One of the most common questions a lot of women ask once they get pregnant is “is it okay for me to exercise?”. In most cases, the resounding answer is yes!
For most women, one of the biggest stresses of pregnancy is the weight gain it will lead to, so it’s naturally to think about ways to counteract that, but weight control is only one of the ways your body can benefit from keeping active during your pregnancy. As long as there are no pre-existing conditions keeping you from safe and controlled exercise (make sure you discuss this with your doctor), here are some important areas you should focus on – and reasons for you to stay fit.
Core Strength: Over the last few years, core muscles have moved front and centre in the awareness stakes, thanks to Pilates, Fitballs and other disciplines which focus on building a strong centre. For pregnant women, core muscles are even more important. Back ache, postural problems and recovery after birth can all be made far more manageable by keeping your core strong. This can be as simple as doing a small amount of exercises on a Fitball, finding a pre-natal Pilates class, or hiring a personal trainer to guide you through the correct movements. You need to remember after sixteen weeks of pregnancy, it is no longer recommended to lie flat on your back to exercise, so make sure what you’re doing is right for the stage of pregnancy you’re in.
Lifting Technique: Being pregnant means your body is going to get heavier – by the end of the last trimester, average (and healthy) weight gain is 12.5kg (approximately 25 pounds). Your legs, lower back and gluteal muscles will all get more of a workout sitting down, standing up and just moving around on a day to day level. Also bear in mind once your baby arrives, you’ll be doing lots of lifting from awkward angles, so along with a strong core, you’ll need to learn to lift with your legs to protect your back. There are many versions of body weight squats, Fitball squats, and even certain exercise machines you can use and benefit from during this time.
Upper Body Strength; As your body changes, and bustline starts to increase, so does the pressure on your postural muscles. Once your baby arrives, holding, breastfeeding and lifting use a surprising amount of upper body strength, and if you find you’re not up to the task, you can experience a lot of neck and upper back pain. To avoid this, postural work like scapular pinches, seated row, and more challenging work incorporating a Fitball can really help make you more able to cope.
Controlling Weight Gain: probably the most visually important aspect to most women, and a very important one. You don’t have to do anything fancy to keep your weight under control, but if you’re able to go for a daily thirty minute walk, you’ll be doing your body a huge favour. Try to use this time not only for exercise, but to also let your mind relax, and focus on yourself. As you get towards the end of your pregnancy, it can be very easy(and understandably so!) to get stressed out by the idea of upcoming event. As you walk, try to breathe deeply, and enjoy the benefits – you’ll feel much better!
All of these things can help keep you feeling energetic, sleeping more easily, and coping better with your changing body. It’s a great idea to get professional guidance, either in a class situation, or one on one from a personal trainer – even if it’s just for one session – to help guide you in the right direction and make sure your technique is correct and safe.
There’s so much pressure on women at the moment to bounce back to their pre-baby shape, or something even more fabulous a couple of weeks after giving birth, you’d be forgiven for feeling frumpy if you’re carrying an extra couple of kilos. Every trashy magazine in the supermarket is filled with details of celebrities and their post-baby bodies, their diets or workout regimes, and sadly, most of them are unsafe, and unsustainable.
When you feel like you have enough energy to start exercising again, it’s important to recognise your body has changed. Those abdominal muscles have stretched, or have possibly been through a Caesarian section, and need some tender loving care to rebuild their strength. Any break from exercising is hard to come back from, especially one due to a small bundle who may not be letting you sleep as regularly as you used to.
The big focus with all these exercises is on core muscles. For lifting, supporting your lower back, helping your posture – as Joseph Pilates said, “everything comes from the core”.
Here are some suggestions for easy ways to get shed some baby weight, and get a little feel-good exercise back into your life:
If the weather is nice and it’s practical, grab your pram and take your baby for a walk. It could be a trip to the supermarket, instead of using the car, or a walk in a park purely for pleasure. If you have a regular catch up time with friends who also have children like a mother’s group or play group, see if you can alternate an indoors session with an outdoor walk. While you’re walking, concentrate on keeping your abdominals strong and your posture tall. The more you can focus on these elements, the more your body will be automatically able to put them into practice during your daily life.
Eating plays a huge part in getting back to a pre-baby weight. If you can try and stick to a sensible eating plan for even eighty per cent of the time, you’ll feel better, and probably find you lose some weight. One of the big problems is being at home all the time, it’s easy to eat more than you realise. So see if you can make life easier for yourself by:
* trying to eat only when you’re hungry. If boredom or habit are a factor in your eating, have a glass of water before you eat – especially if you’re reaching for something highly sugary to give you energy. Try and split snacks into slightly more sustaining mini-meals – a sandwich packed with salad and some chicken, ham or tuna will keep you feeling full for longer than a couple of biscuits. If you have very little will power (and I’m speaking from personal experience here!), minimise the temptations you keep in the house: if it’s not there, you won’t be able to eat it.
