Mother and Baby

8 ways to cope with pregnancy if you love exercise

Are you the fitness-obsessed type who dreads ‘taking it easy’? If so, exercise during pregnancy can be a challenge – where once you enjoyed pre-work HIIT classes and regularly pounding the pavement, now you’re carrying a baby it can be hard to know what to do with yourself.

The NHS recommends keeping active during pregnancy to help you cope better with labour and recover after birth. However, most pregnant women will receive plenty of advice to “slow down” and “cut back on the exercise”, which can be confusing and unclear if you’re a gym nut used to donning the Lycra daily.

So what should fitness lovers really do when it comes to pre-natal exercising? We spoke to the experts…

1) Remember everyone is different

Much online advice is generic and could be aimed at pregnant women exercising for the first time, not those who live and breathe fitness. Therefore, you can tailor your approach to your existing fitness levels; have a quick chat with a personal trainer at your gym if you’re unsure.

Maximo Edralin, a PT for Virgin Active says: “Exercise in pregnancy depends very much on an individual’s training experience. A pregnant lady who is new to exercise would stick to low-intensity exercises. However for women used to exercise it’s possible to train similarly to before pregnancy in the early stages. That said if you’re practicing a combat or contact sport, you might want to find another way of keeping fit for now.”

2) Take the intensity down, rather than stopping

While active women can continue exercising during pregnancy, it’s not the time to aim for a personal best or push yourself to whole new levels of sweatiness in a class. Instead, stick to a level that feels comfortable, which might be lower than your usual knock-it-out-of-the-park power.

Maximo says: “You can carry on HIIT and cardio if you did it before pregnancy, but take it to a lower intensity. For example, if you’re a runner and race regularly, decrease the intensity of your running (either the time, pace or distance) and hold off from racing until after delivery.”

3) Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

If taking your foot off the pedal exercise-wise feels mentally tough, consider why you’re so focused on pushing yourself. “Women struggle generally with the idea of slowing down because we live in a time where busy-ness is highly-prized and our productivity is valued over our wellbeing,” says Dr. Emma Svanberg, a clinical psychologist, known as The Mumologist.

“Becoming pregnant can challenge this – physiologically we may need to slow down, rest and allow ourselves to be affected by pregnancy.”

This isn’t to say you have to simply kick back on a chaise longue for the rest of your pregnancy, but give yourself some slack if you’re struggling with the notion that you can’t be at peak physical fitness right now. “If we feel like we’re only valuable when we’re being productive and achieving highly in all aspects of life, then slowing down can feel like a form of failure” says Dr. Svanberg. Remember – you are not a failure for listening to your body’s needs.

4) Innovate, rather than feeling restricted

Pregnancy can bring with it a sense that you’re suddenly governed by endless new rules and regulations. While there are certainly some exercise guidelines you need to follow, options remain available.

An example is core exercises, explains Maximo. “From the second trimester, it’s best to avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back. This is because the weight of your enlarging uterus could compress major blood vessels and restrict circulation to yourself and the baby, which could make you feel nauseous, dizzy and short of breath. I would also avoid advanced ab exercises, such as sit-ups and leg raises” he says.

However, that doesn’t mean you simply have to drop core exercises completely. Instead, see this as an opportunity to experiment with new techniques and moves. “Try the superman from a box position – lift an arm and a leg at the same time, focusing on ab and glute contractions” suggests Maximo. “You can also do planks on your knees and press-up from the box position to maintain your core strength.”

5) Embrace classes

If you’re keen to keep fit but unsure of what you can and can’t do during pregnancy, then try attending classes with a trained professional in charge.

Many popular classes, from spinning to Body Pump, are open to pregnant women, and they allow you to exercise under the supervision of a fitness expert. Just make sure you avoid combat-based activities, as going to a full-on contact martial arts class is not what you need right now!

6) Stay in tune with your body

Pregnancy is a time when we often feel bombarded with advice, but ultimately you know your body best. “Work out what your body wants and needs” says Carolyn Cowan, a therapist who specialises in pre- and post-natal women. “Some people give away responsibility for their pregnant body to a particular medical model or a book they’ve read, but you can decide to remain self-determined and use your intuition.”

This, of course, does not mean you should ignore medical advice and simply carry on regardless, but you can consciously tune into your body and intuitively register what is and isn’t working for you, fitness-wise. If it feels good, you can continue with much of the exercise you were doing before pregnancy, although if you do start to experience discomfort, then take heed and stop, rather than trying to push through niggles as you may be used to doing.

Your main area of focus should change trimester to trimester, says Maximo. “Due to vascular underfill during the first trimester, there’s a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate,” he says. “Monitor your cardio as you’re at risk of dizziness and nausea during this time”.

“In the second trimester, you can expect a larger change in weight. Exercising more will not reduce your weight at this stage, so don’t suddenly up the intensity. The second trimester also sees a surge in the hormone relaxin, which makes ligaments more supple. This means you should be aware of the injury and, for weights, stick to lighter loads and more stable postures, such as seated, using machines or cables, or leaning against a wall.”

“In the third-trimester blood volume continues to increase and heart rate may drop slightly, so don’t rely 100% on heart rate to ensure you’re not working too hard. Keep exercise low-to-moderate intensity, wear thin, breathable clothing and stay hydrated.”

7) Ignore intrusive comments

As a pregnant woman, it can feel like your body is suddenly public property, with ‘well-meaning’ friends, family and even strangers offering unwarranted comments and advice. This can also extend to your fitness routine; many pregnant women report that they have been told what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do while trying to stay active.

It can be tricky receiving this unasked-for advice, but as long as you aren’t breaking healthcare guidelines, try to ignore it. “All advice and judgement should pass through the lens of your own expertise and judgement,” says Emma.

“There are many ways you can respond, depending on how confrontational you feel! On the same days, you might just say “thank you”, whereas on others you may choose to challenge it. Over time, you will come to find those people whose guidance you trust. Suddenly being open to scrutiny is difficult to get used to, but it’s good practice for parenting, when you need to take the masses of advice on offer with a hefty pinch of salt.”

8) And breathe…

If you’re a fit, active, busy person, you might not think about taking the time to focus on more mellow (but equally important) aspects of your health. Take your breathing, for example. “I recommend breathing exercises during pregnancy, as it’s very common for women to tense up during birth, making muscles and ligaments tighten,” says Maximo.

“If you can learn to relax during contractions with breathing, it can help make the birth quicker and less painful. Yoga, meditation and hypnobirthing classes will help you practice your breathing.”

Ultimately, remember exercise doesn’t need to involve gallons of sweat and sending your Fitbit into overdrive to be worthwhile. You can certainly stay active during pregnancy – with some carefully-considered alterations to your usual routine – and in doing so make your return to full fitness after birth all the easier.

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  • Author: Sophie Hines Sophie Hines
  • Job Title: Contributing writer
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