fitness during pregnancy

Fitness adaptation to help with pregnancy

So, you enjoy exercising and staying fit but since becoming pregnant or entering the later stages of pregnancy you’re unsure how you should be exercising or whether it’s even safe for you and your baby.

Or perhaps you want to stay fit and healthy and would like to exercise more but you’re unsure how to do that whilst pregnant.

Don’t worry – it is perfectly safe to exercise whilst pregnant, with the exception of certain medical conditions, and you don’t need to adapt too much while growing that baby inside you either. Obviously, we wouldn’t recommend throwing yourself around an obstacle course in the third trimester, but there are plenty of exercises you can do during pregnancy that are not only safe but can also help with the aches and pains experienced throughout pregnancy.

What exercises can I do whilst pregnant?

We spoke with Pilates instructor Alice Morgan of A M Pilates, who is a certified specialist in Pre- and Post-natal Pilates, about what exercises are not only safe to do during pregnancy but could also help you cope with pregnancy related issues such as back pain, incontinence, poor posture, and mobility problems.

Follow her on Instagram for some great exercises and for more information on her online Pilates membership, where she offers a growing library of on-demand Pilates workout videos for a monthly subscription.

Guidelines for exercising during pregnancy

According to the Chief Medical Officer (2019), you want to aim to achieve 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This can easily be broken down to just 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week, and can include anything from going for a brisk walk, cleaning the house to going for a run or completing a 30-minute workout. Literally anything that increases your heart rate for at least 10 minutes can count towards your 150 minutes of exercise.

These are the same guidelines given for non-pregnant adults.

It is important to note, however, that these guidelines are for low risk pregnancies where there are no contraindications to exercise. In the case of some medical conditions, you may be advised against exercising, or advised to seek advice from your medical professional first. If in doubt, seek advice first.

What is moderate intensity exercise?

Moderate intensity exercise is classed as physical activity that increases your heart rate, but that you could still hold a conversation i.e., you’re not so breathless that you can’t talk. In terms of effort, on a scale of 1-10, this could feel like a 6-7 out of 10.
On top of this, it is recommended that you include at least two sessions of muscle strengthening activity each week in your routine.

What exercises should I avoid during pregnancy?

Aside from the obvious dangerous activities that often come with warnings that they are unsuitable for pregnant women (no motocross, backflips, or downhill racing please), it is recommended that you avoid any activities where you are at risk of falling or getting hit in the belly, such as horse riding, gymnastics, ice hockey, boxing, football etc. and we’d always recommend speaking with a health professional if you have any concerns.

Some rules of thumb for exercising during pregnancy

• Don’t overheat (wear loose clothing, layers that you can remove, and don’t exercise in extreme heat)
• Stay well hydrated
• Have a snack nearby for before or after your workout
• Check that you can hold a conversation while exercising – have a chat with yourself
• Listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, stop!
• Don’t stretch past your pre-pregnancy range of motion
• If you have any pelvic floor symptoms (i.e. urinary leakage, vaginal heaviness) then scale it back and seek assessment from a pelvic health physio

Always stop exercising and seek medical advice if you experience any of the following symptoms

• Vaginal bleeding
• Abdominal pain
• Regular and painful contractions
• Amniotic fluid leakage
• Dyspnea before exertion
• Persistent excessive shortness of breath that does not resolve itself with rest
• Persistent dizziness or faintness that does not resolve itself with rest
• Headache
• Chest pain
• Muscle weakness affecting balance
• Calf pain or swelling

This is what Alice Morgan had to say about exercising whilst pregnant

The toll that pregnancy and motherhood take on our bodies isn’t just restricted to the extra weight gained by growing your bump or the effects that feeding and carrying your child does after their born. Pregnancy can heavily influence our posture, our muscular function, even our tissue and can build up unnoticeably over time until, suddenly, you’re in pain and feel uncomfortable performing everyday tasks.

