Backing off on your workout now that you're pregnant? Here, fitness expert, Christine Bullock, shares her insight on pre- and postnatal fitness, walking you through how to safely adjust your workout routine to still reap the maximum benefits. Before working out, consult with your doctor to confirm it's safe for you to try these new moves.
My main focus during pregnancy and after delivery is balance. As baby grows, it can really take a toll on mom's body alignment and cause a shift in muscular and bone structure. To support the added weight, I recommend additional exercises that open and stretch the chest while also working the upper back. I also focus on strengthening pelvic floor muscles (to prep for delivery) and opening up the hips, which tend to tighten during pregnancy. Lastly, I focus on maintaining body movement across all planes (front, side, rotational) to offset the decrease in mobility. Physical balance translates into emotional and mental balance, which is needed as delivery gets close and especially after baby arrives!
It's crucial that pregnant women develop abdominal muscles. These help support the weight gain by protecting the lower back from strain and discomfort. However, many women don't exercise these muscles as often as they should, fearing they will somehow hurt the baby. Luckily, you can continue to tone stomach muscles throughout pregnancy with easy modifications.
Pay Special Attention: It's believed that unsupported pressure on abdominal muscles can increase the risk of a tear of the linea alba (the ligament running down the center of your abdomen) and cause a hernia.
Avoid: Floor exercises that lack support for the upper back and head, like traditional sit-ups. As you work out, continue to check your stomach muscles for separation. If you see a ridge running down the midline of the abdomen or feel a split sensation, stop the exercise. Exertion can aggravate stomach muscles, causing them to split further.
Try: Prop yourself up with a small stability ball, a large pillow or your forearms. This will create support for the abdominals and allow the body to work deeper muscles that strengthen the entire core, including the pelvic floor.
Even if you get your doctor's approval to start exercising again, it's important to proceed with caution. Your body is still a bit misaligned and needs some fine-tuning before you jump or run into any new routine — literally.
Pay Special Attention: For a few months postbirth, the body is still recovering from sleep deprivation, pelvic floor trauma, elevated levels of the hormone relaxin and possible diastasis recti (abdominal separation). Relaxin — the hormone which relaxed your ligaments to allow space for baby to develop — remains active in the body for up to a year, leaving joints unstable and vulnerable to injury. Your pelvic floor also needs to heal and strengthen before adding pressure from rigorous exercise.
Avoid: Exercises that can cause additional trauma to the joints and pelvic floor, such as running, jumping and heavy weights.
Try: Focus on strengthening the pelvic floor and core (abs, obliques, inner thighs, glutes and lower back). Use smaller, controlled movements that draw the abdominals in and up, like those found in the Pilates C-curve.
Continue to support the upper back and head while doing sit-ups. When working the full body, try a stable position — step into a lunge, then lower and lift in the same position, rather than stepping forward and back with each rep.
Keep in mind that it's important to start with uncomplicated stability challenges. While it may seem like you are starting slow, the good news is you can become stronger than you were prebaby because of your new awareness and strength from exercises that incorporate deep core muscles. Many of my clients end up with smaller waist lines because they sculpt a new figure with a new variety of exercises.
Expert: Christine Bullock, trainer and fitness expert