*If you’re more inclined towards sweet things, have some low fat yoghurt, and add nuts or extra fruit (or both) to it. It’s important to remember you need extra energy when dealing with a small baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding, so make sure you’re not limiting the foods you eat, just choosing more healthy foods where possible.
For something a little more physical, see if you can find time for a quick exercise break. Hopefully, you’ll have ten minutes somewhere in your day, either when your baby is sleeping, or when someone else can take over for a few minutes. If you have the inclination, you can use the time to strengthen your body with a few simple exercises.
Resistance exercise is especially important for women with small children, since we seem to spend so much time lifting from awkward heights – getting a baby into or out of a car seat, or cot. Often bad lifting technique stems from the wrong muscles working, or not having enough strength to keep your core strong and protect your lower back. Here are five exercises which will help to strengthen your body in the right places. If you don’t have time to do all of them at once, aim for one exercise per day. It should take less than five minutes to do two sets, and you’ll notice a difference within a month.
If you do the whole routine at once, make sure you rest for at least one day afterwards. Recovery time is just as important as the exercise itself, and overusing your muscles isn’t a good plan. If you want to keep up your momentum, spend five minutes stretching, or go for a walk instead.
Squats – for your legs. Stand in front of a chair, with your feet hip width apart. Keeping your weight through your heels, bend your knees and bring your bottom towards the chair, as though you were going to sit down. Try not to touch the chair! Straighten your legs and come back to standing, squeezing through your bottom muscles and abdominals. Try to do eight to fifteen, two to three times.
Pushups – for your chest, shoulders and triceps. Resting on your knees, put your hands just outside shoulder width apart. If you have a towel, put your hands on the outside edges of the towel. The easiest version is to leave your lower legs on the ground, and lower your chest to the ground by bending your arms, pushing through the heels of your hands to straighten your arms and lift yourself back up. To make the exercise harder, bring your knees back slightly and lift your lower legs off the ground.
Make sure you keep your abdominals strong to protect your lower back, and try not to drop your head as you get tired.
Pushups are a difficult exercise to do properly, so make sure you keep breathing, and keep your neck relaxed – if you pick a point to look at before you start, it can help you keep your neck in the right position. Try to do six to fifteen, two to three times.
Reverse pushup – for back and arms. Sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, put your hands behind your bottom, just underneath your shoulders. Make sure your arms are straight, and turn your fingers so they’re facing out from your body. Lifting up your bottom, try and bring your body into a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Make sure you keep your back strong, and your neck relaxed. Breathe! This is a tough exercise, but it’s great for building strength through your back and arms for lifting growing babies. Try five to twelve, one to three times. Please note, if you have weak wrists, start off with two or three and build up slowly.
Pelvic tilts – for core muscles. These are perfect for any level of abdominal strength, and will also help strengthen your pelvic floor. Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your neck relaxed. You can choose to either have your hands underneath your lower back, or beside you. Push your lower back into the floor so it flattens, being conscious of using your abdominal muscles, not just your hips. If you find it difficult to feel the muscles working, put your fingers beside your navel, and push gently. You should be able to feel resistance when your muscles activate. As you find these easier, try to hold for several beats each time you tilt. Moving your hands further away from your body also makes it tougher.
Work to keep your shoulders down and your neck relaxed, and make sure you’re breathing throughout the whole exercise. Try for ten to fifteen, one to three times.
Extra tip: If you find it hard to switch your core muscles on, imagine tightening your stomach as if something was going to hit you there. That feeling of strength is the same brace you should be aiming for with the pelvic tilts.
Bridging – for lower back. Lying on the ground, bend your knees and have your feet flat on the floor. Lift your bottom until your weight is on your shoulders and feet. Make sure you don’t over extend your back – it doesn’t matter if you start off quite low, then lift a little more when the exercise gets easier. Try to hold for a couple of breaths, then lower yourself down, one vertebrae at a time. When you’ve finished, bring your knees into your chest and flatten your back down onto the floor. Try to do five to eight, one to three times.
Please note, pelvic tilts and bridging are both are safe to do even a couple of days after you’ve had a baby, but anything else needs the okay from your doctor before you start.
If you’d like any other information about exercising after having a baby, or are interested in pre-or post natal training, please email me