I’m so excited for today’s post because it has been highly requested since finding out I was pregnant! Exercise and pregnancy can be an uncertain road to navigate, especially if you didn’t start your pregnancy working out or feel like you’ve taken a longer break. I asked Jake, my personal trainer of almost 3 years, to answer some of your questions! Everything from exercising throughout pregnancy, recovery postpartum, nutrition and more!
A quick note from Jake: Hi, everyone! First of all, these questions were awesome and I tried to provide as much information as I could to answer them. However, I want to make it very clear that you should always consult your doctor before taking anyone’s advice. I say that not just for the safety of your baby, but for the safety of you moms, too! Lots of you had similar questions (we’re all in this together!) so be sure to read through all of my responses in case it gives you another piece of advice you were looking for.
Q: How do you suggest staying active during the first trimester? I’ve felt so sick and have no energy!
A: Every woman’s body will react differently to pregnancy. It’s really what you can handle, to be honest. My wife and I are weeks away from having our second child, and both pregnancies were completely different in that she was able to workout and do cardio more frequently with the second pregnancy. But with our first, she was more nauseous, which made it hard to get into a consistent routine. I find that in the first and even third trimester there are a lot of similarities. So, if you are determined on staying active during those bumpy weeks, try consuming smaller meals/snacks throughout the day—which is tough if you’re nauseous—but try and find foods that don’t upset you and stick with those. This will increase your metabolism which can help burn more calories throughout the day and hopefully give you more energy! Even going for a light walk is going to help increase your energy level and burn some calories. Because of nausea, you might not feel like going for a walk or doing light stretching, but your body will thank you after.
Q: On that note, is it okay to take the first trimester off and get back to it during the second trimester when we are feeling better?
A: I believe that you have to listen to your body. If you need a few days, weeks, or months off, then take them off. There’s no need to stress the body out any more than it already is. And when you’re feeling better, just remember to start back slowly. Trying to “make up for the lost time” will do more harm than good, so be aware of that. Make sure that you consult with your doctor, as well. Most doctors will tell you to be consistent throughout the pregnancy and to not take long breaks from working out and good nutrition.
Q: Is it safe to say we lift weights while pregnant? Should we alter our strength routine during the different trimesters?
A: I think it’s important to continue a strength-training program while pregnant. But ONLY if you were already working out on a consistent basis for over 3 months prior to the pregnancy. Once you determine the appropriate program, it can relieve common issues that can be contributed to pregnancy—from weight gain, cramping, fatigue, circulation, swelling, and even constipation. More importantly, the right plan can help strengthen your back, which in return can improve your posture. Each trimester you will begin to lower your sets and lighten your weights. You will want to omit any exercises on your back and stay away from high-intensity workouts. Again listen to your body, if a particular exercise takes your breath away or is too strenuous, stay away from it.
Q: Should we avoid getting our heartrate above a certain BPM while pregnant?
A: This question, just like the strength training questions, has been altered over the years. In the past, women were told to not train while pregnant and to keep their heart rate under 140 BPM. Now studies have shown low to moderate intensity training is needed to help fight the excessive weight gain. There’s something called Rate of Perceived Exertion which is a scale to monitor intensity (6, no exertion – 20, max exertion). I’d say every 6-10 weeks your RPE should decrease 1-5, depending on your fitness level and how your body is responding to the cardio. Again, every woman’s body is different and every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with your doctor before working out while pregnant.
Q. Would love to hear your nutrition tips for pregnancy! Should we be more conscious of replenishing calories after we work out?
A. The biggest nutrition tip would be to not eat everything in sight! The old notion that it was okay to eat whatever you’re craving and gain as much weight as you’d like is far from accurate. In fact, with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, being on a rapid rise, I’d say staying as healthy as possible is the smartest choice. When talking about replenishing calories after a workout, I think it’s important to note that whether you’re pregnant or not, it’s a must that you refuel your body after a workout. Actually, during the first trimester, there is no need to increase food intake. Instead, moms should continue to eat healthy and well-balanced smaller meals with a focus on whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. Now during the second and third trimesters, it’s recommended to increase daily intake by 350 and 450 calories, respectively. *As I said in the beginning, it is important to go over any diet or nutrition ideas with your doctors/physician, especially if you have health problems. We no longer believe that “eating for two” is appropriate, in fact, it is the worst thing you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
Q. What exercises do you suggest for strengthening the pelvic floor? Repairing diastasis recti?
A. Let’s start with posture and the changes that have happened to your body during pregnancy. Your uterus, your baby and your enlarged breasts have most likely pulled your posture out of alignment, weakening your pelvic floor and abdominals. The hips have probably tilted forward (into an anterior pelvic tilt) and your shoulders are probably rounded. About 80% of women complain of back pain during or after pregnancy. A lot of that pain comes from this postural mal-alignment. Your postnatal exercises should focus on strengthening your back muscles to pull and stretch your chest and hip flexors. As for the pelvic floor, the weight of the baby, uterus, and the process of childbirth have weakened your pelvic floor muscles. These exercises should emphasize Kegels and other pelvic floor exercises (yes, those same ones that you did during pregnancy). It is important to take it slow, you have lost a great amount strength in your abs during pregnancy. Many moms also experience diastasis recti (DR), which is a separation of the abdominal wall. It is also sometimes referred to as the “baby bulge,” “pooch,” or “muffin top.” So DO NOT jump into your old ab workout routine…this can only make the problem worse. The exercises that you should include are ones that “knit” these muscles back together, such as abdominal bracing, leg slides, and planks. To get the best and safest result you should combine cardio and strength which will, quite literally, focus on “bringing a mom’s body back.” Do more back exercises than push-ups. We need to get rid of the exercises that are pulling us forward, and introduce new movements that pull us back. Here are some great ways to get started:
- Super Moms…AKA Superman’s
- Plank With Row. Hip Bridge w/ Single Leg Slide
- Squat With Kickback
- Standing or Kneeling Twists with a broomstick across the shoulders
- Windshield Wipers (w/ a ball in between your legs)
