Q: Do I need to exercise during pregnancy? Are there any benefits?
A: Do you ever really need to do anything? No, and no one can ever make you do anything, especially something you don’t want to do or feel like doing in the first place. Of course, at Metro Moms Fitness we’re going to suggest you stay or become active during your pregnancy because our research shows it does help in the end.
We’ve all heard of women complain about being extremely tired during their first trimester. Most of these women deal with the overwhelming tiredness by giving in to it and being lazy. These women may use pregnancy as an excuse to watch endless hours of trashy TV, decline invites to social gatherings because they feel they don’t have the energy to get ready or leave the house, or even indulge in junk food or other unhealthy cravings because they’re supposedly “eating for two.” In reality, if first trimester women were to get off the couch and be out and about they’d find they have more energy and would think more positively about their self and their changing body. Exercise releases “feel-good” endorphins and increases body image and self worth. And with one good choice typically comes another, meaning if you workout you’re more likely to consider eating a healthy meal versus hitting the drive-thru on impulse.
Of course, each person’s body is constructed uniquely and functions differently. For this reason, some women may be physically unable to participate in exercise while they’re pregnant because of pregnancy-related illnesses such as hypertension or high blood pressure. But even if you’re bed-ridden for a duration of your pregnancy you may still be able to reap the benefits of exercise by performing Kegel exercises or using yogic breathing techniques to relax your mind and body while contracting your abdominal muscles and allowing more oxygen to reach your growing baby. Kegel exercises and yogic breathing alone and together will help women receive health benefits and payoffs throughout their pregnancy and delivery because they’ll have a strong pelvic floor to support pushing baby out in a vaginal delivery. Practicing yogic breathing can take place of Lamaze techniques and help women block out outside interference and tension during painful labor contractions.
In the end, what it all boils down to is exercise doesn’t have any negative effects for healthy women during pregnancy. If you could increase your physical strength, flexibility, endurance, energy, and chances to make your delivery an enjoyable experience, wouldn’t you do whatever you it takes to make it happen?
Q: If I want to exercise and be active while I’m pregnant, how soon can I start and when should I stop?
A: Always consult with your physician first before continuing an existing exercise program or beginning any new exercise program. With that said, if you exercised regularly before you became pregnant you should be fine with continuing your typical program throughout your first trimester. If you feel tired, fatigued, short of breath, or nauseous, slow down or lower your intensity level. Don’t force yourself to workout if you don’t feel like it, however, in most cases once you get moving exercise can make you feel more energized, alert, and confident.
For those new to exercise, once you consult with your physician you should be able to start a basic workout program by incorporating walking, stretching and low resistance strength-training into your daily routine. If something doesn’t feel good or right, take it easy or discuss any concerns with your physician. You know your own body better than anyone else and how it functions so don’t ignore its signals if it’s telling you to stop or lower your activity.
For any prenatal exercise participant, you can continue any physical activity up until you or your body decides to call it quits. (That may mean the end of the second trimester for some or a few hours before labor hits for others.) Some prenatal exercises, like prenatal yoga, are very beneficial to continue throughout all trimesters of pregnancy and can assist in your delivery by preparing your body to stretch, increasing your physical endurance and strength, exercising your pelvic floor muscles and teaching you proper breathing techniques to use during labor and delivery. Resistance training or strength-training are important to continue during all stages of pregnancy to increase your strength and stamina to carry excess baby weight. Walking can help to induce labor when you’re nearing your due date and can even ease some of the stress of labor contractions once they start.
So really it’s up to the individual, their health, and how their pregnancy progresses. If you feel like exercising and your doctor gives his or her consent, then listen to the cues of your body and continue your fitness program as long as is comfortable for you.
Q: What types of exercises can I do during pregnancy?
A: Anything, really! If you’re a veteran at working out, you can pretty much continue any exercise program you were participating in before you were pregnant (with the consent of your physician) as long as you modify your activity level by using the “talk test” and don’t allow yourself to exercise to the point of fatigue. If you’re new to exercise, stick with activities like walking or swimming and start at a slow pace to gradually build your aerobic capacity. Always consult with your physician before beginning any new form of physical fitness.
Suitable exercises for pregnant women include walking, cycling, swimming, strength-training (using 2-5LB weights) and any prenatal-specific workout, such as yoga or aerobics. Make sure to never perform any twisting while you’re pregnant (you must always keep your belly pointed forward), never exercise in heated climates (whether outdoors or in exercise rooms, such as during a Bikram yoga class), and if you don’t feel “up” to exercising then don’t do it. The key point to enforce is that you’re working out to relieve stress and maintain endurance and strength for the physical act of delivering your baby – you never exercise to lose weight during pregnancy. As well, lowering your caloric intake too much and exercising at the extreme will offer the opposite effect and will most likely cause harm to your innocent baby. All women need to gain weight at a healthy rate throughout their entire pregnancy. Please consult with your physician or a Metro Moms Fitness registered prenatal nutritionist to determine your individual weight gain and nutritional needs.
Q: What is a safe or normal weight gain?
A: Weight gain during pregnancy is determined entirely on your physical body type and activity level. For underweight women, strive to gain 28-40LBs. For average weight women, 25-35LBs is considered normal weight gain. And for overweight women, 15-25LBs is best. Please discuss your particular weight gain with your physician to find out what’s right for your body.
Q: I’ve heard of Kegel exercises, but what are they and why are they important?
A: In order to explain Kegel exercises you must first understand the muscles used to perform these exercises. Your pelvic floor muscles consist of your urethra, vagina, pubococcygeus muscles (or PC muscles), and rectum, and together they support your uterus, bladder, bowels and other pelvic organs. As the uterus grows and expands, these muscles become overworked and begin to sag, causing many problems, such as involuntarily urination. Luckily, this can be controlled by strengthening the main muscle of the pelvic floor – the PC muscle, which forms a figure eight around the openings of the urethra, vagina and rectum. This can be done by performing Kegel exercises, or squeezing and tightening this muscle. (Think, holding your urine in before you can make it to the restroom.) To make sure you’re engaging this muscle and exercising it correctly, you can try to stop the flow of urine while going to the bathroom or you can take two fingers and press down on top of your pubic bone (you should feel the muscle surrounding your pubic bone tightening as you contract your PC muscle).
All pregnant women and all women in general, should practice Kegel exercises daily not only to strengthen your pelvic floor but also to prepare your body for pushing your baby out during a vaginal delivery. These exercises are the warm-up to the main event.
A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology observed pregnant women who participated in prenatal fitness programs involving stationary cycling and strength training. The active women reported that exercise decreased their pregnancy discomforts, relieved tension, and improved their overall self-image.
All Metro Moms Fitness prenatal exercise programs conform to the Guidelines of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), and are appropriate for all fitness levels (based on the consent of your physician).