When a woman is pregnant, getting in a workout at the gym may not be the first thing on her mind. The couch is comfortable for swollen feet. Naps are enticing after nights of tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable. Nausea makes the thought of leaving the house seem daunting.
But overcoming these obstacles is both possible and quite important, says Ashley Swoboda, a personal trainer who owns Anytime Fitness in Jefferson City with her husband, Nick.
“It’s very important because you want to provide the healthiest and safest place for your baby to grow,” Swoboda said.
Swoboda conducts one-on-one and small group training sessions with prenatal and postnatal clients. For the past several months, she’s had a special empathy for these women, since she herself is expecting a baby boy due April 1. She’s kept up a regular workout routine, but she has noticed her body’s new limitations and adjusted accordingly.
“I was surprised how winded I got — just doing basic things, I would get out of breath faster,” Swoboda said. “It was surprising how long it would take me to recover as well, how long it would take me to catch my breath after working out.”
Exercising at least two or three days per week during pregnancy not only keeps the body healthy while the baby grows; it also strengthens muscles used during delivery and helps women recover faster after birth, Swoboda said. Unfortunately, many women avoid working out because they believe it is unsafe or they simply don’t know what exercises to try.
“I had two different ladies, where their first pregnancy they avoided working out because they didn’t know what to do,” Swoboda said. “During their second pregnancy, they did the prenatal and postnatal training, and they said it was completely different. Their labor was so much better; they recovered so much faster; they lost their baby weight — they are in much better shape.”
For some women, watching their bodies change and gain weight during pregnancy can be a mental and emotional struggle, Swoboda said. She makes sure to remind them it’s OK and necessary to put on weight at a healthy rate. “I’ve never met a client that I didn’t think was absolutely stunning and beautiful during their pregnancy,” she said.
After giving birth, women often feel pressure to lose weight quickly to “get their body back.” Some of her clients expect to lose the weight right away, while others are afraid it will never come off, Swoboda said.
“It’s important to be realistic and to lose weight in a healthy manner,” Swoboda said. “You spent 10 months packing on that weight. It won’t take that long, in most cases, to get it off; but if they go about it in a healthy way, they will see a consistent drop instead of doing something crazy like crash-dieting or overdoing the cardio, which isn’t healthy.”
Women should always consult their doctor before beginning to exercise again after giving birth. During both prenatal and postnatal training, it’s important for women to remember their bodies are unique and what is appropriate for one person may not be the right workout for another, Swoboda said.
“Everybody is going to vary, so don’t look at another pregnant lady and think, ‘Well, she’s doing that, so I should be doing that — what’s wrong with me?’” Swoboda said. “We know our bodies really well, so if you feel like something is unsafe or doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. But if you feel like you can do it and it’s safe, then go ahead. I’ve had a lot of criticism for squatting and dead-lifting — but for me, this is a fraction of what I usually lift. So for me, this is safe, and I can see my form is good. But everyone is different — there’s not a cookie cutter, one-thing-fits-all.”
MYTH 1: Don’t lift weights; and if you do, make sure it is no more than 15 pounds.
Swoboda: This is probably the most common one I hear. While I agree for some women 15 pounds is going to be plenty of weight, the majority of us that are used to strength training won’t even bat an eye at 15 pounds. Each person is going to be different, so you can’t apply an across-the-board limit and expect it to suit everyone. You have to assess each individual’s fitness level and keep in mind how long they have worked out and if they regularly implement strength training into their routine. The type of exercise they perform also contributes to how much weight they will lift. Fifteen pounds on a leg press is not equivalent to a 15-pound bicep curl. The leg press would be exceptionally easy, but the bicep curl would be pretty challenging. You want to make sure you challenge yourself while maintaining safety, proper form and breathing. If you are holding your breath, you are reducing the amount of oxygen available to your baby, so choosing an intensity level that allows you to maintain proper breathing is key!
MYTH 2: Don’t train your core.
Swoboda: Back pain is one of the most common complaints I hear from prenatal clients. Having a strong core is crucial to reducing back pain, and that means strengthening both your abdominal wall and back. There are some exercises that are not safe after your first trimester, such as crunches on your back or anything else leaving you in a supine position, but that shouldn’t stop you from training your core. Pelvic floor exercises are key and should be implemented into your training both during and after pregnancy.
MYTH 3: Don’t run.
