exercising with their doctor’s permission.
But what if a woman learns she is having a baby and hadn’t been exercising prior to the news? Or what if she had always enjoyed walking or swimming but rarely touched a piece of resistance equipment? Can she safely begin a strength training program during pregnancy? It’s safe to say there is no better time.
Exercise is beneficial, particularly with some weights or resistance, at any stage of life, and pregnancy is no different - whether or not a woman trained before she became pregnant. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists stated in April 2020:
“Exercise, defined as physical activity consisting of planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movements done to improve one or more components of physical fitness, is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle, and obstetrician–gynecologists and other obstetric care providers should encourage their patients to continue or to commence exercise as an important component of optimal health....Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.”
Aerobic and resistance exercise during pregnancy have been extensively studied and found to be safe and beneficial for most women because it prevents excessive weight gain and reduces the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, decreases the risk and severity of low back pain, prevents or improves symptoms of depression, and decreases postpartum recovery time and weight retention.
In other words, physical activity has been shown to reduce and help prevent health issues and complications unique to this specific life stage as well as set the tone for the postpartum period. While it may be easy to cross this prenatal habit off of the list and “wait until it’s time to lose the baby weight,” especially if it hadn’t been part of a regular routine before, remember fitness is not necessarily about getting smaller and losing weight.
It is possible – and highly recommended - to safely grow a baby and gain weight while getting stronger and improving aerobic capacity.
How is prenatal training different? Every woman will have her own goals during pregnancy and should work toward them. However, the most effective training programs will include learning and practicing proper diaphragmatic breathing at rest and during exercise, particularly as the abdomen expands, the ribcage flares and weight is increased on the pelvic floor.
It should also include strengthening the muscles of the glutes and core and balancing the tone of the pelvic floor, as well as establishing proper posture and alignment.
Ideally, training will incorporate “practice” carrying loads (think babies and gear!) properly to replicate life postpartum and alleviate many negative long-term side effects of improper form in daily activities. All of this should be considered in addition to developing or maintaining a solid aerobic foundation and overall lean muscle mass, and it should be done in a way that feels energizing without over-taxing the body.
The safest and most effective way to make this happen is by working with a prenatal coach who has been trained to help women coming from every type of fitness background. The prenatal period can be filled with a whole host of emotions and to-do lists, but training should not be an added stress or another chore to complete.
A coach can create a program with you, help you carry it out and take the guesswork out of what to do and how to safely do it. Your coach can be an added layer in your prenatal health team.
Fitguana offers a unique experience in that you will have an opportunity to work one on one with your certified Prenatal & Postnatal coach alone in the facility without any other clients exercising in the background. All of our equipment is thoroughly cleaned after each use, we have over 30 windows for exceptional ventilation, and our staff is trained to properly social distance. We also offer small group classes for pre-designed groups of women who would like to share the experience (think of it as your own prenatal cohort!).