Pregnancy: To exercise or not to exercise?
03 December 2015
Rachael Field Roddis – Personal Trainer, pre & post-natal qualified trainer and mom of one has taken the time to write a piece for Tom Astley Physiotherapy blog. So sit back and relax with a cup of brew before making those plans for returning to exercise:
The mentality of eating for two and giving up exercise during pregnancy has thankfully waned in recent years. If a pregnancy is without complications and the mum-to-be is clear of injury and/or medical conditions there should be no reason to prevent safe, appropriate and modified exercise all the way to full-term. Like any fitness programme it should be prescribed to suit the woman’s own health, lifestyle and fitness levels, we are unique and so is each pregnancy. Using my own pregnancy as an example, you can see from the first to the third trimester different physiological and biochemical changes just require exercise adaptations to workout safely.
In the first trimester (0-12 weeks) training was hampered by sickness. Being sick on the gym floor was not going to make me any friends and so I trained less frequently due to the nausea and fatigue. One of the first valuable lessons I learnt about pre-natal exercise: “Listen to your body and don’t exercise to exhaustion.”
Changes in hormone levels require more care and attention to be taken when exercising. Asking the mum-to-be to look out for the signs and verbally screening before you start each training session is crucial. The hormone relaxin softens ligaments and connective tissues throughout the whole body, but is meant to primarily prepare the pelvis for delivery and cervix dilation. When I reached the second trimester (13-26 weeks) my joints started to feel unstable when running on a treadmill. To prevent injury I lowered the impact and used a cross-trainer. My flexibility increased and I had to be mindful of this when stretching and not taking exercises past the usual range of motion. Each woman will be different and some don’t feel these major changes but err on the side of caution at all times.
On the homestretch, the third trimester (27-40 weeks) and more than anything the size of a woman’s bump will now probably dictate what exercise can and cannot be performed. For me it wasn’t the size of my bump but a change to my centre of gravity that forced me to adapt exercises. A lack of balance made it more difficult to perform exercises I’d usually find easy. To continue executing them I made modifications, for example by working unilaterally and using an inclined bench or wall for support.
Resuming exercise after the birth depends on the type of delivery and what happens during labour. At present it is suggested that after a vaginal delivery it should be at least six weeks and for a caesarean section it’s twelve weeks, to allow for post-operative healing. A medical professional must give the post-natal client the ‘all-clear’ before she starts exercising. I was grateful to receive an exercise sheet from a physiotherapist after the birth, which had safe gentle abdominal and pelvic floor exercises that I could do straight away. After the ‘all-clear’ from the GP it was a case of me creating time for fitness while adapting to motherhood and breastfeeding too.
Pre and post-natal exercise has so many psychological and physiological benefits, why would we not promote it? As fitness professionals we have the ability to support, encourage and provide knowledge for risk-free enjoyable exercise during this remarkable period.
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The author and contributor to the blog, Rachael, also works in North London and is available for private personal training.
Contact Rachael on firstname.lastname@example.org