As you know, exercise is important to me and that doesn’t change when I am pregnant. In fact, I think exercise is even more important when you are pregnant because your body is changing so rapidly and you need to keep your muscles toned and strong to support all of the changes and also get you ready for the birthing process. It also helps you bounce back postpartum more quickly if you were toned and healthy going into it.
I feel very fortunate to have a doctor who shares my beliefs about exercising while pregnant and does not place what I feel are unnecessary restrictions on me to error on the side of caution (one of the big reasons I chose him). I also do not take advantage of that and try not to push it too much. You are pregnant for goodness sakes, if ever you had an excuse to slack a bit on the exercise, now is the time to play that card.
Before I get started with rules, a note on workout clothes when you are pregnant. Usually pre-pregnancy tights and shorts can suffice throughout the duration of a pregnancy although it may require folding the waistband down a bit. I had to buy larger sports bras and highly recommend these from Title 9 because with the velcro in the straps, they can double as nursing bras after the baby arrives. When your t-shirts get too tight or short, borrow your significant others rather than buying new ones. I also had a stash of t-shirts from races and whatnot that were larger than I would normally wear, which I saved for maternity workout shirts. If you are running or jumping a lot during your pregnancy workouts, after about the first trimester, a belt like this helps a lot with support.
Here are the “rules” I follow for exercising while pregnant. These have been compiled from dozens of sources as I have read articles or have had conversations with fellow workout enthusiasts and been modified to fit with how I feel while pregnant. Please note that I am not a medical professional so check with your doctor on your workout plan of attack while pregnant before getting started.
1. Don’t go anaerobic.
I don’t wear a heart rate monitor and stick to under a certain number of beats-per-minutes, but I do pay close attention to my body and when I start feeling like my heart is beating in my throat or any other sign you feel when you go anaerobic, I slow it down…walk the hill, whatever it takes to feel aerobic again. If you are a numbers person, when on a workout machine where it is easy to check your heart rate, I like to strive for between 140 and 155 bpm to ensure I am getting a decent workout but not going too hard. Again, there is absolutely no reason to push it when you are pregnant.
2. Don’t start a new exercise that is harder than what you did pre-pregnancy.
Many doctors state this as don’t do anything new when you are pregnant, but I feel it needs revising because when I am not pregnant, I exercise in a way that gives me the best workout, most bang for the buck which for me usually entails running or cycling/mountain biking. I don’t spend a lot of time inside the gym on machines. When I am pregnant, running becomes much less enjoyable and I immediately start cross training on the elliptical machine or that machine that sort of emulates the running motion but much lower impact because your legs are supported or yet another machine where your legs essentially move back and forth in a scissor fashion. Seriously, the companies that make these machines need to give them all unique names because they are hard to describe. Here, this will help.
What I call the “supported running machine.”
The “scissor machine.”
So technically, these are new exercises, new motions for me that I start after I am pregnant, but let’s be honest…as much as the calories burned claims to be the same or even higher than running on the treadmill, these machines do not require the same level of exertion that running does. So while they are new exercises, they are totally fair game and actually a good way for me to slow down while pregnant.
3. Don’t exercise on an empty stomach
When I am not pregnant, I often exercise on an empty stomach and do not have any problems. When I am pregnant, I find my body deals better having some calories moving through my body. I also like to have a package of Clif ShotBloks or an energy bar on hand just in case.
4. Drink plenty of water
I become a freak about my water bottle the second I get pregnant. It becomes my security blanket, especially when exercising. Pregnant women need so much more water and exercising only increases this need. Don’t forget your water bottle or skimp on the water intake.
5. Don’t overheat
It seems obvious but it is easy to do. Just be careful not to let yourself get too hot.
6. Cool down
While everyone should cool down, I don’t always do it, but I find that when I am pregnant, if I suddenly stop what I am doing without cool down, I feel light-headed. My personal rule-of-thumb is to get my heart rate down to at least between 110 – 120 before getting off a machine.
7. Find a friend to exercise with
I like to exercise with friends as often as possible, pregnant or not, but the safety element of exercising with someone makes it even more important when you are pregnant. Safety plus company…you really cannot beat it!
8. No sit ups
I love love love this rule because I pretty much hate ab workouts. The one thing my doctor instructed me not to do once I became pregnant was ab exercises because they actually have the opposite effect than what you are expecting. Something about how the muscles stretch, if you are working them it actually makes them look bigger rather than smaller and leaner.
9. Keep up the strength training
Whether it’s yoga or weight machines or what, it is important to keep all of your muscles toned, not just your legs. To me it feels a lot easier to get out of balance (which leads to injury) when you are pregnant, so I still do the legs and arms air weight machines when I am pregnant.
10. Listen to your body
The most important rule! Your body sends a lot of signals so pay attention to them. You may need slow down or perhaps just more calories or water. Whatever it is, listen and react to your body’s needs!
Right now I am struggling with the rule and that my pelvic floor aches for the rest of the day after I run. I am begrudgingly going to take this as my cue to stop running and put away my running belt for this pregnancy. It is a few weeks earlier than my original goal, but it is really not worth it to feel uncomfortable and I need to practice what I preach and listen to my body.
So yes, while these are my rules, it is not always easy to follow them. Anyway, I hope they are helpful for you or someone you know as well.
Do you know of other rules you think should be on this list?