What I learned about pre and postnatal fitness

(from my own experience + the IDEA session I attended)

Prenatal and postnatal fitness

This is something I’m asked about fairly often, but it can be a variable topic since every pregnancy is so different. I figured that I could share my own experience (as you never know when someone will share an awesome tip or trick) along with the research-based information I learned at the IDEA conference. It was the very last session I attended, and was the perfect way for to end my conference experience. Pre- and postnatal fitness have become a huge topic of interest for me; I sat on the floor for this session in a sweaty heap of happiness, ready to soak up all of the information.

Some background information on the presenter:

Her name is Farel Hruska, ACE and AFAA-certified. She’s also a mom of three girls is on staff and contributes to Fit4mom.com. She is the National Fitness Director for Stroller Strides (an awesome fitness program for mamas and their babies, utilizing the stroller during classes) and a joy to listen to. I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation and was frantically taking notes the entire time. 

Some of the info from the slides during the presentation (my thoughts/notes are indicated in bold):

-Effects on the cardiovascular system during pregnancy include a decreased blood pressure, sweating, fatigue. 30-50% increase in stroke volume, a 8-20 beat increase in resting heart rate. Some pregnancy women may experience a 20-25% lower work capacity. According to ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists), heart rate is no longer a reliable indicator of exercise. Rate of perceived exertion is a preferred method, and try to keep your exertion between a 5-8 on a 10-point scale. The “do not go over 140 beats per minute” rule is now outdated. Also, since your heart rate is naturally elevated during pregnancy, it’s not a reliable indicator of intensity. Go by how you feel (avoid pushing yourself to your max) and be sure to properly hydrate.

-Your intensity should not exceed your pre-pregnancy levels. Avoid exercising to the point of exhaustion and follow the 2-hour rule. This means that if you usually run for two hours every weekend and are a distance runner, you can continue to do so (with doctor’s approval and if there are no contraindications).

-Emphasize posterior pull exercises. This is true not only for pregnant women, but for everyone! If you work at a computer (cough, guilty, cough) or find yourself in a hunched over position, it’s important to lengthen and stretch the chest muscles, while working to strengthen your back to pull your shoulders into alignment. 

-An interesting slide on the benefits of exercise for baby:

“The babies whose mothers had exercised more were better able to process repeated sounds, showing a maturity of brain function that their counterparts did not. Exercise increases mitochondrial activity in the brain. The study shows this effect can ‘cross the placenta’ and benefit the fetal brain as well.” (University of Montreal 2013)

That gave me the chills! I was curious to find out what “more” meant in the above statement (someone in the audience asked, too) and after checking out the study, I found out that it compared 60 pregnant women who were provided with an exercise regimen and those without. The active group exercised an average of 117 minutes per week, while the inactive group averaged about 12 minutes. 

-The presenter also showed us how to check for diastasis recti in our clients, which I found extremely helpful.  

Belly40weeks thumb

(after a 40-week pregnant treadmill walk)

The things that helped me in my personal prenatal and postnatal fitness journey:

-Trusting my body. I’m a huge believer in listening to our body’s cues, and found that they were even more apparent when Livi was growing my belly 🙂 Before, my body would say “Let’s GO!!! AND HIIT IT AND LIFT ALL THE HEAVY THINGS!” While I was pregnant, I found it saying, “Ehh, I don’t want to run. HIIT feels weird. I don’t want to go crazy with the weights.” So, I listened and did what felt good. For the most part, it was moderate strength training, occasional yoga (with modifications later in my pregnancy), walking (almost every day) and teaching dance cardio (like Zumba!). I did the things I enjoyed and was craving, and was thankful for the ability to maintain my active lifestyle until I delivered. 

After delivery, I was excited to get back into my routine, but needed to take time to rest and heal. I listened to what my body was saying, and chose precious sleep when I could, and was able to ease back into my active lifestyle. I found that having those exercise endorphins not only helped me to regain my strength and endurance, but also gave me some much-needed “me time” and chance to zone out during the day.

