Exercise in Pregnancy: Debunking 5 Main Myths

  By Julia Glick  /  

For decades there has been controversy about exercise in pregnancy. Contrary to common belief, you and your baby are not at risk if you continue a workout routine throughout pregnancy.

Exercise and pregnancy should not be seen as incongruous. There are many safe ways to come up with a pregnancy workout plan that we will tackle below.

In this article we will explain the impact that exercise in pregnancy has on your body and take you through these 5 main myths we’ve heard mentioned about your ability to stay fit while pregnant:

Myth #1: Running can hurt the baby
Myth #2: Ab workouts during pregnancy will hurt your baby
Myth #3: You shouldn’t let your heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute
Myth #4: It is okay to play all sports during pregnancy
Myth #5: If you have never exercised before, you should not start pregnancy workout program

We’ll also provide you with a key advice that will help you workout safely throughout your pregnancy.

And finally provide you with a short pregnancy workout routine, designed with prenatal expert and physical trainer Kaisa Tuominen. She has designed the first progressive prenatal fitness program that will be available in a few short weeks. To be one of the first to learn about this program, join here.

Why you should exercise in pregnancy

The benefits of a pregnancy workout routine are widespread and can be seen both physically and psychologically.

Physical benefits of exercise when pregnant

A pregnancy workout routine can help to strengthen the core, add stability, and reduce discomfort as your body grows and changes. Keeping up your fitness routines can help improve your sleep and ease pains and strains. It could even have the added benefit of a shorter labor.

1. Reduced risk of complications

Exercise can also reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy, as proven by the 2012 study conducted by Doctor Bradley B. Price. The study’s participants were a group of sedentary pregnant women who agreed to participate in a supervised exercise routine of 45-60 minutes, 4 times per week at moderate intensity. At the end of experiment the active women experienced faster recovery times partially due to a lower need for unplanned cesarean section (6% compared to 32% of the control group). The inactive control group were 3.7 times more likely to need operative delivery.

2. Less weight gain

A second study conducted in Spain, showed that women who exercised three times a week gained less weight during pregnancy were less likely to have macrocosmic babies, those weighing more than nine pounds at birth that can cause complications during delivery.

3. Lower blood pressure

Exercise can also lower blood pressure and fight fatigue. While it is normal for blood pressure to rise during pregnancy, if this increase is too great it is a warning sign of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that could mean organ damage in most likely the liver or kidneys. Regular exercise in pregnancy greatly reduces this risk.

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Psychological benefits of exercise when pregnant

The American Pregnancy Association estimates that between 14% and 23% of women experience some form of depression during pregnancy.  With the influx of new hormones and the pressure put on the body, it is not surprising that this figure is quite high.

The release of endorphins, the hormone that controls a feeling of happiness and euphoria in your brain, produced by consistent exercises has been proven to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. The results of a study by the Journal of Physiotherapy showed that regular aerobic exercises reduced symptoms of depression. Learn more about depression during pregnancy here.

Exercise in pregnancy can also reduce stress. Working out increases amounts of norepinephrine in your brain, bringing a sense of relaxation in response to stressful situations. Any form of exercise can have these positive effects and boost your overall mood, whether it’s a 10-minute walk or 30-minute run.

ejercicios-para-embarazadas-pesas-entrenamiento-durante-el-embarazoSeeking the truth: Uncovering the myths of exercises in pregnancy

Myth #1: Running can hurt the baby.

FALSE. Some women fear that the baby is going to be shaken if they continue running during their pregnancy. But the fact is, running while pregnant is safe and need not be avoided. The amniotic fluid surrounding the baby makes a protective sack that permits vigorous movement without harming the baby.

You should, however, make some adjustments to your run depending on your current trimester. As a rule, you should always consult your doctor If you are experiencing any unusual pain.

Change your pace based on your trimester

During your first trimester, you can continue running your usual distance. Be sure not to exceed any distances you have not previously run nor increase your speed. Sports medicine doctor, Jordan Metzler, recommends slowing to 60-85% of max heart rate.

Entering the second trimester, you should begin to decrease the intensity level and duration to a jog as running becomes more difficult. Run on even surfaces or a track. At this point your ligaments are beginning to loosen and your center of gravity might be a bit off.

As you reach the third trimester you may want to switch to swimming or another activity that will decrease the level of impact on your body.

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Be sure to wear proper attire

  • Wearing breathable, loose fitting clothing will help your body to breathe and keep you cool during your run.
  • Swelling is common during pregnancy, make sure that your shoes are properly fitted and not too tight, nor able to cut off circulation.
  • Be sure to stay hydrated. Carry a water bottle or be aware of fountains in your neighborhood. Try to avoid electrolyte drinks as they contain high levels of sugar. Check out our guide to hydration if you have doubts.
  • Try a belly support band and invest in an adjustable sports bra to increase the comfort level as you belly and breast begin to grow.