But it doesn’t have to have such a big impact on your life. With some simple exercises that you can easily do at home, you can help your body overcome some of the effects that pregnancy has on your body. Every body is different though, and what one person feels may differ from what someone else is going through. So, focus on what feels right for you, listen to your own body, and if you have any concerns about your health, speak to a medical professional.

There are three main areas that women can focus on to help ease the issues that often occur during pregnancy such as back pain, joint pain, tight or aching muscles, incontinence or leakage down below, tiredness, and mobility issues. These three areas are core strengthening, pelvic floor strengthening, and mobility exercises to help with postural changes, tightness, joint pain, and tiredness.

By adapting your fitness regime or exercises to focus on these three areas, you can not only meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week to help you feeling fitter and healthier, but you can also ease some of the common problems experienced during pregnancy. What’s more, the exercises designed to help in these three areas are perfectly safe to do whilst pregnant, whatever trimester you are in.

Core Strengthening

Your core acts like a pressure cylinder, and your abdominals, pelvic floor muscles, and diaphragm all work together to help manage this pressure within the torso. Pressure within the torso changes every time you move and during pregnancy, when your abdominals and pelvic floor are stretching, they are slightly more vulnerable to changes in pressure. There are strategies we can utilise to help manage this pressure, for example our breath, deep core activation, and pelvic floor engagement. So, working with a professional that can talk you through these strategies will really benefit you throughout your pregnancy journey and postnatal recovery.

[Editor’s note: Alice’s online Pilates membership contains a number of great videos that you can follow along to help strengthen your core. She uploads at least 2 videos a week for each type of subscription – prenatal and postnatal – and has a Mat Pilates option too – unlimited access to her video library all for just £20 per month. She also runs some incredible Pilates and wellbeing workshops under her sister brand, Well Mama – click the link in her bio on her Instagram page for more info or to sign up to her membership.]

Here is a simple exercise that you can do at home to help strengthen your core. Pair it with a pelvic floor exercise and mobility exercise for a longer workout or do them individually when you have the time 5 days a week to help meet your 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise.

Pelvic Floor Strengthening

Your pelvic floor muscles act like slings that support your genitals and the contents of your pelvis. The increasing weight of your uterus during pregnancy puts added pressure on your pelvic floor, so strengthening these muscles is important for them to function well day to day, preventing incontinence and other issues (the NHS Squeezy app is also great to help with this). But, just like any other muscle, in order to function well day to day they need to be flexible and to work with full range of motion. So, as well as strengthening exercises, its great to get into the habit of incorporating pelvic floor relaxation techniques too.
Here is a simple exercise to do at home that aims to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles followed by a little relaxation technique. Combine these with Core Strengthening and mobility exercises to provide a well-rounded workout or complete whenever you have time to help both meet your weekly moderate intensity workout goals and help reduce the symptoms associated with pregnancy.
A little tip: Do the pelvic floor strengthening exercise as part of the workout between a core strengthening and mobility exercise and add the pelvic floor relaxation technique at the end as part of your cool down routine. The pelvic floor relaxation technique is also a great way to unwind at the end of the day or as part of a meditation regime too!

Mobility exercises to help with postural changes as a result of pregnancy

Your body changes in order to accommodate your growing bump. This can sometimes lead to feelings of tightness or aches and pains in particular areas of the body. Keeping your body moving can really help to alleviate this. Some simple mobility exercises can help to keep joints feeling mobile and maintain range of motion and strength work can help to rebalance any muscular compensations that occur because of these postural changes.
Here are a few mobility exercises that you can do from the comfort of your own home, either on their own or paired with the above videos as part of a larger workout. These mobility exercises are a great way to kick start the day, ensuring your joints are well lubricated and warmed up, ready for what your day has in store for you and your bump.
Insert Mobility video from Alice
We hope this information and these exercises from Alice really helps you to adapt your fitness regime to your pregnancy, or even helps you add them into your weekly habits to help reduce the effects of pregnancy on your body so you can enjoy your pregnancy more.