The more I work with pregnant women, the more I'm in awe of their strength, grace and determination to stay fit during their pregnancy for their own and the baby's benefit.
Regular exercise has many positive effects on the mood and physical disposition of the mother and on the development of the child. There is evidence that it may reduce the risk gestational diabetes, it relieves stress, and it helps build more stamina, which is needed for when the baby is born and beyond.
In my practice with women, I focus on getting their heart rate up as much as is possible during any given trimester; we work on strength in the legs and arms and maintaining core strength, we incorporate Kegel exercises, and we streeeeetch! Many women have reported less lower back pain, they have more energy, and even on days when they feel tired, the exercise routine makes them move, breathe and feel better.
Every woman should always obtain clearance from her doctor before working out, but once she's good to go, here are five ways to spruce up exercise during pregnancy:
1. Don't shy away from strength-building exercises.
Many women think strength equals bulky muscles, and during pregnancy that's the last thing you would want to add, weight-wise. However, working out with small weights and high repetitions, or using weights while walking, can tone the arms and the legs and support important parts of your body that bear weight, such as the hips.
2. Remember to get your cardio.
A pregnant woman's heart rate tends to go up much faster than before pregnancy, which makes many women shy away from cardiovascular exercise. If you were a runner before pregnancy, you can continue at a slow pace and pay attention to how you feel. Or you can walk instead, and rowing is a good seated exercise routine. Even light boxing with boxing mitts, focusing on speed rather than strength, can be a great way to get your heart rate up.
3. Don't overstretch if you if you experience sciatic pain.
Sciatica is a painful condition that tends to happen to many pregnant women at some point. The first impulse is to stretch the aching glutes or legs. However, stretching the affected area will not do the inflamed nerve much good. Pelvic stabilization exercises are more effective and can be done lying on the side.
4. Elevate your hips if you want to exercise on your back.
One of the biggest rules for prenatal exercise practitioners is that the pregnant woman can't lie on her back after the first trimester. The flat position may cut off the blood supply to the baby. But just elevating the hips a few inches with a blanket or yoga block, eliminates this problem and allows women to conduct a range of exercises without major modifications.
5. Keep going, even at a slow pace.
Pregnancy gets tough towards the end. As the baby grows exponentially, moving around with the added weight is difficult, and many women feel tired and sluggish. Many also experience so-called pregnancy insomnia. It's important during these last 4-6 weeks to still maintain some movement. Usually just a short walk or a few yoga poses help shift the attitude and raise energy levels. This can help women prepare for labor and delivery in a more positive way, and establishes a good basis for bouncing back after the baby is born.