1. Plan ahead if possible
If a woman is planning on getting pregnant, here are some great things for her to do:
- Get to a healthy body weight – being overweight or super lean are not ideal
- Start taking folic acid
- Get experienced with proper strength training. During pregnancy is not the time to trying new forms of exercise. My wife was well experienced with strength training prior to pregnancy, so it gave us lots of options.
2. Get the doctor’s initial clearance and continual approval of the exercise program
While doctors are not exercise experts, they are experts in assessing the current physical condition of a patient and knowing if she is healthy enough to engage in a training program. When my wife and I went in for her check- ups, we would continually check-in with her doctor to ensure he was okay with what we were doing with her training.
3. Have the proper goals
Training during pregnancy is not about getting ripped abs or setting new fitness records. Here are some good training goals during pregnancy:
- Gain the health benefits of physical activity
- Improve sleep quality
- Improve strength and stamina for labor and the busy months to follow
- Reduce the risk of excessive weight gain
- Reduce insulin levels. This can be done by exercising (particularly strength training) to increase insulin sensitivity (as a result, less is needed to get the job done). This along with eating foods that have a lower glycemic load can help decrease the risk of gestational diabetes. In addition, insulin can increase growth hormone and lead to a bigger baby. A bigger baby means more stress on mom and baby at birth.
One of the tricky things with pregnancy is that we cannot ethically research and find the absolute limit of how much training can be done before harm is done. Therefore, play it safe.
5. Be careful with ligament laxity
With pregnancy comes the hormone relaxin which causes ligament laxity to allow the baby to pass through the pelvis. Relaxin also effects other joints. While ladies may enjoy how flexible they are during pregnancy, this is not a time to do a lot of stretching. Also, I use a gradual range of motion regression on exercises as the pregnancy progresses (i.e. gradually reduced range of motion as time went on).
6. Hammer the upper back & glutes
With pregnancy comes increased breast size and weight. This is further increased when the milk comes in. Rows should be a large staple in the program along with some added accessory work with exercises such as reverse flies and face pulls. Obvious but important note: during pregnancy, replace rows and reverse flies in the prone position (i.e. lying on your stomach) with standing or seated cable exercises.
As the baby increases in size and weight, the pelvis can be pulled into an increasingly greater anterior tilt (i.e. hips tip forward, stomach protrudes, bum sticks out). This can cause low back pain. Hip extension work with an appropriate hinge or deadlift variation can help to strengthen the glutes and maintain a better pelvic position. My wife did some type of deadlift variation through most of her pregnancy and did not have back pain.
7. Do some direct arm work
Expecting moms will be using their arms a lot to hold their little one and carry baby bags and car seats around. Strong arms, forearms and hands will be a big help with this. While the most important arm work will come from your pushing and pulling exercises, adding a few sets of curls can be helpful.
8. Choose low-impact cardiovascular options
This is an old, well-known tip, but a good one. Outdoor brisk walking and swimming are often excellent choices for pregnancy.
9. Get soft tissue work
The extra stress of carrying extra weight and regular physical exercise can lead to sore, tight muscles. While tools like the foam roller can be great for soft tissue work, expecting moms should get regular massages from expecting dads and professional massage therapists when possible. And besides, expecting moms deserve it!
10. Gradually regress the training program as the pregnancy progresses
While everyone is different, here is what I did with my wife’s training program:
- Right from the start we took out explosive movements to prevent jarring and reduced her training loads slightly
- As the pregnancy progressed, we gradually reduced the range of motion on leg exercises (e.g. deadlift from blocks instead of from the floor, step-ups with a low step).
- As the pregnancy progressed, we moved to exercises that needed less balance (e.g. lunges were phased out of the program).
- We continued to progressively decrease training loads in the second and third trimester.
- The last few weeks before Micah went into labour the ligament laxity had progressed to the point were we had to take all hip movements out. We used leg extensions and seated leg curls to give her legs some work.
Pregnancy is a wonderful, very special time of life and exercise can be a great benefit to it. Remember, in the end only two things matter – healthy mom and health baby!