There’s no downside to exercising when you’re pregnant. For women who did not exercise before they became mommies-to-be, it’s a great time to start. Exercise can help fight fatigue, decrease back pain and relieve stress. Keeping in shape will not only have positive effects on your body during pregnancy, but it will also benefit your body after delivery.
As long as there are no medical complications, newly pregnant women can participate in moderate intensity activities such as walking, low impact aerobics, and strength training for 30 minutes every day. A good guide for exertion is making sure you can carry a conversation while exercising any more than that, and you should take a break. Breaks should also be taken to consume water, exercising when pregnant calls for many water breaks. Guesstimate double the amount of water you would usually need and hydrate accordingly.
Past the first trimester, you will want to perform exercises sitting, standing, quadruped (hands and knees), or lying on your side. You should avoid exercises that require lying on your back as the increased weight of the uterus can decrease blood flow to your heart and to the fetus. Ab setting and kegel exercises are perfect for building and maintaining core strength. Wall sitting and modified planking are a great way to work your core and lower extremity strength in a low-impacting way.
If you are high intensity athlete who is accustomed to hour-long spin classes and weekend marathons, by all means continue, but make sure you maintain open communication with your OB and stay extra-hydrated; consider easing your exertion by about 25 percent.
When choosing which sports are safest to participate in, your main considerations are avoiding sports with potential contact to the abdomen such as soccer and basketball, and avoiding sports with potential fall risks, such as ice skating, skiing and horseback riding. During pregnancy, your body changes and your center of gravity is altered. This means you have to be cautious and keep in mind that your balance may be off. Some highly recommended sports are swimming, stationary cycling or speed walking. If you are into weightlifting, consider using lighter weights with higher repetitions and be careful of using free weights to prevent them from hitting your abdomen.
In addition to strength training and aerobics, adding stretches to your daily routine is a great idea. Maintaining hamstring flexibility, thoracic mobility and lumbar range of motion is highly recommended. The Cat/Camel exercise is a great way to keep your spine from feeling stiff. Assume the quadruped position (hands and knees) and lift your back up towards the ceiling into a rounded position, then reverse the position by pulling your belly down towards the floor into an arched position. This will maintain mobility of your spine and relax the tension felt by the additional weight in your belly. Do the Cat/Camel for 10-15 reps multiple times a day.
No matter what form of exercise you choose, always remember to listen to your body and stop if you feel any unusual symptoms. If your signs and symptoms continue after you stop exercising contact your health care provider.
Personally, I was a runner, and stopped running about a month away from delivery. However, I was doing planks and stretching until I delivered, and it really paid off in quickly getting my body back in shape, along with giving me the strength I needed as a new mom.
Marla Ranieri is a doctor of physical therapy and mentor for the orthopedic residency program at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. Marla is a former National/International gymnast and collegiate scholarship athlete at Stanford University. In addition to assisting the USA Medical Team staff for the USA Gymnastics Classics and Championships, she has presented on corrective conditioning programs, strength training, injury prevention, and pain management for serious athletes. She is an avid runner and has participated in many races such as marathons, half marathons, and mud runs, as well as volunteered with the medical team for the New York City marathon.