To all the Mamas and soon-to-be-Mamas out there, how familiar does this sound:
“You’re pregnant! Why are you exercising? Is it even safe?” or “Surely you shouldn’t be lifting weights while pregnant?”
I’ve worked with many pregnant women over the years, and one thing’s for sure; when you’re pregnant, it seems your life and personal habits are suddenly open for discussion with anyone and everyone – even complete strangers.
They mean well. But they may not be attuned to the health and safety guidelines that have advanced since their own experiences. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the recommended exercise during pregnancy was ‘light household chores’.
While you can of course work up a sweat while getting your cleaning done, the satisfaction of a tidy home can’t really compare with the burst of endorphins released from a great gym session. Mums-to-Be need these happy little endorphins just as much as the rest of us (if not more!) considering the immense changes they’re going through.
Being the healthiest possible versions of themselves – mentally, physically and emotionally – are absolutely paramount for pregnant women. And continuing to exercise, or beginning to exercise if they weren’t already, is an important way to support this.
So let’s bust the old school myth around exercise during pregnancy.
THE OLD SCHOOL THINKING
If you were not already exercising, you were not encouraged to start.
Women who exercised prior to pregnancy should not perform intense activity continuously for more than 15 minutes per session. ‘Intense activity’ was generally measured at a heartrate of 140 beats per minute.
WHAT THE GUIDELINES TELL US NOW
If you were previously sedentary, you’re encouraged to begin an exercise program at a mild or moderate intensity in both aerobic and strength conditioning.
If you are already very active, you’re encouraged to continue exercising 3 – 4 times per week at a moderate to high intensity, with the rest of the week consisting of lower intensity exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
Everyone’s response to heart rate is different, so a perceived rate of exertion (PRE) is a better way to determine intensity when resistance training. That is, on a scale of 1-10, how difficult you find an activity – 1 being very light activity, 10 being your maximum effort.
While 140 beats per minute is no longer something to live by, you still need to train smart and train safe. During pregnancy you want to ensure you are never training to your maximum effort. This applies to your range of motion, how much weight you lift and aerobic intensity. The general rule of thumb is 70% or 7 on the PRE scale.
The focus in training during pregnancy is now moving more towards the effects of high impact exercise and intra-abdominal pressure on the pelvic floor. So this also means no breath holding, no abdominal strain, no peaking or doming (excessive curvature of your spine) and always ensuring you’re performing the exercise with pelvic floor awareness and safety.
THE GOLDEN RULE
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it! Each pregnancy is different from the next. These guidelines are only a basic prescription to exercising safely, so it is always important to consult your medical professionals for advice regarding your pregnancy, and the types of exercises you might want to encourage or avoid.