-Modifications:

A huge modification during pregnancy is the inability to remain in a supine position (on your back) for extended amounts of time after the first trimester. (There is mixed research and opinions about this, but ACOG guidelines suggest avoiding the supine position after the first trimester.) A stability ball is a fantastic option (for chest presses, flyes and bicep curls), and many exercises can also be performed in a side-lieing position. Avoid any prone positions on your stomach after the first trimester as well. Performing the exercises on hands and knees instead is an effective modification. 

Yoga modifications:

I avoiding positions on my stomach, and did a cat-cow instead of a vinyasa in my flow classes. It’s also important to avoid crossing the midline of the body (like a twisted triangle) and to emphasize OPENING, instead of crossing and closing across the midline. So instead of twisting, I would open in the opposite direction. (for example, instead of twisting triangle, I would just do a regular triangle. Instead of revolved crescent lunge, I would bring my hands to prayer and open my body towards the center.)

Some poses were done on my side (savasana, happy baby) and I was mindful to avoid over-stretching, as the relaxin makes the body more flexible. I didn’t want to pull anything, so I focused on creating strength in the poses instead of necessarily getting deeper into every pose.

Some preg-friendly exercises:

Bodyweight exercises (squats, lunges, walking lunges, tricep dips). For planks and pushups, when it becomes uncomfortable with the size of the belly, you can perform them with your hands on a bench or against the wall.

Resistance band work (bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, shoulder raises, overhead presses, resistance squats, bent-over rows and wide rows are all fantastic options)

Core and pelvic floor strengtheners (hip bridges, cat cow, squats, plie squat with a stability ball. Squeeze the ball each time you rise from your squat)

Walking! Walking is almost always a good option, considering that there are no contraindications. It was one of the few exercises that felt great while I was pregnant, and while I was regaining my strength and stamina afterwards.

Low-impact exercises such as swimming, yoga, Pilates and barre can also be great options. 

A good rule of thumb: focus on MAINTAINING instead of ADDING. Don’t add anything crazy or new into your routine -unless you were sedentary pre-pregnancy and would like to start an easy walking routine- and emphasize maintaining your current fitness level, taking it easy and resting as your body tells you.

Sabino run with liv

All of my posts about exercising while pregnant and post-delivery:

 How my workouts changed in the 1st trimester

How my workouts changed in the 2nd trimester

How my workouts changed in the 3rd trimester

How my workouts changed with an infant

Post delivery body

2 month post delivery body

4 month post delivery body

9 month post delivery body

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Comments

  1. This is a great post! In my first pregnancy, I wasn’t very active. I was exhausted and nauseous and not feeling it. But now I’m in the best shape of my life and we’re about to start trying for number two. I really want to make a commitment to myself to stay active while pregnant regardless of how tired I am.

  2. Never gone through this process so I’ve always been curious about it–what does it fee like to engage your abs when you’re heavily pregnant?

    • Fitnessista says:

      when i was heavily pregnant it was much harder to feel since my skin was stretched out so much! everything is moved around. it’s really interesting

  3. Fitness during pregnancy is my favorite topic and moms-to-be/new moms are my favorite group to train. Our bodies are so incredibly amazeballs….thanks for sharing this information!

  4. Hi Gina! This is awesome, thanks for sharing your journey. I’m getting pre-post-natal certified next weekend via Equinox Fitness Training Institute and am soooo looking forward to the hands-on work and information. Although I’m not a mommy yet, I definitely want to safely maintain my active lifestyle and be able to advice clients. I’m very interested to see how I end up feeling once it’s my time too. Love this! Have a good day!

  5. If there is one thing I’ve learned through my pregnancy it is to trust your body. Everyone is different and honoring where you are at physically, emotionally and mentally is the healthiest thing you can do for you and your babe.

