Pregnancy Workout Myths Busted
Misconceptions about exercise during pregnancy
Meet Ashleigh Iovino, a personal trainer, health & fitness fanatic, mother of three and founder of FitMom in South Africa. Ash has a special interest in pre & postnatal fitness using a completely holistic approach covering aspects such as exercise, emotional support and nutritional advice.
The essence of FitMom is perfectly captured in her slogan:
Reclaim, reshape, reward!
“I understand that life is busy and we all have phases where we don’t make time for ourselves, yet health & fitness should always be a priority. I teach women to ‘reclaim’ their bodies and take control again. I teach them to love their bodies & realise the innate potential that they all posses yet may have never unlocked. This is the ‘reshaping’ process. It’s often as much psychological as it is physical. The importance of the psychological aspect cannot be overlooked and is something that I have realised through my own fitness journey. After a lot of hard work, discipline and dedication, the ‘rewards’ are varied and vast.“
If you’ve recently fallen pregnant, you probably have a million questions racing through your head right now, which is totally normal. Our fitness guru and mommy of three has got you covered. Ash sets the record straight and debunks some of the most common pregnancy exercise myths:
- CAN I STILL RUN AND GO TO THE GYM?
I am a huge advocate of remaining fit and active throughout your pregnancy. Pregnancy is not a disease. You are preparing for the biggest physical event of your life (labour) so I believe that training throughout your pregnancy will benefit you hugely.
That said, you are also growing a precious life so there are certain precautions that need to be observed and this is where the guidance of a professional is so valuable. So often, pregnant women are terrified of harming the baby that they end up doing nothing for 9 months. Rather, seek the help of a professional so that you keep moving in a “safe” way.
Assuming there are no complications, yes, you can most definitely still run and go to gym. Each trimester is so different. In your first trimester, it is highly likely that you won’t feel your best. Exhaustion and nausea are common so listen to your body and allow it to adapt to the preggie hormones flowing through you.
In your second trimester you’ll have more energy again and you can ramp things up. In your third trimester your bump will restrict certain movements and general discomfort will make training more difficult. You will need to make adjustments in the type, duration and level of exertion of your exercise. This is a good time to take up walking and yoga.
My general rule is, if you did it before you were pregnant, then it is safe to continue when pregnant (being mindful of the certain “pregnancy training rules”– which a professional can help you with).
- DO I NEED TO STOP STRENGTH TRAINING?
Absolutely not! Strength training plays a crucial role in preparing for labour. However, it is important to bear in mind that the hormone, relaxin (which surges during pregnancy), softens ligaments and tissue throughout the body, which can cause widespread joint instability and pain. Here I advise not going too heavy with your weights and being very careful with your form.
By strength training you actually increase your stability. A properly planned strength training program will help decrease aches and pains that are common in pregnancy, such as lower and upper back pain, by keeping your posture in more optimal alignment.
- HOW WILL EXERCISE AFFECT MY BABY?
It makes sense that if mom is healthier during pregnancy, baby will be healthier too. Moms who are active tend to better control gestational weight gain. This benefits baby as studies have shown there is a link between mother’s weight gain during pregnancy and the baby’s increased risk of becoming obese in childhood.
A reduced risk of gestational diabetes (by being active during pregnancy) reduces the risk of labour and delivery complications due to having a larger baby.
It has also been suggested that being physically active during pregnancy helps give your baby a boost intellectually.
The benefits of physical activity during pregnancy create a win-win by keeping the mother happier, less stressed, and physically fit while creating an optimal environment in utero.
- AT WHAT INTENSITY CAN I TRAIN AT?
Listen to your body. Exerting yourself to the point of exhaustion is not advised. but working up a good sweat is most definitely still possible.
- DO I NEED TO MONITOR MY HEART RATE?
Old research suggested that pregnant women should not get their heart rates above 150bpm. Recent studies show that your heart rate is not going to negatively impact on the baby. My advice is, if you have a heart rate monitor, then use it. It is always nice to know what “zone” you’re working in. However, you know your body the best and will know when to pull back and take things down a notch. Be sensible and stay in tune with your body, but it is not necessary to religiously monitor your heart rate.
- ARE ABDOMINAL/CORE EXERCISES PROHIBITED AND IF SO, HOW SOON INTO PREGNANCY?
This is the one area of training where you need to be extremely careful. There is a very real thing called diastasis rectus – a separation of the abdominal muscles which sometimes requires an operation to “knit” them back together. Some pregnant women are just prone to it and get it regardless of training or not. Other women get it because they do core strengthening exercises incorrectly during pregnancy.
There are certain exercises which you can still do to strengthen your core, obliques and pelvic floor. A normal sit-up is absolutely OUT OF THE QUESTION. A professional will need to advise you as to what is “safe.”
From about 10 weeks, most women can see their tummy pop out a bit (cone shape) when they do a sit-up. This is when you stop normal ab work and move to preggie core strengthening exercises.
- HOW DO I NUTRITIONALLY COMPENSATE FOR THE EXTRA CALORIES I AM BURNING BOTH IN THE GYM AND BY GROWING A BABY?
My number one rule for pregnancy training is to stay adequately hydrated. Calorie wise, exercise will give you a little bit of extra leeway to eat more than usual, but this does not mean you can double your intake.
Healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts and biltong are always a good idea. Don’t allow yourself to go into starvation mode (because that’s often when you reach for unhealthy options). And make sure to refuel your body post-workout with a healthy meal made up of food from all the food groups (carbs, healthy fats and protein).
- HOW SOON CAN I START TRAINING POSTNATALLY?
This is always the number one question I get asked. It completely depends on the type of birth you’ve had, how the recovery has played out and what your doctor says. I won’t train a client until they have had their 6 week check up with their gynae. A new mom might feel completely fine, but it is very hard to ascertain exactly how much strain their pelvic floor has taken (regardless of natural birth or c-section).
I do also understand the feeling of “cabin fever” in those early days. With my 3 babies, I started going for gentle walks from about 3 weeks postpartum. One cannot underestimate what the female body goes through during pregnancy and labour.
Once the baby arrives, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation can also take their toll so the last thing you might feel like is getting back to the gym. Take the pressure off yourself. Enjoy your precious little newborn bubble (which goes too quickly), be gentle and patient with yourself, and take each day as it comes.
- HOW DO I START FROM THE BEGINNING WITHOUT INJURING MYSELF?
My top tips:
- I always advise my postpartum moms to be assessed by a Women’s Health Physio first. This is a really great place to start before beginning to exercise again. The physio will assess your pelvic floor and core and can advise you accordingly. I know of an amazing one in Cape Town and Durban if you are looking for referrals – contact me!
- Start slowly. There’s no rush.
- Remember there are pregnancy/breastfeeding hormones flowing through your body which affect your joints and muscles.
- Begin with gentle walks. Build up to adding light weights.
- Only do postpartum core exercises which are safe.
- Be gentle & patient with yourself.
- Be mindful that it took 9 months to grow your baby so it should take AT LEAST 9 months (a year is more realistic) to reclaim your body again.
To get in touch with Ash for a personal consultation, check out her contact info below: