There are plenty of exercises that are safe, effective, targeted to strengthening imbalances, and supportive of the pregnant condition. Prenatal exercise is a tremendous investment in the health and well being of both mom and baby. Knowing the best exercises for pregnancy is the challenge, so use this as a guide.
It is imperative to follow general prenatal fitness guidelines, and to have a Parmed-X for pregnancy signed by your primary prenatal caregiver.
Prenatal (General Trimester Guidelines)
- If you were previously active you can work at moderate intensity 30 minutes/day or more.
- Stay well hydrated and don't become fatigued or overheated. The baby is susceptible to heat and you're more likely to be fatigued.
- Consume an additional 300 calories per 30 minutes of exercise.
- Cardio 3-5x/week 30:00
- Strength 2-4x week 30:00
- Stretch Daily
Low impact cardio is best suited for pregnancy. It reduces the pressure on the pelvic floor which is already working overtime to support the weight of the baby. It will support the abdominal wall by not stressing the linea alba (connective tissue between the recti) with the forceful downward pressure of jumping with the weight of baby, which in turn helps to reduce the severity of diastasis recti postpartum.
Maximum heart rate guidelines follow the “talk test”, in consideration of the pregnant mom’s current level of fitness. If you can talk easily during exercise you pass. No huffing and puffing!
The best cardio choices for pregnancy are:
- Walking- 30 minutes 4-7 days/week. Set your own pace; you won’t fail the talk test walking!
- Swimming- 30-45 minutes 3-4 days/week. Swimming takes weight off of the joints, offering relief especially n the last trimester.
- Elliptical or Stationary Bike- 30 minutes 3-4 days/week. Be mindful of the talk test on machines!
Pregnancy is the perfect time to focus on form and target key areas to offset imbalances that accompany the pregnant condition. The focus is typically core, glutes, lower and upper back, in a full-body functional-movement calisthenic based workout. Exercises must be monitored for symptoms indicating increasing loss of pelvic stability control, in which case certain movements may become contraindicated so as to not exacerbate the symptoms.
- Core: Intra-abdominal core work is the single best investment in prenatal core integrity. A comprehensive program recruits the core with synergy and includes the diaphragm, pelvic floor, transverse abdominus and multifidus. This work will strengthen the core including the back, prepare the pelvic floor for delivery and set up the postpartum core rehab program.
- Lower: Compound movements targeting gluteus maximus and medius, improving pelvic stability control. Lateral and unilateral movements are mindful of gentle weight load transfer to reduce the risk of pubic symphysis discomfort. Some examples are: reverse lunge, squat with lateral leg lift, and full range hip circles standing or side lying.
- Upper: Strengthening the upper body is imperative to supporting the nursing mom’s posture and the daily carrying of the baby (and car seat and huge diaper bag….) Upper back is a focus to support the weight of enlarged breasts and the nursing position. Upper body exercises can be done seated on a stability ball,standing unliateral or standing bilateral with an offset weight load for increased balance and pelvic stability work. Some examples are: cable lat pull downs, cable rows, bicep curls, and shoulder press.
Stretching daily is a tremendous investment in preventing general aches and pains during pregnancy. Dynamic stretching targets fascial lines and the range of motion of joints, and is best in the morning or whenever the body is stiff. Static stretching focuses on isometric positions to lengthen muscles, and is best at night or as a general anytime cool down. I recommend a full body program for both types of stretching, with typical key areas of focus being chest, lower back, glutes and quads.
The secret to a safe effective prenatal program is to follow the guidelines and target imbalances while keeping the movements functional and meaningful. Now is not the time to sit on a machine and push weights! Use a gentle circuit style approach with sensible and effective exercises. Keep yourself moving and I promise you’ll feel almost like your old self, at least from weeks 14-27! Stay fit while pregnant and postpartum can be a focus on recovery, rather than “getting back into shape”!
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