Why exercise during pregnancy?
During pregnancy , exercise can:
Reduce backaches, constipation, bloating as well as swelling
Exercise can boost your overall mood and energy levels
Exercising while pregnant may help you sleep better
Prevent excess weight gain
Reduce your risk of having a C-section
Important: Make sure you have your doctors OK before starting any exercise program.
Diary of an Athlete – how active should I be during pregnancy?
Yes! We’re pregnant! 😊
Working out during pregnancy: I never doubted for a minute that I would work out during my pregnancy - I've always been very active. In fact, I wouldn’t feel like myself if I didn't work out... When I found out that I was pregnant, I felt great and thought, sure, everything will go according to plan.
But guess what... nausea and the extreme fatigue of the first trimester came on fast... and on top of the obvious challenges that come with these unpleasant side effects, I found it difficult to face the fact that I had neither the energy nor the desire to workout. Even before I had a belly, I’d come back from a short walk as if I’d just run a half marathon. And bodyweight training suddenly became so hard – and I’m someone who used to weight train at the gym regularly.
What was going on here? Would I not be able to train for nine months?
Luckily, the fatigue passed, and so did the nausea. As I progressed into the second trimester, I felt like I was returning to my old self again. The forced ‘break’ had done its thing, and in any case, I had no plans to return to the high-intensity training I was doing pre-pregnancy; I knew that this was not the time to push my training to its limits, and even though it was one of my favorite things, I was just so happy to get back to it at all that I wasn’t too bothered about how fast I was running.
These days, listening to my body has taken on even greater and more significant meaning – I’m literally training with a finger on the pulse (Even the maximum heart rate recommended during pregnancy is lower than before).
It is actually recommended for pregnant women to engage in physical activity; the ACSM* recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, in a combination of both aerobic and resistance activities. It’s also recommended to incorporate daily pelvic floor exercises. So, it’s worth finding solutions for an activity that both suits the way you feel and is in line with recommendations about exercise during pregnancy. (Of course, everyone makes their own choices, often depending on the type and level of activity they were used to before their pregnancy.)
So, what are good, pregnancy-friendly workout options?
Walking during pregnancy - Whether you are an athlete or not, walking is a great activity. In the days of fatigue and nausea when exercise was just too hard, this definitely became my main sport. Even now that I’ve gone back to training, I still incorporate walks as exercise on days when I don’t feel like pushing myself.
Elliptical machines during pregnancy – Before I got pregnant, I didn’t particularly like the elliptical... Now that I’m pregnant, I’ve fallen in love with this wondrous machine, and the feeling of impact-free aerobic workout I get (that shock you get with every step, as your feet land on the ground, isn’t the best during pregnancy!) The elliptical is an easier way to increase my heart rate than walking, and works the muscles in a more cyclical and harmonious way – and, best of all, I can do it in the air conditioning, and even in front of the TV... wow!
Swimming during pregnancy - Prior to planning my pregnancy, I made an effort to improve my swimming technique, thinking that this would be my Plan B if I had a hard time running while pregnant. At the moment I prefer to run, so I’m swimming less often. However, I know that many women enjoy swimming during pregnancy, and it is a great activity.
Running during pregnancy- My Love! One of my ambitions was to be able to continue running while pregnant. Nausea and fatigue of the first trimester almost burst that bubble, but luckily, once they passed, I was able to get back to running. So far, it feels comfortable and good to me. There are several important factors to bear in mind before including running in your pregnancy exercise routine, such as personalizing your plan to your pregnant self, paying attention to your body, and whether you ran before pregnancy - and of course, you should get approval from your doctor first. I know a lot of runners who felt uncomfortable running pregnant, even though they were technically allowed to.
Strength training during pregnancy and working on the pelvic floor muscles - Here too, the starting point very much depends on what you were doing before the pregnancy. Even for those who have trained with weights in the gym before, there is a chance that as your pregnancy progresses you will have to reduce the weights you use, and/or make adjustments in certain exercises so that you feel comfortable, avoid pain and also comply with the guidelines around activity during pregnancy.
In addition to strengthening your main muscles, it’s worth adding in some work on your pelvic floor muscles, pelvic mobility, and balance. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that working more specifically on my pelvic floor muscles and adjusting my strength exercises has significantly improved the pelvic pain I was experiencing.
Training partner – We all have days when it’s more difficult to go out to train, and this is especially true during pregnancy. A training partner can be an excellent motivator at such times. For me, it's my husband. He’s adjusted his training schedule to accompany me on all my pregnancy runs (between you and me, he also comes along to stop me from doing anything stupid... 😉). He gives me the drive to get up and out - especially in those moments when the living room couch looks more enticing than the great outdoors! What’s more, this is quality time for us together – what could be more perfect than a sunset run at the beach?
So, what’s it like to do sports during pregnancy? Well, sometimes it flows more smoothly, and sometimes it’s more of a slog. But it’s crucial to be attentive to your body and find the right type of activity at every possible stage and in each workout. And don’t forget to stop to enjoy that ‘after’ feeling - you know, that ‘high’ which reminds us why we do it, how fun it feels to have worked out, and how important it is to work out again soon! So, give yourself a huge pat on the back after every workout, because honestly, you deserve it!
Make sure to invest in some comfortable and high-quality maternity sport wear to ensure you get the best workout you can!
*ACSM - American College of Sports Medicine
All information, recommendations, and content presented in this article are general and do not constitute personal advice. This information should not be construed as a personal recommendation. The use of the information and recommendations is the sole responsibility of the user.
Yael Yellin Sedbon, Clinical Dietitian and Sports M.Sc
Israeli champion and former player on the Israel national beach volleyball team
Written in the second trimester of pregnancy