When it comes to prenatal fitness, a lot of moms-to-be aren't sure about what's safe and what to avoid—and as a result, wind up not exercising very much during their pregnancy. Those who didn't exercise regularly before becoming pregnant are usually afraid to start something new, and those who were active before are often nervous to continue. Don't sweat it. Here are some tips to get you started on a pregnancy-safe fitness routine that works for you.
1. Start slowly.
It's okay to try new activities while pregnant, but start slowly and work your way up to more advanced or intense workouts. Begin with low reps of strengthening exercises and do low-impact cardio activities for just a few minutes each. Increase in small increments.
2. Yep, you can still lift weights.
You can get stronger during pregnancy. 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 who's certified in prenatal exercise prescription is well worth the investment if you intend to train with weights.
3. Try low-cardio workouts.
Cardiovascular exercise is great for mom and baby. Aside from burning calories to help keep the baby weight in check, the benefits for mom's cardiovascular system also 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 your heart rate at sub-maximal levels during pregnancy. Walking, elliptical machine, water aerobics, and low-impact aerobic classes are all great cardio choices for moms-to-be. Check your heart rate often throughout cardio training to make 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.
Worried about getting bored? Try varying your workouts. Make sure 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 doing cardio to strengthen the heart and lungs and burn calories. Try to include each of these key components in your workout two to three times per week.
5. Five is the magic number.
Aim for a routine you can do five days a week. It sounds like a lot to maintain (with baby prep and all that nursery planning you're doing!), but not only does this schedule 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 a week throughout pregnancy experience shorter labor and fewer medical interventions during birth, but those who exercises less frequently did not.