Change the environment to meet the new needs of your body

Your pregnant body is prone to overheating faster than usual because your body temperature is rising. If it’s too hot to run outdoors, consider running on a treadmill or switching activities for the day. Be sure to know your surrounding well, with your baby pressing on your bladder, you’ll never know when you need a public restroom.

WARNING! Stop running if you experience the following

If any of these occur during your run stop your activity and seek the advice of your health care professional.

  1. Feeling dizzy or faint
  2. Having pains or contractions
  3. Vaginal bleeding

These are clear signs that you need to stop your physical activity.

Myth #2: Ab workouts during pregnancy will hurt your baby.

VERY FALSE. It is a common misunderstanding that should not do abdominal exercises while pregnant. While this may be true in some cases, for many women abdominal exercises can help prevent abdominal separation, increase control during labor, and support your pelvic organs.

Preventing and improving Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation)

About a third of pregnant women will experience a condition called Diastasis Recti or abdominal separation. Because pregnancy hormones weaken muscle tissue and the uterus is pushing against the abdominal wall, the two sections of your abdominal muscles may begin to pull apart from the center of the body, primarily noticed around your belly button.

This weakening of the core muscles can lead to complication during pregnancy including lower back pain and pelvic instability. Women with poor abdominal control prior to pregnancy are more likely to suffer this condition. Strengthening core muscle throughout pregnancy will help to prevent and improve this condition.

But don’t worry if you already have the condition the effects are not permanent. Be Fit Moms corrects some common misconceptions about abdominal separation.

  • Abdominal separation will not cause permanent damage to your abdomen
  • Abdominal separation does not require surgical repair
  • Abdominal separation does not cause permanent bulging of the abdomen
  • Abdominal separation is not painful
  • Your abdominal muscles will not always be weaker after childbirth

Reduction of back pain

Staying active and psychically strong is important for your own health as well as your baby’s. Not only does core strength help overall health, but it can also help to reduce back pain and lead to lower chances of complications during pregnancy.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, 50-70% of women will experience back pain during their pregnancy. The additional weight they are now carrying and its effects on posture, coordination, and center of gravity can have adverse consequences.

This is why is important for a pregnant woman to do corrective exercises throughout pregnancy in order to learn to move more comfortably and correctly in her growing body. The routine we have shared at the end of this post will help you get started with a routine for exercise in pregnancy.

Use a balance ball or perform standing crunches

As much as abdominal workouts are supported, not all positions or stretches are safe as you enter your second trimester. At this point in your pregnancy, you should avoid doing any positions where you lie face up on your back.

This position can be potentially harmful to you and your baby as the uterus is now in a position where it could block the vena cava, the vein that carries blood to you heart. But this doesn’t mean you need to stop doing abdominal exercises.

An alternative to traditional abdominal crunches is the option of using a balance ball for stability, safety, and comfort. Performing pelvic tilts on a balance ball is an excellent way to strengthen your abdominal muscles while reducing any back pains.

Myth #3: You shouldn’t let your heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute

FALSE. In 1985 the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published that pregnant woman should not allow their heart rate to exceed 140 beats per minute, or bpm, while performing exercise in pregnancy.

Heart rate guidelines are not one size fits all

After an amendment In 1994, this guideline was dismissed as inaccurate. Because of the vast differences in our bodies and current level of fitness, is it difficult to specify a level that heart rate should not exceed while performing exercises during pregnancy. How could you compare one woman of a different age, fitness level, height or weight, to that of another woman?

Perform the speak test to see if you are overexerting yourself

Most physicians recommend using a speaking test to ensure you are not short of breath while working out. As long as you are able to speak 3-5 sentences without shortness of breath or dizziness, there is no reason to be concerned about your heart rate. If not, slow down and take it easy.

However, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommends the following heart rate target ranges based on your age during pregnant, to give some general guidelines.

MODIFIED HEART RATE TARGET ZONES FOR AEROBIC EXERCISE IN PREGNANCY

Maternal age Heart rate target zone (beats/minute)
Less than 20 years 140 – 155
20 – 29 years 135 – 150
30 – 39 years 130 – 145
Over 40 years 125 – 140

Staying within these ranges will ensure that you are not overexerting yourself, while still getting the most out of your routine for exercise in pregnancy.

 

Exercise In Pregnancy

Myth #4: It is okay to play all sports during pregnancy.

WARNING! While sports are not discouraged during pregnancy, any sports with a high risk of falling or direct physical contact should be avoided. Additionally, you should avoid any sport that involves laying on your back, excessive stretching, or is performed in extreme temperatures.

Always consult your doctor if you are unsure whether you should be performing a particular sport.

