Working out when pregnant can be a minefield. Which is why we’ve asked the experts for tips and to try and bust some myths around pregnancy exercises.
‘Will my baby fall out when I’m running?’ ‘Why am I so bendy?’ ‘If I walk too fast will I dislodge the baby?’ These questions might sound fanciful, but they’re queries that cross a lot of women’s minds when it comes to pregnancy workouts.
Approaching exercise during pregnancy can be tricky because of all the information out there, a lot of which is contradictory. But working out when pregnant, no matter which trimester, doesn’t have to come from a place of fear or excessive restriction, especially if you’re someone who has always enjoyed exercise.
‘For most people, exercising when pregnant is safe,’ says Charlie Launder, founder of Bumps & Burpees who is currently expecting her first baby. ‘The caveat to every question asked about pregnancy is: everybody’s different. But unless you’ve been given a specific instruction by your doctor, consultant or midwife to say, “You should not exercise”, then it’s safe.’
What Are The Benefits Of Exercising While Pregnant?
THE PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF PREGNANCY EXERCISE
Not only is it safe, but it’s actively encouraged. ‘Your body is going to be changing so much over the course of the pregnancy and you want to be putting it in the best possible position to accommodate those changes,’ explains Launder, who has been specialising in pre- and post-natal training for ten years.
‘The reason we suggest people should exercise is to stay strong and active and help to support the body through these changes.’
As well as staying strong and minimising aches and pains, ‘movement promotes healthy blood flow around the body’ says Launder. ‘And both you and your baby need that.’
Runner and master trainer at fiit Adrienne Herbert confirms this: 'Staying active throughout your pregnancy is proven to improve the health of both you and your baby. Benefits include improved cardiovascular function, maintaining a healthy body weight, and a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension.'
THE MENTAL BENEFITS OF EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY
Working out when pregnant isn't just good for your body: ‘Pregnancy comes with a lot of uncertainty and things that are out of your control,’ explains Launder. ‘That could be really tough for people, especially if you were active before and you’re used to being in control of how your body feels and what it does. By keeping up exercise, you can maintain some sort of normality in your life: you’re still getting endorphins rushing through you, you’re doing something for you that you’re in control of.’
Amy Lane, digital editor of Women’s Health, who is expecting her first baby, couldn’t agree more: ‘Exercising during pregnancy helped me retain a sense of self. Pregnancy was always part of the plan, but when I had to start to live by a new set of rules, I did find this hard to stomach at times. But workouts and being active is what helps me feel good in my own skin. As someone who’s always enjoyed fitness, I want to show that it is possible to balance fitness with impending motherhood.’
Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering about whether the baby is OK when you’re out running or doing lunges, fear not.
‘The baby is very safe in there,’ Launder says. ‘In the first 15 weeks it is in the pelvis, so it’s actually protected by bone at that stage. You’re not going to dislodge the baby by doing too many lunges.’
Pregnancy exercises: Listening to your body & letting go of your ego
‘Your body tells you what you want to know, you just have to listen to it,’ says Charlie Launder.
We often push ourselves when working out, maybe because we’re being competitive or we're in a class environment where we’re being encouraged to work 110 per cent.
But pregnancy workouts are much more about working to 70 per cent of your capacity. One way to do this is to really start listening to your body.
‘If your body doesn’t like something, it will tell you as many ways as it can,’ Launder continues. ‘We’re very good at ignoring signs that our bodies give us. Pregnancy is when you have to learn when to listen. It’s worth constantly checking in with yourself: "Am I in control of this?" "Am I breathing properly?" Ask yourself those questions.’
Another way to achieve this is to let go of your ego. ‘It can be hardest for people who love exercise and have always done so, but it’s not a time for personal bests,’ explains Caroline Bragg, master trainer at Mumhood by Frame. ‘Rather, it’s a time for maintaining fitness, strengthening your body for what your next role is going to be – birth and then motherhood.’
Shifting your mindset when it comes to exercise in pregnancy can be one of the hardest things but, ‘once you’ve got that it’s much easier to not worry about your time exercising. As long as you’re moving and feeling good that’s the most important thing,’ adds Bragg.
Exercises you should avoid when pregnant
Before going into detail here, it’s important to remember that there’s more you can still do than things you can’t, according to Bumps & Burpees' Charlie Launder.
There are, however, a couple of things that are definitely off the cards.
‘You want to avoid any activity where you’ve got a really high risk of falling, or a high risk of someone falling into you, so contact sports, skiing, horse riding,’ says Launder. ‘These are obviously risks that you decide to take yourself, there are no rules as such about them.’
Overheating is another thing to avoid. ‘The baby can’t maintain their own temperature; they go off your temperature and are always a few degrees warmer than you,’ says Launder. ‘So if you’re really hot, the baby is also going to be really hot: you want to make sure you’re not doing things like Bikram yoga or going into saunas, because that’s immediately overheating you and there’s no escape from that - there’s no air flow.’
WATCH YOUR HEART RATE
It’s also important to be mindful of your heart rate, but there’s no need to obsess over numbers. ‘In your first trimester your heart rate will be higher so you’ll find when you do something you found easy before – it will feel suddenly like tougher cardio. That’s just because your body is pumping more blood around and it’s busy, doing so much stuff,’ explains Launder.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a heart rate monitor or a fitness tracker to tell you your exact rate: ‘If you feel that you can’t catch your breath or that you couldn’t hold a conversation then that’s a sign to bring the level down a bit.'
How much exercise should I get during pregnancy?
Taking a breather in the most literal sense is important during pregnancy.
‘If you try and work out every day, each workout isn’t going to be great because you haven’t recovered and you’re tired, you’re not going to be performing where you want to be,’ says Launder. ‘Rest is important because your baby is taking all your energy.’
For someone who runs, she advises doing two strength sessions for every run you do and then for every strength session, having a rest. That means in one week you could do one run, two strength sessions, two rest days, and then a Pilates or a stretch.
Can I still work my core when pregnant?
This is one of the most common questions people ask trainers when they get pregnant. The answer depends largely on which trimester you’re in.
‘In your first trimester you can work your core and still do a plank and crunches – unless you’re someone who starts showing by eight weeks, which can happen,’ says Launder.
Her advice though is to try and think about what it is you’re working your core for? And no, it’s not a six-pack.
ADAPTING CORE EXERCISES TO SUIT YOU
‘You’re trying to get a strong, deep base in your core to support your bump. So holding a plank for 30 seconds might not actually be that effective for what you want. It might be better to do an exercise in the plank position, for example engaging your breath as you hold the position.’
After the first trimester, or from the time that the bump starts to show, Launder advises her clients to regress their core exercises: ‘So, start to drop to your knees in your plank (you can still make it a very long half plank), and for press ups too.
'When you do side planks, drop the bottom knee down and then control your core with your breathing – exhale on the effort and engage the core (basically, gently hug the baby into your spine on the hardest part of the exercise). This will make exercises more core efficient. You can make every single exercise a core exercise if you’re clever. ’
AVOID PUTTING TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON YOUR CORE
As your bump grows, you want to avoid putting too much pressure on your core from the inside, and instead aim to protect and support it.
For Amy Lane, this was one of the biggest things she learnt about exercising when pregnant: ‘It wasn’t until I was 17 weeks pregnant (and a month into my second trimester) did I discover that you should exercise caution with core work. I’d gone into my pregnancy fit and strong and able to manage my body well during a plank, so I assumed that I could still do this. However, it wasn’t until I sought advice for “doming” [abdominal separation] that I learned that I’d been putting too much pressure on my midsection.’