I have heard too many stories about women pushing themselves with exercise during pregnancy or have seen women on social media jumping and crunching even as their belly grows. I have seen trainers having clients do crunches and leg lifts into the 2nd and 3rd trimester (but why?) and have heard the following comments from women all too many times.
“I was told to just keep doing what I had always done.”
“No doctor ever told me anything about that.”
“I figured since I could do it I should do it.”
“I thought the harder I worked the easier the delivery and recovery would be. Not the case.”
I have felt fortunate to have a heads up about pregnancy and exercise as I have stayed up on the latest guidelines and info as a trainer, for the sake of my clients, even before I became pregnant.
So when I found out I was pregnant I was eager to apply my own knowledge to myself.
You see a few years back I remember watching girls CrossFit late into pregnancy in awe, thinking how cool and powerful that looked. That would be me too. Why not? I always have worked out. I have always lifted weights. If I can squat with some weight on bar why not. If I feel ok to run, why not? If I can still physically work my abs, why not?
There is a huge disconnect between doctors and trainers and individuals about exercise so today I decided to share 4 insights that no one really tells you about pregnancy, activity, and working out that I think are important for women to be aware of.
Don’t do what you have always done.
The common advice passed down from generations is to do what you have always done. This advice has become rather generic and lazy for many reasons. One, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should ( I will address that point further in the next section). Two, you may not have the energy levels to do so.
When I found out I was pregnant I immediately exercised caution. Running felt odd, crunches felt unnecessary and I really just did not feel the need to push my body and hard as I did before. My purpose behind training entirely shifted.
In both my first and second trimester so far I have been extremely tired and I found it is much harder to recover from workouts even if the workout itself feels good. After feeling more and more exhausted I got to a point where an afternoon on the couch felt more beneficial than even a short workout.
Now is a better time than ever to listen to your body.
I always tell my clients to listen to their body. Rest when needed, workout harder when you can. This is advice I have always tried to follow myself but to be honest it usually ended up in me just pushing through because it was short workout, I could come home and relax, and because determination and hard work has been instilled in me from all my years of sports and athletics.
But now I can easily see now is just not the time to push myself when my body is telling me otherwise. I can’t work all day, workout on my lunch break, run errands of my afternoon break, work some more, come home, walk the dog, clean the house and then crawl into bed without the consequences of feeling miserable.
I have had to check myself that now, if any time in my life, is one of the necessary times to listen to my body and prioritize rest over anything else. I think as a culture this is advice we can and should apply more.
Sometimes you just need something like pregnancy (or sickness or overtraining) to slap you in the face.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Even my doctor told me to workout 30 minutes every single day, even if it is just walking.
This is nice in theory but just because I potentially can is it really going to help me if my body is craving sleep and rest.
Like I have talked about with my workouts and even my daily activities, just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should, or that it is going to benefit me more.
Just because I can run and jump or deadlift some fairly heavy weight right now doesn’t mean that it is the best choice.
Just because I can hike 5 miles on the weekend, run errands on my breaks, and be the busy bee that I am, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.
I think this notion can be hard to break for many but I know for me personally I had to re examine my priorities and realize that yes I can still do many things but now is not the time to push through just because I feel I can. What is the end purpose and end goal?
Core work and exercise selection must change.
This encompasses every single point I have made above.
Many women experience Diastasis Recti (DR) during pregnancy which is abdominal separation due to your growing baby against the abdominal wall. The connective tissue holding your abs together can become thin and soft and exacerbated by poor exercise selection.
Choosing proper exercises can help strengthen the core, reduce back pain and help your postpartum recovery.
You don’t necessarily need to stop lifting weight or training but there are smart, safe, and effective exercises that will actually benefit while yes others could harm the integrity of your tummy and tissue.
Core training needs to change. Not just crunches, leg lifts, and front planks but things like burpees and push-ups too. Choose more deadbugs, modified side planks, hip thrusts off the bench, and unilateral upper and lower body work.
Choose exercises that work the posterior chain (strengthen the backside of the body) to help combat the body as it is changing. The growing belly will most definitely affect posture perhaps making the shoulders more rounded, the low back go into more of lordosis like curve and the hips tighter.
Choose pulling exercises like rows, lat pulldowns, using one arm or two arms and take advantage of a TRX or smiths machine for things like incline push-ups and incline rows.
Use squat variations (air, goblet, dumbbell), deadlift variations ( sumo, kettlebell, Romanian deadlifts or conventional) and glute bridge like no other.
Focus on posture, alignment, breathing and pelvic floor engagement.
Unless recommended by a doctor pregnancy does not need to be a time of inactivity. Maintaining your strength is key as your body grows and changes for labor and recovery as well.
DO realize that everyone will be different and listen to your body, adjust your exercise routine, and take some time to relax because your body is doing some hard work growing that baby.