Avoid sports with high contact and high risk of falling

It is recommended to avoid the following high contact, risky sports during pregnancy.

  • Soccer
  • Football
  • Squash
  • Rugby
  • Hockey
  • Horseback riding
  • Volleyball
  • Boxing
  • Mountaineering
  • Climbing

Avoid laying on your back

As mentioned previously, laying on your back to perform sports can block blood flow to your heart. In order to be safe, avoid any sports that require you to be in this position, or make adjustments to perform the sport in a safer manner.

Avoid excess stretching

Excessive stretching can cause ligament damage. Your safest bet is that if it hurts, quit it! Don’t push yourself too much.

Avoid extreme temperatures

It is also important to avoid exercise in pregnancy during any extreme temperatures. Hot weather can raise your body temperature to a point where blood will move from your uterus to your skin to cool down your body, taking blood flow away from the baby.

Myth #5: If you have never exercised before, you should not start pregnancy workout program

FALSE. While you should not start training for your first marathon while pregnant, there is is nothing stopping you for starting a pregnancy exercise routine if you do it smartly.

Starting a fitness routine while pregnant

If you are completely new to exercising, start with low pace workouts. This can be anything from a ten-minute walk to thirty minutes of yoga. For exercise beginners, keep in mind that your goal isn’t to lose weight while pregnant, but to start a fitness routine that is appropriate for your body.

Ways to start exercising in pregnancy, are as follows:

  1. Start Slow. Starting at a pace that is suited for your body is very important. Exercise for 10 to 15 minutes a day for the first week or two, and observe how you are feeling, keeping note of your energy levels and muscle soreness. If you are feeling comfortable you can increase to 20 minutes for the next couple of weeks.
  2. Adjust your workout. If you are satisfied with 20 minute workouts and feel the need to increase activity, don’t be afraid to do so. Keep in mind that the goal is not to intensify these workouts to the point of exhaustion, but to lengthen the time and keep a consistent pace.
  3. Don’t push it. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you exercise to the point where you would consider it “somewhat hard,” but don’t go further than that.

Severe medical conditions limiting exercise

If you have any severe medical conditions, it may be recommended that you do not participate in aerobic exercise during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises against aerobic fitness if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Persistent bleeding in the second or third trimester
  • Multiple pregnancy if you’re at risk for preterm labor
  • Sever anemia
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Preterm labor during the current pregnancy
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks
  • Cervical insufficiency or cerclage
  • Certain types of lung and heart disease

Always consult your primary care physician before engaging in a new routine.

When to slow down or stop exercising

If experiencing any of the following symptoms during your daily exercise, be sure to slow down and listen to your body, and adjust your pregnancy  workout routine accordingly.

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble breathing
  • Overheating
  • Excessive fatigue

If any of these symptoms are severe, stop exercising immediately and speak with your physician before engaging in more physical activity.

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Advice to keep you healthy, fit, and safe

Tip #1: Consult your Doctor

It is important to check with your prenatal doctor, or healthcare provider before starting, continuing, or changing your fitness routine. Learn more about warning signs to stop exercising from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Tip #2: The Warm Up

Going from zero to one hundred can shock your body. Doing a warm up is a very crucial part of the pregnancy workout process and should never be skipped. A proper warm up will prepare your body for exercise in pregnancy by slowly increasing your heart rate, and warming up muscles and joints.

Have a look at our in depth guide to how the importance of the warm up for detailed information on how it prepares your body and why it is important.

Tip #3: Know Your Limits

Overdoing a pregnancy workout will put stress on your body as well as your baby’s. During and after physical activity you should feel the endorphins flowing, but not feel completely exhausted. Be aware of your body, and know when it may be time to cut your workout short.

Tip #4: Stay Hydrated

Throughout pregnancy, hydration should be the highest priority as dehydration can lead to many other complications. Ensure that you are drinking enough water at all times The National Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 8-ounce cups of water each day.

Be sure to limit caffeine from coffees, teas, and sodas, as these beverages can increase dehydration. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advise no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day for pregnant women.

Learn more about how to stay hydrated in our Ultimate Guide to Water, Thirst, and Staying Hydrated.

 

exercise in pregnancy-hydration-pregnancy fitness routine

Tip #5: The Cool Down

Cooling down is just as important as warm up. Forgetting to slow down your heart rate and stretch your muscles at the end of the pregnancy workout could increase cramping and muscle tension. Allow five to ten minutes at the end of your exercise routine to bring your heart rate down slowly and cool down your body.

Exercise Routine for Pregnant Women

A routine exercise in pregnancy has to take into account various factors:

  1. The level of physical activity currently performed by the mom-to-be
  2. Any physical and medical limitations that she may have to exercise
  3. Her current week of pregnancy

As we have learned above, the trimester of the pregnancy helps determine what kind of activities she should be performing and to what level. Gaining strength and improving mobility are integrally important in ensuring she has a pregnancy with less pains and strains and can even lead to an easier delivery.

