As a man writing about training while being pregnant, it somewhat smacks of being unsympathetic, but it is not...much the opposite. I have a surprising amount of experienced women that train and ask regarding what they should and shouldn't be doing exercise-wise in the gym during pregnancy. I don't think any future Mum wishes to cause harm to their baby, but do wish to maintain a certain level of fitness for their own sake, before and after pregnancy, and baby's health during pregnancy.
Exercise is still possible during pregnancy, however, everything is relative. The exercise is relative to what you've been doing already and relative to any contraindications and pregnancy complications, and the stage of pregnancy, too. Early on, things to be most mindful of baby-wise are elevated temperatures and excessively increased heart rate (the baby's heart rate is much quicker than yours!); therefore, if you're used to performing high-intensity anaerobic interval training, this is something you should consider knocking on the head, and look at a more controllable aerobic interval or steady-state programme that affords you being able to drop the intensity and better able to listen to your body and its changing state. You may also find certain exercise choices easier to gauge and manage.
Among changes to the cardiovascular system are an increase in heart size alongside an increase in blood volume and cardiac output. In short, adaption to the increased workload from the demands of Mum and baby. The pressure of blood in the circulatory system should remain the same, in a healthy pregnancy; something you will hopefully note in your many blood pressure checks with Midwives and Doctors. Around mid-term, it's not uncommon for there to be a slight decrease in diastolic pressure (the minimum arterial pressure).
During pregnancy, the best to hope for, and ideally what you want to aim for, is a steady regression of cardiovascular fitness. Remember, you're preparing for labour, not a race!
Note: Interestingly, the increase in blood volume, also alongside a rise in platelets (involved in clotting) before delivery, means that Mum's body can afford to lose a certain volume of blood on delivery, without complication, and that the natural clotting ability (to prevent further blood loss) is very proficient at this time.
If you're used to the weights room (resistance training), this is an area that you can still enjoy; your training may just change somewhat though. Instead of trying to lift a greater amount, which you can pretty much give up on anyway, try advanced training methods, such as supersets and controlled reps, to fatigue muscles (within reason) while decreasing overall strain and intensity. It works well swapping out compound movements, involving multiple muscle groups, for isolation movements, emphasising a single muscle.
Primarily due to the increasingly excessive intra-abdominal pressure, I recommend shying away from heavy compound lifts altogether, like barbell squats and deadlifts, and direct abdominal (with the exception of the vacuum exercise and light mobility hip flexion). The core is best worked as a stabiliser during less demanding lifts and alternative exercises sought for those heavy compound lifts, such as, instead of Barbell Squats, controlled or high-rep bodyweight Leg Blaster Squats or Walking Lunges. Again, supersets of isolation exercises are another good alternative, such as Seated Leg Extensions and Seated Leg Curls.
With the mention of heavy lifting, it's probably best if I bring up uterine prolapse, as some of you may've read about this and "heavy lifting" being listed as a big no, no. The term "heavy lifting" is too vague and clouds the issue regarding the continuation of resistance training during pregnancy, however, it should not be ignored. A prolapsed uterus is the slipping down of the uterus into the vagina, when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments provide inadequate support, through stretching and/ or general weakness; compounded by the weight of the baby during pregnancy. While a prolapse is more common following labour, there is still a risk during pregnancy. Pelvic floor exercises - general movement around the pelvis area (hip joint) - have become more fashionable again in recent years, with many men performing them as well as women. In particular, I favour a paused (squeeze at mid-position) Hip Thrust with no weight...similar to a Glute Bridge, but a slightly more favourable position and it's good to drop in and out of a controlled squeeze, in my opinion, rather than hold it for an excessive duration. Concentrate on form and control!
As regards the "heavy lifting" note, consider that, if the pelvic floor muscles are greater stressed and stretched under increased weight of the unborn baby, placing excessive strain upon them and other supporting structures of the uterus (as a knock-on effect) by say picking up a heavy weight from the ground could cause the potential prolapse. With this in mind, keeping up with pelvic floor exercises and the general functional strength of the body as a whole should leave you in better stead and decrease the likelihood of a prolapse occurring.
With selections of exercises, it should be apparent that you will wish to choose alternative exercises to those usually performed lying on your front. Laying on your back is perhaps less clear. There is no real issue with performing a brief light exercise on your back, other than a practical one; it's impractical to be trying to get up and down out of a lay flat position...you'll look and feel like a woodlouse trying to right itself. There's plenty of alternatives, including seated machines for improved comfort and, if you are to use a bench, use it in an incline position.
As with cardiovascular fitness, pregnancy is not a time to make improvement - adding muscle mass and gaining strength, it's a time to retain a decent level of functional strength and muscle mass; this retention of muscle mass and functional strength should serve you very well in the latter stages of pregnancy, labour and, once your baby is here, getting back to full-fitness quicker.
I wrote this article a couple of weeks after the birth of my own Son, Archie. The gym image above is of my Wife, Charlie, training on her due date. In this article, I've tried to address many of the subject matters that Charlie, and other ladies that I've trained or talked with, have encountered or asked about. In a future article, I shall try and address some of the questions regarding getting back in to shape following the birth.
I hope you find this article interesting and helpful, and I wish you well during your pregnancy and a happy and healthy baby!
Please support our free-resource by sharing it with your friends and family using our socialise buttons.
All the best,
P.S. Here's our little Archie :)