For anyone who has trained with me, you know I am not of a fan of lists such as “do this, don’t do that“, “eat this, don’t eat that“, or “this exercise is safe, this is unsafe.”
Life isn’t black or white. It’s certainly not that simple. There are many things to consider when determining if a certain exercise is worth continuing or adding into your routine. Exercising while pregnant is no different.
Lists can be stressful and contradicting. Sometimes they do more harm than good – such as claiming an exercise is safe, but perhaps the individual’s skill level isn’t quite ready for that movement. Other times it can hold someone back – think advanced exerciser being told they can’t do an exercise just because they’re pregnant, when in reality they have the core strength, stability and control needed to properly execute the movement without generating risk to mother and baby.
Rather than getting hung up on specific exercises that are deemed safe or unsafe for pregnancy, I encourage clients to tune in to their body for feedback. Our bodies are excellent communicators. Sometimes we need to learn how to become better listeners to what it is telling us.
Telling someone to simply, “listen to your body“, isn’t very helpful though. You need to know what exactly what to listen for.
Below you’ll find some specific things to be on the lookout for to help you determine if an exercise or movement is safe you (this applies to performing everyday activities too.)
This is a common experience during pregnancy. However, just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s normal. Any form of leaking should be looked further into and not just written off as, “well you’re pregnant, you better get used to it“.
If you experience leaking of any form, it is recommended to get assessed by a pelvic floor physiotherapist who specializes in women’s health. Now, I understand this may not be an option that is available to all women or one that is easily accessible.
If working with a pelvic floor physio is not possible, it may be beneficial to work with a prenatal certified fitness coach who can help you explore different ways to perform movements that do not cause leaking. If that is not an option, you may want to consider temporarily omitting the movements causing the leaks and introduce other movements that do not.
2. PAIN + DISCOMFORT
This is your body’s way of telling you that the exercise selected is too much for your body to handle at the moment. This could be due to physical changes of your growing body, lack of sleep and recovery, stress, lack of support through alignment, breathing patterns or the load is too heavy.
If an exercise causes pain you can first try the movement with less weight and/or decrease intensity. Maybe explore the movement working through your bodyweight or play around with the range of motion.
Example: during pregnancy it is not uncommon to experience pelvic girdle pain through the front or back. Single legged exercises such as lunges can often worsen the pain. However, some women can still successfully perform the movement by tweaking their form. Many find success in learning slightly forward, others adjusting the length of their steps.
If you tried modifying and are still experiencing pain or discomfort, discontinue that specific movement. Perhaps you’ll decide that exercise isn’t a fit during this season of life.
3. BELLY DOMING
This is often a symptom of diastasis recti, but may also be a good indicator that breathing patterns are off, internal pressure is not being regulated properly, and/or lack of deep core muscles recruitment.
A couple things you can do:
1) Try playing around with a lighter load or modify the exercise to see if you can regain core recruitment without any bulging.
2) Check your breathing pattern.
If breaths are shallow then we are not getting full, deep breaths from our diaphragm down, we may be sending excess intrabdominal pressure towards the midline of our belly.
Tissues of the abdominals naturally soften and length to allow space for the baby to grow. When this happens it become more challenging to recruit the core muscles as well as get those deep breaths in. This is why properly designed core work throughout pregnancy is so important.
If you explored the two options above and are still experiencing any midline bulging, this exercise is likely not the safest option at the time.
4. BULGING, SORENESS + HEAVINESS THROUGH THE PERINEUM
The perineum is the tissue connecting the vagina to the anus and is part of the pelvic floor. If you’re experiencing any bulging, pain or feelings or heaviness down there you can try:
1) Playing around with your breathing patterns during the exercise.
Take a squat for example:
Inhale as you lower into the squat, expanding from the ribs (front and back), sending air down to soften and relax the pelvic floor.
Exhale, gently lifting through the pelvic floor and hug baby with abs as you push through the floor back to standing.
2) Adjust the load of the exercise or modify the movement.
Some days that exercise just might not be best for you – that is okay!
The above guidelines can be helpful as you continue to explore ways to keep your body active throughout the different stages of pregnancy. They are also things to be aware of as you transition into postpartum recovery.
It’s important to remember everybody is different and responds differently to exercise. Just because you can physically do something, doesn’t always mean you should. If you find yourself experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is your body’s way of telling you to slow down and adjust as needed.
Having the knowledge available of how to check in with your body is a complete game changer. If you’re looking for guidance on safely exercising during your pregnancy, please don’t hesitate to reach out.