Exercise in pregnancy beyond week 32

As the mom-to-be reaches her 32nd week of pregnancy, she should not start to increase the number of session of light exercises she is performing and keep moving, in order to prepare her body for what is to come. In our fitness program we call this the birth preparation phase. With a combination of physical and mind prep exercises, the future mom will be less stressed, more agile, and better mentally prepared.

If you would like to get a personalized training plan for the duration of your pregnancy and benefit from the expertise of Kaisa Tuominen, take this opportunity to join the waiting list for this new program from Mammoth Hunters. Follow this link to learn more and be the first to know when the program officially launches.

Exercise in pregnancy with In Shape Moms Routine – Corrective Phase

Take advantage of this opportunity to try the first session of our corrective program. We have outlined a description of the exercise and included video guides. You will find the same resource in our application when the program launches.

The objective of these exercises is to correct for compensation often made by pregnant women as their bodies begin to rapidly change to increase mobility and improve posture. Have a try and see how you feel.

ejercicios para embarazadas pesas-2 entrenamiento durante el embarazo

(1 of 6) Exercise in pregnancy: The A

Repetitions: 10

Description:

  • Kneel on the ground with your ankles maximally flexed
  • Reach the top of your head towards the ceiling elongating your spine
  • Inhale while rotating the arms inwards and flexing the spine and looking down
  • On exhale, rotate your arms and pull your shoulder blades down and back while reaching towards the ground with your fingertips
  • Inhale and rotate the arms until palms are facing the thighs again       

Note: You should feel activation in between and below the shoulder blades, a stretch in the chest and neck.  You shouldn’t feel tension in the neck.

(2 of 6) Exercise in pregnancy: Dynamic Calf Stretch

Repetitions: 20 (10 each side)

Description:

  • On hands and knees, activate your core
  • Put your right leg back and left leg forward and your forearms against the wall, both feet facing forward
  • Bend the left knee while keeping the right knee straight and the right heel on the ground
  • Push your hips forwards until you feel the stretch in the right calf
  • Return to the start position
    Repeat the movement 

(3 of 6) Exercise in pregnancy: Dynamic Hip Flexor Stretch

Repetitions: 20 (10 each side)

Description:

  • Get into the lunge position with one knee on the ground. Your front foot should be vertical with the knee. Your back foot should be with the top of the foot facing down
  • Elongate your spine
  • Tilt the pelvis back, pulling the pubic bone up
  • Contract the glutes and push the hips forward
  • Raise both of your arms above your head
  • Keep pulling the pubis up as you drive the hips forward and bend slightly to the side of the front foot
  • Exhale on the stretch and inhale when returning to the center

Repeat the movement

(4 of 6) Exercise in pregnancy: The Cat

Repetitions: 10

Description:

  • Get on all fours. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in line
  • Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor
  • As you exhale, flex your spine by trying to touch your nose to your pubic bone
  • Inhale, coming back to neutral position on your hands and knees and elongating the spine
  • Don’t let the lower back sag down

(5 of 6) Exercise in pregnancy: The Swimmer

Repetitions: 20 (10 each side)

Description:

  • Get on all fours with your elbows on the ground. Ensure your knees are under your hips and your elbows under your shoulders
  • Elongate the spine and keep the pelvis in a neutral position. Your ankles should be flexed
  • Pull your shoulders away from your ears and keep them keep the pulled towards your bottom for the entire exercise
  • Contract the glutes to keep the pelvis steady
  • Exhale as you lift one leg up to a straight line with the body
  • Inhale as you return to start

Note: You can make the exercise more difficult by also lifting your arm as you raise your leg. And even harder by raising the opposite arm and leg.

(6 of 6) Exercise in pregnancy: Dynamic Back Stretch

Repetitions: 20 (10 each side)

Description:

  • Get down to a mat on all fours, with ankles flexed
  • Make sure your shoulders and knees are under you
  • Place your right hand forward and to the left of the mat
  • Fix it into place and pull yourself backwards creating traction within the shoulder joint
  • Push your right shoulder to the right
  • Now move your hips from side to side to feel the stretch in your back

Repeat on other side

Conclusion

It’s never too late to start exercise in pregnancy, just be sure you are being conscious of your body’s needs while doing so. There are endless myths regarding what you can and cannot do during pregnancy, yet the goal is not to believe everything that you hear. Guidelines and rules will differ based on individual circumstances. Stay informed and aware of your body’s needs.

If you liked the training above, take this opportunity to be the first to learn about our new prenatal fitness program. Sign-up now to learn more! 

Take action on your prenatal fitness and join our progressive program now!

Sign-up now!

 

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