Exercise can play an important role in promoting health and well-being for pregnant women. Women who participate in exercise during pregnancy can minimise unnecessary weight gain, more rapid weight loss after pregnancy and improved their mood and sleep patterns. The main focus of any training programme during pregnancy should always be functionality. Your programme should be tailored towards the physical demands placed on your body during and after your pregnancy. The most important areas are functional strength, healthy cardiovascular fitness and joint stability.
Functional strength is needed to perform everyday tasks while pregnant. Increases in body weight, changes in posture and centre of mass caused by a developing baby will place unique demands on performing everyday tasks. It is very important to have the strength to manage these changing demands. When training in the gym exercises should mimic the basic movement patterns seen in everyday life such as sitting, lunging, stepping and twisting. Low-impact body weight exercises best meet these demands.
Cardiovascular fitness training should focus on maintenance rather then improving your fitness levels. If you have no history of cardiovascular training, walking is a great way to ensure a healthy fitness level for your pregnancy. Try 10-30min three times per week, keeping heart rate under 144 beats per min. The best form of cardiovascular exercise during pregnancy is low impact exercises such as swimming, aqua-aerobics, walking and cycling.
Joint stability can be an issue during the later stages of pregnancy. This is partly due to the rapid change in posture and centre of mass caused by the baby’s growth and partly due to an increase in plasma levels of the hormone relaxin. An increased relaxin level improves flexibility of the pubic symphysis and ligaments of the pelvic girdle helping childbirth. This effect can produce a loss of stability around the hips and lower back increasing the risk of injury. To combat this risk, some of your training programme should be dedicated towards stability and balance. Your stability and balance should be improved early in the pregnancy and then maintained during the later stages.
The following exercise guidelines are recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for training while pregnant:
• Pregnancy is not the time to increase your fitness levels rather it is a time to focus on exercise for well-being. Maintaining fitness levels according to your pervious training experience is key. If you have no training experience focus on walking and low-level stability exercises. Always seek the help from a qualified fitness instructor or personal trainer.
• Exercise regularly 3-4 times per week at the same intensity level for short intervals. Because of the extra physiological demands created during pregnancy blood sugar levels can drop rapidly therefore limiting the duration of exercise between 15-30 mins.
• Always include a warm-up and cool-down with your exercise programme. Such as a 5-10 minutes on a stationary bike set at a low resistance. The warm- up will slowly raise your heart rate and prepare your body for exercise. The cool down will decrease the chance of blood pooling in your muscles caused by exercise.
• Monitor your heartbeat while preforming cardiovascular exercising. The guidelines set 140 beats per min as the maximum maternal heart rate during pregnancy. The baby will be deprived of sufficient oxygen if you allow your heart rate to exceed this level.
• Avoid over heating while you exercise. Always exercise in a well-vented area and try to stay out of direct sunlight during summer. Swimming and aqua-aerobics are great forms of exercise during pregnancy however heated pools, saunas and spas should be avoided.
• Always breathe during exercise. Holding your breath will increase blood pressure and decrease the amount of oxygen available to the baby.
• Do not exercise with pain or discomfort. A sudden change in the baby’s position can make exercise uncomfortable.
• Avoid heavy resistance training, contact sports, water sports, training at high altitudes and training in extreme temperatures.
• Energy requirements are increased during pregnancy. Make sure food intake matches energy requirements of exercise. Consult a qualified nutritionist before commencing an exercise programme.
• You will need to decrease your levels of intensity and duration as your pregnancy progresses into the third trimester. This is due to a decrease in your hearts ability to supply oxygen to you and your baby.
The Exercise Programme
Before attempting any training programme seek clearance from a medical practitioner. Find a qualified instructor or personal trainer with experience in programme design for pregnancy.