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Pre-Natal Fitness: Part 2

By Bette Williams, RN, BSN, CCE, CPFI, CIME, CBC

Last week, I discussed reasons why exercising during pregnancy is vitally important – less weight gain, shorter labors, and a quicker recovery postpartum. Pregnant exercisers will also experience fewer maternal discomforts, such as insomnia, fatigue, back pain, constipation, swelling, leg cramps, nausea, and varicose veins. To top it off, the healthier you are, the healthier your baby will be. It’s pretty much the ultimate win-win situation.

Your exercise program should include mild to moderate intensity stretching, strengthening, and cardiovascular components, and should be done at least 3 days a week for 30 minutes. As promised, in this article I’ll go into more detail about the components of your exercise program, but first, let’s review some safety guidelines for exercising during pregnancy:

Don’t overexert yourself. Use the “Talk Test” – if you are so out of breath that you cannot carry on a conversation during exercise, decrease the intensity of your activity.
Look for signs of overexertion (excessively red face, chest pains or palpitations, severe headache, and excessive perspiration). If you experience any of these symptoms, slow down, catch your breath, and relax. If the symptoms do not go away after you’ve had a chance to cool down, contact your doctor.
Avoid high-impact activities and activities that carry a risk of injury to your abdomen (such as kickboxing, rock climbing, hockey, and snowboarding, to name a few).
Stay well-hydrated!
Listen to your body – stop any activity that causes unusual pain or discomfort.
Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

STRETCHING – During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin softens the pelvic area and loosens the joints in preparation for birth. Because of this, it’s easy to over-stretch to the point where you injure yourself. But done safely, stretching can be performed many times a day (but aim for at least once per day). Start with a gentle warm-up for your muscles; walk or ride a stationary bike for 3-5 minutes. Stretch only to the point of gentle tightness and hold for 15-30 seconds to get the maximum benefit. Stretching should be smooth rather than jerky, and remember to breathe normally.

STRENGTHENING – When doing strengthening exercises, think of your body in different “zones” – your arms are one zone, your core (back and abs) another zone, and your legs yet another. Each zone needs a rest day in between strengthening sessions (for example, Day 1: exercise arms and legs, Day 2: core, Day 3: arms and legs, Day 4: core, etc.) Be sure to warm-up and stretch beforehand to reduce the risk of injury. Exercise with a 360 degree mindset – meaning remember to work the entire area. For example, when strengthening your legs, include the front of your thigh (quadriceps muscle), the back of your thigh (hamstring muscle), and your lower leg (calf muscles). Slow, steady movements are the goal, in sets of 10 or fewer with rests in between.

CARDIO – Aim for 15-20 minutes of mild to moderate intensity cardio during your exercise sessions. This should include a 5 minute, low intensity warm-up at the beginning and a 5 minute, low intensity cool-down at the end. Because of your changing center of gravity and loosened pelvic muscles, both of which can contribute to injuries and falls, non-weight bearing activities (such as swimming and riding a stationary bike) are valuable activities for the mother-to-be; they carry the least risk of injury and help to alleviate the strain of so much weight on the body. But if you don’t have access to a pool or stationary bike, good ol’ fashioned walking is another top notch choice. Many gyms, churches, and community centers also offer aerobic classes specifically geared for pregnant women.

By exercising safely and consistently, you and your baby will reap a multitude of benefits.

Don’t let pregnancy pain keep you from fitness. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pregnancy Pain Assessment.