A woman’s body experiences a lot of changes during pregnancy. Those changes range from the physical to the psychological and learning how to cope with such drastic changes can be overwhelming. We, at What Women Want…Magazine, are here to help you find out the healthiest and most effective ways to break a sweat when you are exercising for two. The key to a successful exercise program during pregnancy is to know your body from head to toe, and inside out. Your body will give you natural signals when it is time to reduce the level of exercise you are performing. By doing so, you and your baby’s health and safety will be right at your fingertips throughout the entire pregnancy.
If you have been following a regular exercise program prior to your pregnancy, you should be able to maintain that program to some degree throughout your pregnancy. If you are just starting an exercise program as a way of improving your health during pregnancy, you should start very slowly and be extra careful as to not over exert yourself. When taken from the proper approach, exercise can be a great way to boost your immune system and provide the circulation and energy levels needed to help you conceive, enjoy your pregnancy and prepare your body for labor. Regardless of the conditions, however, we urge that you consult your physician before starting to exercise while you are pregnant.
Exercise daily. Exercise will keep you energized and will help you maintain your psychological as well as physical health.
Wear comfortable exercise footwear and gear that help provide support and cushioning. Choose light, cotton clothing that breathes.
Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids during and after exercise as to avoid dehydration.
Include relaxation and stretching before and after your workout.
Eat a healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain breads, brown rice, muesli, oats and grains. The demands of pregnancy require about 300 extra calories a day.
Engage in activities such as brisk walking, swimming and low intensity resistance training. Those activities are ideal during pregnancy because they eliminate contact, pounding and very slim to none risk of falling.
Include exercises that specifically strengthen the thighs, chest, shoulders, upper and lower back, buttocks, abdominals and pelvic floor muscles (sample exercises are provided at the end of the article).
Monitor your heart rate and breathing. As a general rule, your heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute. Your baby’s heart rate is simultaneous with yours; if your heart rate is racing, odds are so is your baby’s. A heart rate monitor is a worthwhile investment for exercise during pregnancy.
Exercise with weights. This will provide you with the structural and muscular strength to support and accommodate your increasing body weight.
Hire a Personal Trainer to guide you through your pregnancy exercise program. Your Personal Trainer will help monitor the intensity you should be working at, the exercises you should and should not perform, and will be there to offer assistance and motivation when needed. You can also check out your Gym for exercise programs that are suitable for pregnant women.
Ever exercise to a point of exhaustion or breathlessness. This is a sign that your body and your baby are not getting the oxygen supply they need.
Exercise in extremely hot weather.
Engage in contact sports.
Use jerky, jarring or twisting movements as that applies extra stress on joints and body areas already overloaded by the increased weight of the pregnancy.
Make quick directional changes. Your body shape and center of gravity changes continuously throughout pregnancy resulting in reduced balance.
Perform exercises that put you on your back – such as abdominal crunches – after the first trimester of pregnancy. The “supine position” may restrict blood flow throughout your body by enlarging the uterus. If you feel faint or nauseas while lying on your back, roll over to your left side.
Exercise for weight loss during pregnancy. Your body needs the fat to protect you and your baby during such a vulnerable stage. Your main objective when exercising while pregnant is to get fit, or stay fit, for your baby and your health.
Lift heavy weights because doing so can increase your blood pressure. Stick to weights you can lift without having to hold your breath.
Guidelines to lifting weights during pregnancy:
- Use lighter weights, and higher repetitions.
- Avoid walking lunges or other exercises that might hurt your pelvic area.
- Chose weight machines over free weights as dumbbells require more control and a larger range of motion.
- After the first trimester, avoid lifting weights while lying flat on your back as that applies pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which is in charge of providing blood flow to your brain and uterus. Thus, instead of performing bench press, opt for an incline bench press where you will be sitting at an incline as opposed to flat on your back.
- Use slow controlled movements. The combination of the increase in the hormone relaxin – which loosens up connective tissue for extra pliability in your joints – and making uncontrolled, quick movements may result in injury.
- Avoid the valsalva maneuver – forcefully exhaling without actually releasing air – as that significantly increases blood pressure and increases the risk of injury in the pelvic area.
- During the second trimester, it is recommended to start shifting from standing to seated exercises in order to reduce blood pooling in your legs, which may leave you feeling lightheaded and dizzy. The same exercise performed standing, such as a dumbbell shoulder press, may be performed sitting on a bench or even on a machine of the same purpose.
- Follow an average of 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions per exercise, with no more than two exercises a day targeting the same muscle group.
Sample exercises for your upper body
- Shoulder Press Machine: start with handles level with your shoulders, take a deep breath and press directly overhead as you exhale. Slowly slower handles back down to starting position and repeat.
- Seated Row Machine: sit with your feet pressed against the foot plate, chest should be upright and arms should be extended. Take a deep breath and pull handle towards your chest (roughly in line with your sports bra) while keeping your chest upright. Exhale as you continue pulling until both elbows move past your chest. Stop the movement when you feel your shoulder blades closing in on each other and then slowly return the handle to the starting position and repeat motion.
- Bench Press Machine: take a deep breath and press handles away from your chest as you exhale. Keep your abdominal muscles contracted as you perform the movement. Once your arms are fully extended, slowly move the handles back in toward your chest following the same path back to the starting position. Repeat movement.
- Lateral Pulldown Machine: set your weight, grab the bar and sit with your thighs pushing against the thigh pad. Take a deep breath and pull bar down to shoulder level as you exhale. Slowly return bar to starting position and repeat.
Sample exercises for your lower body
- Leg Press Machine: align your hips with the back pad and your ankles with the ankle pad, take a deep breath and extend your legs while exhaling as your feet move up. Once your knees are almost fully extended (do not “lock” them out) slowly return back to starting position and repeat. Keep your abs contracted throughout exercise.
- Hamstring Curl Machine: align your hips with the back pad and your knees with the knee pad. With your legs extended and feet in line with knees, take a deep breath and push down on the weight while flexing your legs and exhale as your feet move down. Once your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle, slowly return your feet to the starting position and repeat. Keep your abs contracted throughout exercise.
- Hip Abduction Machine: Take a deep breath, push your knees against the knee pads and exhale while you continue pushing as your legs move away from each other. Once you feel that you can not push out anymore, slowly bring the knee pads back to the starting position and repeat.
- Hip Adduction Machine: same as Hip Abduction machine, but instead this time you will be moving your legs in, rather than out. Follow the same guidelines.
Note: Remember to use proper breathing patterns during all exercises.
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