  6. Great post Gina! I love learning more about this topic with a little one on the way! I find barre to be a fantastic exercise during pregnancy and great for strengthening the pelvic floor. I also love using resistance bands. I was doing heavier weights (i.e. Pump) into my second trimester but closer towards the third it just didn’t feel right for me anymore. The resistance bands are great though. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Wow, the research on benefits to baby gave me chills too! I love this as I was able to continue my exercise while pregnant so good to know it was good for BOTH of us:) Also, not to mention how it helped during labor!
    Great post!

  8. fascinating!

  9. Ah I feel like it has been forever since you had that pregnant belly! I loved following along on your journey. Great post!

  10. courtney b says:

    Love this! Im ace certified and the next training I want to do is the pre and post natal. I definitely took a lot of cues from your pregnancy when I was pregnant!

    • Fitnessista says:

      that’s awesome! i’m looking into a pre and post natal cert, but am not sure which one i want to pursue

  11. Great post! I was always on the lookout for this type of informative post when I was pregnant. I’ll have to bookmark it for my friends & the future 🙂 Also, I feel so lucky I got to workout with Farel a few times when I did Body Back last summer – she is truly amazing!

  12. I always find it so inspiring to hear about women who stay active during their pregnancies. I’m not at the point where I’m considering kids, but I know one day I will and I hope to stay as active and fit as I am now! It’s also an extra boost of encouragement when I see my pregnant friends in Pure Barre. If they can hold a pose while also growing a tiny human, then I can hold the pose 🙂

    • Fitnessista says:

      haha it’s good motivation! i remember when i was in college, a super pregnant girl would take my favorite spin class. she motivated me to keep going, even during the extremely hard parts

  13. Catherine says:

    Love this post! I’m not pregnant yet but my husband and I are getting ready to try so I’ve pinned this post to refer to later.

  14. In the first paragraph you say “decrease in blood pressure. . .”, but I think you mean INCREASE? Anyway, great information for pregnant mothers out there!

    • Fitnessista says:

      it’s a decrease at first and can start to rise towards the end of second trimester. the decrease in early pregnancy is what can cause dizziness and fainting

  15. Amber Schumann says:

    Such great info, thank you!

    I didn’t learn about diastisis recti until my daughter was almost two years old (after many months of consistent workouts left my midsection WIDER–apparently I had diastisis recti, and my core workouts were worsening my case). I’m on the petite side with narrow hips, so my belly grew straight outward, stretching the limits of my abdominal muscles for my healthy 9.5 pounder!

    I wish I had known about it sooner (like while I was still pregnant) so I could begin retraining my core properly rather than basically ripping it up by jumping into my old pre-preggo routine.

  16. Great post! I’m 35 weeks pregnant and agree with all. I was worried that I’d push myself too hard, but your body is really good at telling you when to slow down, lol. My workouts have been super mellow lately and I’m totally cool with that.

  17. This is such awesome info! Thank you for sharing.

  18. I love the trust yourself. That is what I do. Some days I do a few planks and call it a day. Other days I’m walking several miles and kick some asana ass. 😉 Some days are spent in bed with my two year old at his bedtime haha. But overall fitness is so important to me mentally that that is why I make it a point to try to do SOMETHING even if it just a set of free weights tri’s, shoulders and bis.

    Love that research keeps coming out with the benefits 😉 for momma and baby!
    Great post!!

  19. Thanks for the notes! 🙂 I started reading your blog when I was pregnant with my second and soooo badly wanted to do Summer Shape Up and other fun things you posted (like burped challenges), but knew it wouldn’t be good to start something new. Like you, I listened to my body during my pregnancy workouts and even though I missed more strenuous workouts, I was careful to not do anything that didn’t feel right anymore.

  20. Great post! This will be such a good reference for me for when I decide to have a baby. It’s very important to me to maintain an active lifestyle. Have a good day!

