There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to what kind of workouts you should and should not do while you're pregnant. You may have even heard a little of everything when it comes to advice. The truth is mothers who are active before they conceive are safe (and as of recently are encouraged) to stay active while pregnant. On the other hand, it is always best to check with your doctor before trying a completely new workout type so that you can discuss what to watch out for.
If your doctor does clear you for exercise, here are a few things to prep you for any type of exercise while pregnant:
Listen to your body - This is the most important, you know best and if something's not feeling right, then stop. Check yourself before you wreck the cells.
Drink lots of water - We know, the frequency and exercise of peeing becomes annoying, but keep up the water!
Give the instructor a heads up - Don't worry, they won't announce the baby's gender on Instagram before you do, but they will make your class smoother just by knowing.
Modify certain movements - This is the gray area where exercise during pregnancy can be either helpful or harmful. Get specific modification ideas below.
Most fitness classes nowadays bring their participants through a variety of movements, some which may or may not be okay for expecting mothers. Here are a few useful alternatives to some common exercises:
Instead Of This: Bicycle Crunch
When we get pregnant, core strength can be one of the hardest things to maintain. Since we've got a healthy little munchkin growing around where we usually flex our 6-pack, it is important to be aware of our range of motion and not to excessively twist or compress the baby's temporary home.
Try This: Half Crunch
The Half Crunch is exactly as it sounds. Start in a crunch position and barely raise your shoulder blades off the ground to contract the upper abs. Stay away from pulling on your neck by starting the movement by tucking your chin and looking directly up.
Instead Of This: Plank
Planks are okay for most pre and post natal women to do as long as there is no major discomfort. That being said, the growing fetus can make it tougher for proper core engagement to be maintained and thus adding pressure to the lower back.
Try This: Reverse Plank
This hold will feel challenging for anyone trying it for the first time. The idea is to prevent your hips from sagging and to keep a straight line from your ankle to your shoulders. Your abs, lower back, obliques, glutes and hamstrings will all be firing off while you maintain this hold. Like all new exercises, start off with moderate durations and increase load or duration as you become stronger. You can modify the straight-arm position by resting your forearms on the ground, instead of your palms.
Instead Of This: Plank w/ Side Step
Like the regular Plank, this movement/hold is not inherently bad for pregnant women. The problem again, lies in the fact that as pregnancy progresses, proper core engagement is more challenging to keep, placing adding stress on the lower back. If not proper core engagement can not be maintained, this exercise can hurt a lot more than it can help.
Try This: Reverse Plank w/ Side Step
The aforementioned Reverse Plank is hard enough, and now we're adding in a side step. Proceed with caution and take as many breaks as you need in order to keep your hips up as you step one heel out to the side at a time. Start with small steps, then progress only as form can be maintained. Modify arm hold by lowering to your forearms.
Instead Of This: Russian Twist
Like a Bicycle Crunch, the Russian Twist is a transverse (twisting) motion that involves hip and knee flexion (bending our knee towards us). As you know when we bring our knee closer towards us, we inevitably crowd our midsection, again invading the baby's space.
Try This: Standing Oblique Crunch
When we move in the frontal plant (side to side) we avoid a lot of the abdominal crowding we want to minimize. The Standing Oblique Crunch is great for oblique (side-abs) as well as ankle, knee and hip stability. Make sure your knee travels laterally (to the left or right of you) as it travels up to meet your elbow. Your elbow and knee should meet around your hip.
Instead Of This: High Knees
The jumping and rapid knee flexion makes this exercise a definite no-no for any showing pregnant mother.
Try This: Standing Alternating Knee Flexion
While we do have knee flexion in this movement, it is brief and gives the lower back some relief as it's forced to round. The active nature of the march is a perfect way to target lower back pain and keep the hips loose.
Instead of This: Jump Squat
While light jumping may be okay for some early mothers, the goal of a Squat Jump is to launch yourself as high as possible while launching your arms up for momentum. Repeatedly doing this is probably not something any mother should be doing.
Try This: Squat to Calf Raise
A Squat To Calf Raise follows the same mechanics of a Squat Jump, except we don't leave the ground. This allows us to target our quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves while practicing proper ankle mechanics.
Here are a few more great modifications to add to your arsenal...
This is our most often prescribed modification for anyone who has trouble with spinal flexion (abdominal crunching). The Pointer is an accessible, yet challenging way to practice proper core engagement. Try to round your back while keeping both knees and toes facing the floor.
Pointer w/ Dumbbell Row
A progression of the last exercise, incorporating a dumbbell row into the movement on the formerly elevated arm. This takes a little practice and is recommended to be done with light weight. Anything heavy can put stress on your lower back.
Squat to Rotational Dumbbell Press
The name makes it sound more complex than it is, but you're basically punching upward with some light dumbbells. The key to the movement lies in the pivot off the back foot (think a proper swing, throw, punch).
A Bridge is great modification for any tempo'ed lower body exercises (like a Kettlebell Swing), or if your knees/hips are feeling tight. Keeping your glutes strong will help alleviate lower back pain and help keep your hip complex strong.
Reverse Plank w/ Heel Tap
We went over two Reverse Plank options earlier. Here is perhaps the hardest of them all. Like the other Reverse Planks, the key is to keep your hips elevated through the movement. For proper hamstring contraction, push through your heel at the top of the leg raise.
The Wall Sit can be used for many things. A lot of us relate them to punishment, but when you are in the driver's seat of the "intensity car" you can do a lot with it. When holding (between breaks) make sure your hips are at the same height/level as your knees (or lower if our body allows). If we are unable to bring our hips down to the height of our knee, squats are recommended until our hips have enough flexibility. When holding the Wall Sit, make sure our feet are flat and weight is evenly distributed amongst our foot and legs.
Wall Sit w/ Alternating Knee Extension
As we get stronger, we add reasonable challenges in...even when we're pregnant. Here is a great challenge to try once the former Wall Sit can be held for at least 45 seconds (with proper form). When we do a Wall Sit with Alternating Knee Extension many of us have a tendency to shift our weight when our leg leaves the ground for the knee extension. Instead of shifting, concentrate on keeping your core tight and your stationary foot flat in ground.
More (*Usually) Safe Exercises
Presses (Chest & Shoulders)
Lateral/Frontal Raises (Shoulders)
Overhead & Supine (lying) Tricep Exercises
Deadlifts (chest should not past parallel with floor)
Side Planks and Variations
*It is important to keep your doctor updated with your workouts throughout your pregnancy, but being pro-active with your modifications will ensure everyone (especially your baby) has a smooth pregnancy.
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