According to ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), women with normal pregnancies should get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise everyday, including: cardiovascular exercise, light strength or resistance training and stretching or flexibility training. I find that humorous because according to AHA (American Heart Association) ALL PEOPLE should get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise everyday, including: cardiovascular exercise, light strength or resistance training and stretching or flexibility training. Soooo....whether you are pregnant or not - you need to exercise EVERYDAY!!!
OK, back to pregnancy...all women are at a different fitness levels. Some women may be able to continue their normal routine throughout their first trimester and even into their second while others may already need to make modifications. In the third trimester, depending on how big your belly is, some routines may need to be stopped completely.
During pregnancy a hormone called Relaxin is released to loosen the ligaments in the pelvis to prepare for birth. However, Relaxin also causes ALL the ligaments in the body to relax and therefore can cause instability at the joints, especially the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, shoulders and wrists, resulting in discomfort or pain. Below I have listed out some options for the pregnant exerciser to keep her safe and comfortable. Remember, it is ok to make modifications and just because some forms of exercise work for one pregnant woman, does not always mean it will work for you. If you have any questions or concerns, find a Certified Personal Trainer with experience in Prenatal Fitness.
(1) Cardiovascular exercises: Brisk walks or even lightly jogging (if you feel comfortable to do so), bike riding (outside on a smooth surface or on an indoor bike), swimming (an excellent activity since you are weightless!), dancing (especially a form that uses large rhythmic movements of upper and lower body to keep heart rate elevated and blood flowing). Choose an activity that is low or no-impact on the body. Exercise that causes the body to “bounce”, both feet leaving the ground or have the risk of falling can cause complications and injury to your body or the baby, especially in the second and third trimesters. Avoid full running, sprints, kickboxing, skiing, and jumping.
(2) Strength and resistance training: Can be done in a strength class or on the weight machines. Weight machines are ideal since they control your range of motion. If you are accustomed to free weights, start with a low weight and be careful not to go into hyperflexion or extension with the weight, i.e. full squats, full leg extensions, deep lunges, etc. It is important to safely strengthen the muscles around the joints and ligaments to add support and stability. Do not use any machines or do any exercises that your belly is pressed into a pad or the floor, or any lying on the back. Some exercise machines that are perfect for pregnancy are the seated row, lat pull down, seated chest press, biceps, triceps, leg extension and seated leg curl. Resistance training with Therabands are also very easy on the joints and can be done anywhere.
(3) Stretching: Can be done anywhere, but a Yoga or Pilates class designed specifically for pregnant women is ideal. The instructor should be knowledgeable in poses that will benefit your pregnancy and also know the ones that can be contraindicative. The use of props to modify poses should be used. In possibly your second and certainly in the third trimester you should not be lying on your stomach (can injure baby and will be extremely uncomfortable) or on your back for an extended period of time (the weight of the baby can compress the vena cava and decrease blood flow), or go into any inversion poses (where the pelvis is above the heart). In Yoga, this would eliminate DownDog, Head/ShoulderStands, Wheel or Bridge. As your belly gets bigger and stretches out the abdominal wall, any sort of ab exercises like Crunches, or any of the Ab Series in Pilates (Scissors, Single-leg/Double-Leg Stretch, etc.) or Boat in Yoga can be extremely uncomfortable and even cause the Rectus Abdominis to separate. A knowledgeable instructor will help you with modifications. And remember to be careful with your joints. Any weight-bearing poses that put the joints into hyperflexion or extensions should be modified as there will be very little if no stability in the end ranges. An example is when you are in Tabletop (kneeling on hands and knees), if your wrists hurt from the pressure of your arms, make a fist instead to push your weight into.
Both Yoga and Pilates increases body awareness, posture, muscle tone, strength and endurance, relaxation and concentration and overall wellbeing. They both utilize deep breathing that can be used during labor and delivery as a relaxation tool. The full gas exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen that occurs during deep breathing helps oxygenate your muscles (as well as baby!) and allows for deeper stretching and flexibility without injury. Pilates also focuses on activation of the pelvic floor muscles (Kegel exercises) which helps fire the deep stabilizing muscles of the lumbo-pelvic (low back) area and can help reduce the low back pain that almost all pregnant women have. Pilates will teach you to keep the body in a neutral position, whether you are practicing Pilates or any other activity. As your belly grows larger, you will have a tendency to over extend the lumbar curve in your low back. Pilates will help you keep that curve in a neutral position which will alleviate many of the pregnancy discomforts and prevent injury. Pilates also focuses on shoulder stabilization and neutral neck alignment. This will help prevent rounded shoulders and a forward head posture which can cause tight neck, shoulder and upper back muscles. Specific upper body strengthen exercises will prepare your body for pickup, carrying and breastfeeding baby.
Walking or jogging is free, and if you have a bicycle, take advantage of it as biking has very little impact on the joints. If you can join a prenatal or even a gentle yoga class, you will benefit tremendously. If you can't, try to pick up a Prenatal Yoga or fitness video and follow along everyday, along with brisk walks. If you sit at a desk all day, it is even more important that you take time to exercise, get your heart rate up and stretch.