  21. Thank you for motivating and educating us! 🙂 That research about benefits to the baby is mind blowing. At 9 weeks along, all I want to do is vegg on the couch and/or sleep though. How did you find motivation to hit the gym during your first trimester?

    • Fitnessista says:

      i had to fight through some of the nausea because i was still teaching fitness classes, but started to feel much better in the second trimester. for my personal workouts, it was a lot of walking during the first tri

  22. Thanks for this! What a perfectly timed post for me! Haha! I’m a yoga instructor and right now I’m 6 months pregnant with my first. I’ve been looking for some more opinions about regular fitness routines during pregnancy. At my last appointment I told my doctor I was doing all the same things I’d done before, just taking it down a few notches – mostly because I just don’t have the energy to push as hard as I used to – and she said that was exactly what I should do.
    I still do vinyasas and twists in yoga though. I am interested in learning more about why we should “open” instead of twist. I have been under the impression that as long as you’re making room – lengthening before you twist to pull the belly and thigh away from each other so there’s no squishing, and using a block when you need more length than your body can give you using only your arm for support, and widening the stance when you need to, etc – then twisting is perfectly fine. I can’t say from personal experience yet, but I imagine I may start to skip twists when I run out of room. Only time will tell… 🙂

  23. Alexandra says:

    This post could not have come at a better time! I just had my first ultrasound yesterday to confirm my first pregnancy (coolest thing ever!!) and have been thinking about exercise and what I should and should not do. Right now the only modifications that I’ve made are stopping running and lowering my weight a little (due to exhaustion) anything high impact just doesn’t seem “right” to me yet! Even tho my doctor says it can’t hurt the baby at this point I’m scared of running and jumping!

    • I was the same way- I was a heavy lifter with my husband and I was terrified about what was “too heavy” and about lying on my back for certain exercises.. But I think the hesitation stems from being your first time pregnant, you haven’t really had to think and know about ALL the things related to pregnancy and fitness and safety, so everything seems horrifyingly wrong to do! I say keep educating yourself and do what feels right!

  24. Awesome post! I’m a strong believer that exercise makes for smarter babies. I did some form of exercise 5 days a week while I was pregnant with Madelyn and her daycare teachers always talk about how smart and verbal she is 🙂 If your body allows for it I say go for it! I definitely scaled back because I was scared that something might happen, but I know for next time that I’ll (hopefully) be able to maintain my fitness level for awhile before having to cut back.

  25. Love this post! Completely agree with 100% of it! I was lucky enough to stay active during both pregnancies and it made all the difference in the world when it came to recovery. I went for my first (slow and short) run last week at 2.5 weeks postpartum (with my doctors blessing) and knowing how to listen to your body and gauge your RPE is so so important when getting back into the swing of things. I always wear a heart rate monitor when working out, but some days I could get up to 160 NBD, and others I’d start to cramp and scale back before I even hit 135.

    I took my last Bikram class at 39 weeks this time and was zumba-ing all the way until the end when I was pregnant with Tripp. Its definitely more tricky the bigger and more tired you get, but so so worth it in the end if you can push through and stay active.

  26. Great post, thanks for the tips! So good to know that the heart rate isn’t considered any kind of indicator anymore – the only reason I stopped running when I was pregnant was because I couldn’t keep my heart rate down, had nothing to do with my perceived exertion! Hopefully next time I’ll be able to keep it up!

    I did the elliptical and push ups until the very end of my pregnancy, got crazy looks at the gym haha!

  27. Steel Springs says:

    Thanks for the post! I was wondering if you have any good exercises (or links/sources) to help treat diastasis recti. My abs are still separated months after giving birth and I’m not sure how to fix them. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Fitnessista says:

      my best advice would be to rest and let them heal. avoid doing core exercises, especially any crunching movements as this can make it worse. talk to your doc and see if there’s a support wrap she recommends to help guide them back together

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