Wondering how hard you can push yourself in pregnancy? We spoke to pregnancy expert specialist Jen Dugard to find out how you should alter your workouts as the weeks progress.
For some women, the first trimester is a blur of nausea and exhaustion – and often exercise is the last thing you feel like doing. If that’s you, Dugard recommends doing gentle exercise when you feel up to it, but above all, listening to your body.
If you’re up for a sweat sesh, then by all means go for it – but cap your exertion at a seven out of 10.
“It’s a time for maintenance, not breaking new PBs,” Dugard says.
“You want to keep your core temperature down, so maybe avoid spin classes or things like kipping in Crossfit. In my opinion it’s better to back off, stay strong, do more controlled movements and come back to that stuff later.”
If you’re an experienced jogger, you can usually keep that up during the first trimester because there isn’t too much weight bearing down on your pelvic floor yet. But Dugard says most women would want to avoid doing high intensity interval training.
“Strength training is probably safer,” Dugard says.
“If you did nothing else, I’d look at strengthening the middle of the back, stretching the chest, stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the glutes – they are the three areas that get tight and weak. You just might want to drop the weight a little and monitor how hard you are working.”
It’s good to have a strong core in pregnancy but Dugard advises against crunches or big, twisting abdominal exercises.
“We want to think about relaxing the obliques and the rectus abdominis [inner layer of stomach muscles] to give the baby room to grow and also to help to avoid as much abdominal separation as possible,” Dugard says.
Core exercises like planks or low, gentle crunches can be good, provided your belly isn’t peaking into a triangle shape.
“You don’t want your tummy to go into a peak or a dome – that’s a sign that you don’t have abdominal control,” Dugard explains.
“The general population don’t realise that if their stomach is doming, they’re not strong enough to do it in a way that’s beneficial. If that’s the case, you can always drop onto your knees or a four-point position.”
If you’ve never exercised before, Dugard cautions against suddenly taking on a big exercise program.
“Some women think, ‘I’m pregnant, I’ve got to exercise’ but you really should consider what you’ve done in the past and ease into it,” Dugard says.
If you’ve had a history of miscarriage, Dugard suggests pulling your exertion right back.
Most pregnant women find nausea and lethargy eases by the time they reach 12 weeks, and energy starts to come back.
“You may be able to increase the regularity of exercise but if you haven’t exercised before and suddenly you’re feeling great, it’s probably not the best time to start going crazy,” Dugard says.
“It is a case-by-case scenario looking at what you are used to doing and what you have maintained during the first 12 weeks, then building on top of that.”
Most women will stop running at 18-20 weeks to reduce pressure on the pelvic floor.
Dugard suggests making an appointment with a women’s health physio to learn about activating and relaxing your pelvic floor and your transverse abdominis.
“A lot of people forget about learning to release their pelvic floor, but it’s important for pushing a baby out,” Dugard says.
“If you can learn about using your transverse abdominis, it can help to reduce abdominal separation and keep you strong and your back supported during pregnancy.”
Once you reach 20 weeks, Dugard says most women will want to avoid lying on their back.
“It can restrict blood flow to the baby and also restrict your own blood flow so you start to feel dizzy,” she explains.
“Side lying is as safer position and if you’re doing a chest press, do it on an incline.”
Your tummy will be growing by the day, so your weight distribution will have changed and you need to be conscious of your balance.
If you’re having any sciatic pain, deep in the buttock and travelling down the back of the leg, Dugard suggests avoiding all single leg work.
You’ll probably get out of breath a lot faster because there’s a lot less room for the lungs to breathe.
“You might find yourself resting more than you’re moving and that’s okay,” Dugard says.
Every woman is different and Dugard says some will train up until they have the baby, others will just want to walk and swim.
“The key is listening to where you are at. It’s not a time to push through,” she says.
“If your doctor tells you to slow down, then listen. A medical professional’s opinion will always override a fitness trainer’s.”