Staying in shape is a big concern for many women when they become pregnant. Our fitness expert, Minna Lessig, is here to offer us some tips on how to do it safely.
Before beginning any exercise program, pregnant women must get a physical examination and a doctor's approval. This is because certain conditions may indicate that a woman should not exercise or that she needs to modify her routine.
The benefits are manifold. They include
- Increased stamina.
- Shorter, less complicated labor.
- Decreased stress.
- Less fatigue.
- Less back pain.
- Lower risk of getting varicose veins.
- Less water retention.
- Lower risk of constipation.
- Increased mental well-being.
- Faster recovery.
Pregnancy is a time when women really need to listen to their bodies. Dizziness and nausea indicate you are pushing yourself too hard. You can measure the intensity of your workout by using what's called the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and a heart rate monitor. Your RPE is your subjective rating of the intensity of your exercise. On a scale of 6 to 20, where 6 is at rest, or no exertion at all, and 20 is maximal effort, pregnant women need to stay in the 11 (fairly light) to 15 (hard) range. You can also use a heart rate monitor, but I recommend you still use the RPE measurement in conjunction with it. Pregnant women who have not exercised very much should stay at 50-60% of their maximal heart rate. Intermediate exercisers can go to 60-70% and advanced exercisers can work up to 80%.
Precautions, Modifications, Recommendations
Women who have never exercised before should not embark on a new, vigorous fitness routine. Instead, walking, swimming, and prenatal yoga are recommended.
Women who were exercising before becoming pregnant may continue to exercise similarly during pregnancy with a few modifications:
- Regarding weights, start with the amount of weight you lifted before becoming pregnant, or with less, and then decrease weight. Start modifying the number of sets and/or reps starting at 10-12 weeks.
- Keep breath steady while lifting weight. Holding your breath can block blood flow to the fetus.
- Sit or stand while lifting weights. Never lift in a supine (lying down face up) position.
- Keep your head above your belly at all times. Lifting weights in a supine position decreases cardiac output--the amount of blood pumped per minute by the heart. And that decreases the oxygenated nutrient blood supply to the fetus's tissues and to the mom.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water every 15 minutes during exercise.
- Control body temperature. Don't exercise in climates that are too hot or too cold. Wear appropriate clothing for the temperature.
Exercises foPregnant Women
- Belly breathing: Belly breathing is used to strengthen the abdominals and the lower back when your are in the "all-fours" position. Strong abdominals are important because they help you carry the fetus (the added weight) and avoid back pain (because of the added weight). They also help you when it comes to pushing the baby through the birth canal. Basically, it is just teaching women how to squeeze the abdominals inward along with the breath.
- "All-fours" extensions: This entails lifting the opposite arm and leg to strengthen the entire back. A strong back is important to help pregnant women maintain good posture because as the breasts and belly grow, the added weight can pull you out of healthy alignment, causing rounded shoulders, for example.
- Squat and full birth squat: Strength and flexibility in the legs and hips will help pregnant women handle the positions of labor for hours on end. The squat even simulates the increasingly populr natural birth squat position and the full birth squat. This exercise requires a sturdy chair or something else to hold onto. This is a modification stressed in pregnancy exercise. Due to the increasing size of the belly, balance is offset and the pregnant woman needs extra support during strength exercises like squats.
- Calf and hip flexor stretch: This is done against a wall, or holding onto a chair. A common area of cramping is in the calves.
- Incline pushup hold: This is done either on a table or against the wall. It's for upper and core strength. Belly breathing can be done this way, too.
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