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I’m pregnant. What exercise can I do?

Jun 9, 2021   •   
I’m pregnant. What exercise can I do?

“Yeah!”/”Holy shit”! (Delete as applicable)… You’re pregnant!

So now what? What can you eat? What can you drink? What position can you sleep in? What exercise can you do?!

Google ‘exercise in pregnancy’ and it opens up a veritable minefield of mostly contradictory information. It is no wonder that newly pregnant mums (who may also be feeling exhausted and just first trimester grotty) get freaked out, confused and stop any exercise they may have been doing.

In the past, advice for exercise during pregnancy was to only walk, swim and lift light weights. Indeed, at my own ante-natal classes, the ‘old-school’, very traditional healthcare worker advised us all to only go for ‘gentle walks’ and ONLY swim if ‘the pool could be entered via a ramp with a rail’!

At the other end of the scale, a recent Nike ad showed heavily pregnant mums playing professional soccer, skipping, Olympic powerlifting and boxing accompanied by the line: “Hits her limits and pushes past it, pushing, pushing, pushing”.

* Author sidenote: I, a very active personal trainer, would quite literally have gone mad if I’d followed the extremely conservative ante-natal exercise advice given to me and whilst I like the sentiment behind the Nike ad, I think it was downright negligent of Nike to universally encourage women to do the sports/activities depicted. Pregnant mums should NEVER push past their limit.

So what is the answer?

Well, as you can probably guess, there isn’t a simple one-fits-all rule. Everyone starts from a different exercise history and experience base and everyone responds differently to pregnancy.

If you have never exercised before, but want to now keep strong and healthy to aid your pregnancy and delivery, then gentle walking, swimming and weights is the sensible answer.

If you have always lifted heavy weights or completed high-intensity exercise, there is no need to suddenly stop, but you will need to dial it down and become more body aware for anything that ‘doesn’t feel right’. This period is about maintenance, feeling good and staying as strong as you can for labour and motherhood – it is NOT about gains or performance goals.

(One caveat: if your exercise of choice historically was something that has a high risk of falling, such as horse riding, ski-ing, surfing or contact sports, they are best avoided whilst pregnant to avoid the risk of direct impact on your baby or falling on your bump.)

As MumSafe™ trainers, we all believe that your exercise choice when pregnant becomes about weighing up the risk vs the reward. For example, you may decide that a couple of short runs each week will have a significant reward for your mental health and general fitness and you are therefore prepared to accept the increased risk running may have on your pelvic floor. Or you may decide that the risk of a weakened pelvic floor isn’t worth the reward that running gives you and you would rather switch to low impact exercises that will keep your glutes strong. There isn’t a wrong answer as long as the choice is an informed one.

Clear as mud?! There are some simple, clearer cut rules that you can follow when exercising whilst pregnant:

  • Keep cool – avoid activities such as hot yoga or exercising in the middle of a hot day to ensure that your core temperature does not rise.
  • Avoid exercises lying flat on your back after around 16 weeks (the increased weight of your uterus may put pressure on your vena cava, a major vein, so may make you feel dizzy and light headed.
  • Keep exercise to a ‘moderate intensity’.
  • Avoid intense core exercises and heavy twists to limit abdominal separation.

Read some more research-based stats and specific guidance from Buggy Bootcamp’s resident Women’s Health Physio here.

Carly Steggles is the owner of Buggy Bootcamp in Manly, Sydney, and has been keeping new mums sane with safe, effective and social post-natal exercise since 2012. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.

You can also find her on Instagram.

MumSafe™ is the go-to place online for women to find mum-focused fitness services that are all accredited, experienced and partnered with women’s health physios so you know you are in very safe hands. Click here to find a trainer near you.

Carly Steggles runs Buggy Bootcamp in Sydney, NSW . Learn more about Carly and Book your Trial today.

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