Many moms-to-be are uncertain about fitness options during pregnancy, and in the face of such uncertainty end up doing very little in the way of exercise while pregnant. Those who did not exercise regularly before becoming pregnant are afraid to start something new, and those who were active before are often afraid to continue their regular activities. Doctors are sometimes helpful with specific advice, but often the limited time in a doctor visit is spent discussing more pressing topics.
But these exercises are pregnancy-safe — and perfect for a mama-to-be to do any time of day. Here are a few tips to get you started on a routine that works for you.
1. Start slowly. It's okay to begin new activities while pregnant, but be sure to start slowly and work your way up to more advanced or intense workouts. Start with low reps of strengthening exercises. Begin low-impact cardio activities for just a few minutes each. Increase in small increments as you're able to.
2. Yep, you can still lift weights. You can get stronger during pregnancy (yeah!). Using body weight as resistance is safer than weight training (so if you're more comfortable, try that instead), but know that weight training with low weights is also safe, as long as you maintain proper form and good body mechanics. A few sessions with a personal trainer certified in prenatal exercise prescription is well worth the investment if you intend to train with weights.
3. Try low-cardio workouts. Cardiovascular exercise has multiple benefits for mom and baby. Aside from calorie burning to help keep the baby weight in check, the benefits mom's cardiovascular system seem to transmit to baby as well. Studies by Dr. James F. Clapp, a pioneer in maternal exercise research, showed that babies of moms who exercise five times per week during pregnancy tolerate the trials of childbirth better and require fewer medical interventions during and after birth than those with sedentary moms. But it's important to choose low impact activities and to keep the heart rate at sub-maximal levels during pregnancy. Examples of great cardio choices for moms-to-be are swimming, walking, elliptical machine, water aerobics, and low-impact aerobic classes. Be sure to check your heart rate often throughout cardio training to be sure it stays in the 60-70 percent of max heart rate range (you can figure out your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220).
4. Change it up. Be sure to vary your workouts in order to avoid boredom and to include all the basic components of an effective prenatal fitness routine: Strengthening the muscles that tend to weaken, stretching the muscles that tend to tighten, and cardiovascular activity to strengthen the heart and lungs and burn calories. Try to include each of these key components in your workout 2-3 times per week.
5. Five is the magic number. Aim for a routine you can do five days a week. I know it sounds like a lot to maintain (with work, baby prep and all that nursery planning you're doing!) but not only does schedule this maximize the benefit of exercise, it minimizes the risk of injury as compared to sporadic training because the body is accustomed to the continuous activity. Dr. Clapp's studies showed that women who exercise five times per week throughout pregnancy experience shorter labor and fewer medical interventions during birth, but those who exercises less frequently did not.
How did you stay active during your pregnancy? Share your tips here (they'll help other women!)