Staying Fit Before, During and After Pregnancy

Whether a woman is trying to get pregnant, already is pregnant, or just gave birth, there are two things on her mind: The first is her baby, and the second is her body.

Women everywhere fret about how pregnancy affects the way her body looks, feels, moves and recovers from those long 40 weeks and the grueling sprint to the “finish line.” For some, pregnancy is a license to relax and indulge. For others, it’s a battle of insecurity as the numbers on the scale go up and her energy levels go down.

The old assumption that pregnant women are too fragile for a real fitness routine is not true, says personal trainer Ian Hart, owner of EarthFIT in Beaufort. Hart shared with us some insight into the best ways a woman should approach fitness before, during and after pregnancy.

Before Pregnancy
The time to get ready for baby is actually before baby even enters the womb, Hart says. “The best way to get the body ready is to do a normal full body strength training routine,” he says. Getting into peak physical shape before you get pregnant will decrease your risk of complications and get you in the right frame of mind to continue your healthy habits during pregnancy.

Best Workouts: Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, biking) in tandem with full body strength training.

Things to Avoid: Only do what you’re capable of in terms of high intensity and length of cardio. And if you haven’t been into fitness before, get the green light from your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

During Pregnancy

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women should strive for 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise most days of the week, Hart says. This is done for the same benefits as pre- and post-pregnancy.

Best Workouts: Any exercising depends on the woman’s level of fitness, he says. A great way to stay motivated, and educated, is to get a personal trainer who is certified to work with pre- and postpartum women. Aerobic exercises are great for mother and baby, and stength training is still fine, too. Hart says there are three questions you should ask yourself when considering any exercise while pregnant:

(1) What does your doctor say about that particular exercise?

(2) Have you been doing the exercise lately or regularly?

(3) How does the exercise feel when you’re doing it?

Abdominal exercises are fine. In fact, exercises to keep your core and pelvis strong are important. These include: Kegel exercises; Pelvic tilts; Pelvic clocks; Tail wags; Core training; Drawing in maneuver; Bridges; and Cable/band chops. (Note: Always try to keep a neutral spine with a natural curve in the low back. And don’t hold your breath!)

Warming up and cooling down are important. And however you choose to exercise, be sure to drink plenty of water and fuel your body with healthful foods before and after a workout.

Things to Avoid: Unsafe exercises are prone exercises (lying flat on your back) and exercises in the supine position (lying on your stomach) starting with the second trimester.

Hot tubs and saunas can be risky as well, as the maternal core temperature needs to be close to normal and maintained inside the uterus.

Also, during pregnancy the body releases a hormone called relaxin, which increases laxity in the joints and makes the ligaments more pliable. Relaxin may be the No. 1 contributor of an increased range of motion that is not normal. A pregnant woman should maintain a safe range of motion while stretching and exercising. If the range of motion goes well beyond normal, Hart warns, it can lengthen the ligament permanently.

Finally, he suggests pregnant women eliminate any anaerobic or super-intense training, as that sends a large amount of blood to the working muscles and may neglect the fetus’s blood supply needs. An example of anaerobic exercise is sprinting or jumping where the heart rate is about 85 percent of max or more.

After Pregnancy

Once you’ve had the baby and given your body time to heal, getting back into a fitness routine is good for your mind, body and soul. It is important to note that the exercise or physical activity should be stress relieving and not stress provoking, Hart says. Don’t fret about the way your body looks or the numbers on the scale just yet. You’ve just gone through a major life-changing experience and the adjustment period is a long, stressful one.

Best Workouts: Follow your doctor’s advice on when to pick up your exercise routine, as there are many complications that can occur during birth that may prolong recovery, Hart says. For most women after a normal pregnancy and a birth without complications, pre-preganancy exercise programs may be continued as soon as it is physically and medically safe, usually by about six weeks postpartum.

Aerobic activity is a great way to get your body back in motion (and clear your mind of stress and anxiety), along with some light strength training.

Things to Avoid: Avoid excessive ab work, as it will not target the belly fat most women are obsessed with postpartum, Hart says. The best way to target belly fat is to work large muscle groups, like legs, while keeping the heart rate up in combination with cardio. Essentially, doing squats will burn off that belly fat much faster than doing crunches.

When a woman is physically ready and has worked up to a higher fitness level, High Intensity Interval Training is a great way to burn belly fat in combination with full body strength training, he says.

Ian Hart of EarthFit launched a fitness blog hat allows anyone to ask a fitness/training question and he'll answer it on the blog. Check out his first entry today by clicking here.

hat allows anyone to ask a fitness/training question and he'll answer it on the blog. Check out his first entry today by clicking here.