Swoboda: If you are a runner and enjoy running, keep it up! I wouldn’t encourage someone that is new to working out to kick-start her training by picking up running for the first time, because there are plenty of other options out there that are more suitable for beginners. However, if you are an avid runner, there is no need to stop. You know your body best, so if you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe then it’s time to find another form of cardio.
MYTH 4: I’m eating for two!
Swoboda: This is the reason most women struggle to get their baby weight off after pregnancy. If you spend your entire pregnancy eating for two, then you will gain a lot of extra weight. You only need approximately 100-300 extra calories per day depending on what trimester you are in — not double what you typically consume. I often hear of people gaining 50-plus pounds! Granted, while there are some individuals who will need to gain more weight, a healthy individual can expect to gain between 25-35 pounds.
On the flip side, this isn’t the time to diet. I’ve heard women say they will restrict their food out of fear of what they will gain. This isn’t the time to be selfish. It isn’t about you — it’s about providing the best home (your body) possible for your baby, and that requires you to take care of it.
MYTH 5: Don’t let your heart rate go above 140 bpm.
Swoboda: First off, this guideline was thrown out in the 1990s. I encourage my clients to use the talk test or Borg RPE (rate of perceived exertion) to gauge their intensity level. Everyone’s heart rate varies, so 140 bpm for one client will not be the same for another. Overall, you want to find a level that is challenging but still allows you to carry on a conversation. You want to push yourself but avoid intensities that leave you short of breath or overheated. As you progress through your pregnancy, you will notice you are more easily winded and it takes longer to recover, so you will need to make adjustments accordingly.
Always consult with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program. If you hire a trainer, ensure they have proper training and certifications for pre/postnatal training. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Each of these exercises can be performed by anyone, pregnant or not. The beginner-level versions are recommended for those new to exercise, while the intermediate levels are suitable for those who have some experience working out. Advanced workouts should be attempted only by avid exercisers, especially if pregnant. The number of repetitions can vary with fitness level, but eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise is a good starting point. Never attempt an exercise you are not comfortable with, and seek the advice of your doctor and trainer if needed.
Begin with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Grasp TRX bands, then, hinging at the hips, drop into the squat position. Return slowly to a standing position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. This is great for those with a limited range of motion due to poor hip or ankle flexibility or knee issues; using the TRX band allows you to keep your knees in proper alignment with the rest of your body, as well as maximize your range of motion.
Hold a dumbbell horizontally at chest level, (A) then drop down into squat position as in the beginner level. (B) This variation is more difficult because of the added resistance and the lack of stability provided by the TRX bands. The proper weight of the dumbbell will vary by person; it should be challenging but allow maintenance of proper form and the ability to breathe consistently.
Begin standing up straight, and hold a barbell so that it rests low across the back of your shoulders. (A) Then drop down into squat position, making sure to maintain a neutral spine. (B) Letting your back round out or knees cave in are common mistakes that can cause injury or unnecessary pain. As with the intermediate level, the weight of the barbell will vary by person. This should be attempted only by experienced squatters or under the direction of a certified trainer.
Begin with knees bent. Grasp the TRX bands and lean back until arms are fully extended. (A) Keeping your spine neutrally aligned, use your arms to pull yourself up to the TRX handles, squeezing your shoulder blades together. (B) Lower yourself back down until arms are fully extended once more.
Grasp the TRX bands and walk your feet forward until your body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.(A) As with the beginner move, begin with arms fully extended, then pull yourself up to the TRX handles before lowering yourself back down. (B)
Start in a prone position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and knees bent, resting on the ground. (A) Keeping your spine neutral, lower your body to the floor by bending your arms, (B) then push your body up until your arms are fully extended. The middle of your chest should align with your thumbs. For women far along in their pregnancy who find this difficult to do without their belly getting in the way, try the intermediate version. You can raise the height of the bar to decrease the level of intensity.
This version uses a barbell in its rack instead of the floor. Begin with arms extended, a little wider than shoulder-width apart. (A) Lean forward onto your toes so that your body is angled over the bar, and adjust your position so the middle of your chest aligns with the bar. Lower your body to the bar by bending your arms, (B) then push your body back up by extending your arms and keeping your spine neutral. To make the exercise more challenging, start with the bar lower to the ground. If you’re able, choose this version over the beginner version; your center of gravity will be more similar to a regular push-up.
This is a regular push-up. Use same technique as in the beginner version, but keep your body straight throughout, standing on toes instead of allowing knees to rest on floor. This version is not recommended for anyone experiencing lower back pain.