- Alternating Reverse Crunches
- Side to Side Crunch Ups
- Single Leg Circles
- Crunch/Bridge Combo
Q. Do you advise core work throughout pregnancy?
A. During the first trimester, core work is very important. You want to make sure you have a strong core because, ultimately, that’s one of the most stressed areas throughout the pregnancy. Core work will change throughout the pregnancy as you progress. Toward the end, focusing on belly breathing and the tightening and relaxation of the abdominals is going to be important. Remember, these are the muscles you’re going to use to push with so keeping yourself strong is going to be important.
Q. Is it safe to run throughout pregnancy?
A. Absolutely! If you were running before pregnancy, you can run during. Again, listening to your body is crucial, and understanding that you probably won’t hit any personal records! If you start to feel pain in your joints, take some time off of running and do some lower-impact cardio such as walking, biking, or even rowing. Your body is releasing a hormone called relaxin, which is doing just that, relaxing your joints to help push a baby out. Be sure to consult with your doctor as well to make sure that you are being safe with your cardio exercises.
Q. I would love to hear your tips for getting in shape before getting pregnant? Are there certain moves or muscle groups we should be focusing on?
A. Studies have proven that a healthy BMI, diet, and regularly working out help women become pregnant. There are obviously other factors that contribute to fertility, but those are three major aspects that can be altered to make pregnancy a better experience. Regular cardio, strength training, and stretching are all going to be great to get you in shape before the big announcement of pregnancy! Again, your core is a big area that you need to keep strong and activated regardless of pregnancy or not. Making sure that you incorporate stretching, meditation and/or yoga into your workouts will help with aches, pains and stiffness throughout the body. I personally had my wife on a weekly or biweekly massage routine during the second and third trimester, which helped with a lot of the discomfort she was feeling.
Q. Do you have any suggestions for keeping arms lean while still gaining a healthy amount of baby weight?
A. Bodyweight exercises are going to be great to incorporate into your workouts. This is because they’re low to moderate intensity and most of the exercises won’t elevate your HR too much. I like to incorporate some bodyweight incline push-ups off the counter, wall tricep extensions, and even straight arm circles or pulses into my clients’ routines. My wife would actually do dips and push-ups at her desk at work to keep her arms looking toned. Remember that hormones change your body quite a bit throughout the pregnancy, you might look “puffy” in the arm area, but once you deliver, that will go away and you will look lean and mean! Think about how much harder you’re going to have to work after if you don’t put in the work before and during.
Q. I’m two years post-partum and still feel like I have a belly “pooch.” Any tips?
A. The woman’s body takes a beating during pregnancy, especially in the midsection. An expanding belly and weight gain both occur and can lead to tearing of the abdomen. After you deliver and have been cleared by your doctor I’d recommend getting on the right nutrition plan… which is also safe for you and the baby (NO FAD DIETS). There’s a great and very true saying, “abs are made in the kitchen,” and I find this 100% accurate! If you’re able to eat healthy and consistently throughout the day, with limited cheats, you’ll notice more positive change throughout the body. Now when it comes to the fitness side of it, proper core exercises to tighten up the deep muscles that have been overstretched for 9 months are crucial. Some of my go-to exercises are standing or kneeling twists, windshield wipers (w/ a ball in between your legs), alternating reverse crunches, side to side crunch ups, single leg circles, and a crunch/bridge combo. Now obviously consult your doctor before taking mine or anyone’s advice, but I’ve used these exercises on my wife and numerous clients to help close the DR gap and tighten the midsection.
Q. Do you have any suggestions for exercises that are simple, don’t take long, but still help you feel energized?
A. On the days that my wife is not up for working out, she will do 20 minutes of yoga or light exercises including bridges, lateral leg raises, bird dogs, and other various lower body exercises. These are great stabilizing exercises to help with fatigued muscles as well as just a fatigued mom! Lower body exercises will also help release certain endorphins throughout the body, which can possibly help with energy levels and fatigue. Remember, listen to your body. Pregnancy is stressful enough, no need to stress your body any more than it already is.
Q. What are the best workouts for easing back into things once you’re approved to exercise again post-partum? Cardio, weights, a mix of both?
A. Your doctor will let you know what is appropriate. What you ended with in the third trimester is usually what you can pick back up on after you deliver. The method of delivery will also determine how quickly you bounce back. Women’s bodies are all different, so make sure that you listen to what your body is telling you and more importantly your doctor. Typically light walking or biking are okay cardio exercises to do at a light to moderate pace. Bodyweight exercises are going to be great to integrate into your workouts. All of these will let the body remember what you were doing before and will awake the dormant muscle appropriately. The exercises in the previous questions can also be introduced slowly into your regimen…with your doctor’s approval.