Guest-blogger, Brittany Citron is the founder of ProNatal Fitness. She is a certified group fitness instructor specializing in pregnant and postpartum exercise.
Over the past three decades, research has shown an overwhelming amount of benefits from exercise during pregnancy. Unfortunately, when it comes to the specifics of exactly what type of exercise is safe or beneficial, the myths seem equally as overwhelming. Here are some of the biggest myths explained to help you feel more confident about your ability to exercise for two!
MYTH 1: If you were not a regular exerciser before, pregnancy is not the time to start.
REALITY: The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are substantial – including decreased risk of gestational diabetes, fewer pains and complications during pregnancy, a potential easier labor, and a faster recovery. Exercise during pregnancy has even been shown to improve your growing baby’s heart and brain development! In fact, the benefits are so great that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends that pregnant women get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. If you were not a regular exerciser prior to your pregnancy, start with simple activities at a moderate intensity that don’t require a big learning curve (walking is a GREAT one!).
MYTH 2: When exercising, you should avoid getting your heart rate up over 140 beats per minute.
REALITY: If you’ve heard this one, this is actually an outdated guideline from 1985 when very limited research existed about exercise during pregnancy. This guideline was actually eliminated in 1994 after research proved that heart rate is NOT an appropriate gauge of exercise intensity when you are pregnant. This is because there are so many other things going on in your body that cause fluctuations in your heart rate, so your heart rate is often not a true measure of how you really feel. Today, the official ACOG guideline encourages pregnant women to exercise at a level that feels “moderate” to “slightly hard.” This level is obviously very different for every woman, and will vary for you throughout your pregnancy. The best way to gauge the appropriate intensity for your own body is to stay within a range where you feel you could still complete a full sentence out loud. You don’t want to feel completely breathless. So ignore those heart rate monitors and start listening to your body instead. Odds are, if it feels OK, then it is OK!
MYTH 3: You shouldn’t work your abs during pregnancy
REALITY: This could not be further from the truth! On the contrary, proper core training is one of the best things you can do to help alleviate back pain during pregnancy and prepare your body for an easier labor and faster recovery. The key is to make sure you’re doing the right type of abdominal work. After your first trimester, avoid exercises lying on your back, and those involving any bending or twisting of your torso (i.e. sit-ups, bicycles, oblique curls, etc.), as these exercises place too much pressure on your external abdominal wall, which already has enough pressure on it from your growing belly! Focus instead on strengthening your innermost abdominal muscle (transverse abdominis, or “TVA”), as this is the muscle that supports your back, and the muscle you use to push your baby out. Your TVA is strengthened through the action of drawing your belly button into your spine. One of the best exercises to target this muscle is a simple “TVA Hold.” To perform this, simply take a deep breath in through your nose (letting your rib cage, not your chest, expand with the air), and then exhale through purse lips as you draw your belly button inward toward your spine as far as you can. Hold this engaged position for 15-30 seconds while you continue to breathe. Start by doing this exercise seated, then progress to standing, then progress to an all-4s-hands-and-knees position on the ground (which makes you work against gravity to engage your belly button).
MYTH 4: You should completely avoid running or any higher intensity activity
REALITY: Despite what you may have heard, you cannot “shake” your baby out of you! As long as you do not have any joint or ligament issues, higher intensity exercises like running or interval training are typically fine to continue for as long as it feels comfortable. If you were an avid runner or very athletic prior to your pregnancy, you may find you are able to continue your usual routine for a while into your pregnancy. However, as you progress through your pregnancy, your body will be working harder and harder on its own, so you will naturally feel the need to dial down your intensity level. As long as you follow the #1 most important rule of prenatal exercise, which is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY (avoid exercising at a level where you feel breathless, and stop if you feel any pain, bleeding, etc), you will be fine. Your body is programmed to deliver a healthy baby and it will tell you if something you are doing is not safe.
MYTH 5: You should avoid strength training to prevent injury or joint pain
REALITY: Actually, NOT doing any strength training is more likely to lead to aches, pains, pulled muscles, and even injuries. Proper strength has been shown to decrease maternal exhaustion during labor by 75%, and decrease the need for a C-section or forceps by 50%. It also prepares your body for the many physical demands of motherhood. The most important muscles to focus on are your innermost abdominal muscle (see #3!), your pelvic floor (to prevent incontinence), your buttocks (to help support your back), your legs (for the many demands of motherhood), and the backside of your upper body (mid/upper back and backs of shoulders) to counteract the rounded-forward pull that often happens from the weight of your growing breasts and nursing. Just remember that given the increased levels of the hormone “relaxin” in your body (which makes you less stable in the pelvic area), and your changing center of gravity caused from your growing belly, always prioritize proper form and alignment over heavier weights. If needed, consult with a personal trainer. Also, try to choose exercises that keep your pelvis in a more stable position vs. unstable moves like deep lunges. This is why squats are one of the best prenatal exercise moves. They strengthen all the most important muscles, keep your pelvis in a stable position, and heads up… you’ll be doing a lot of them as a mom!
Medical Disclaimer: This information is for healthy pregnant women with no complications or risk factors. This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to offer medical advice. Always consult with your doctor first before beginning any exercise program.