What Type of Exercise Should I Do During Pregnancy?
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Exercise during pregnancy need not be another annoyance. Exercise is hugely beneficial to most pregnant women and there is a range of appropriate options to keep you from getting bored of the same old thing.
What exercise should I do?
To a large extent this depends on what your exercise routine consisted of pre-pregnancy. Obviously, you must avoid exercises that are clearly dangerous, or put you or your tummy at risk of impact such as contact sports. Most mainstream sports can generally be continued through the majority of pregnancy, provided you understand how to adjust them as your pregnancy progresses.
When considering what exercise to do, you should aim to do those that get your heart rate up, keep your body supple and help you to control your weight gain. At the same time, ensure that you do not work yourself too hard, that you do not overstretch and cause yourself injury and that you do not exercise so hard that you lose weight yourself, or cause your baby to gain weight too slowly. There are a range of aerobic exercises that are safe to do while pregnant.
Walking is the safest, cheapest and easiest form of aerobic exercise. All you need in terms of equipment is some comfortable clothes and some well-fitting trainers. Remember that you need to aim to raise your heart beat, so a gentle stroll to the end of the road might not cut it. Aim to walk faster than usual. You will probably break a sweat and feel a little breathless but if you find that you cannot talk while you are walking then you are working too hard.
If you were jogging or running prior to becoming pregnant then you can continue throughout the early stages of pregnancy. As your uterus becomes larger you will find that the motion of running becomes uncomfortable. Listen to your body and step things down a level as soon as you need to. Brisk walking is still a very effective form of exercise and you can try walking on an incline if you want to make the workout a little harder.
Swimming or aqua aerobics are a great way to exercise during pregnancy. Spending time in the pool can help to relieve swelling in the arms and legs and it can also help to cool you down in the warmer months. It is safe to swim the breaststroke provided you do not have any pain in the front of your pelvis. Many public leisure centres offer aqua-aerobics classes specifically for pregnant women, but if not, you will still be fine to attend a class, just ensure that you let the instructor know that you are pregnant beforehand (even if your bump does seem rather obvious in a swimming costume!).
As well as aerobic exercises, you may also find that yoga or Pilates classes are beneficial for your flexibility and strength during pregnancy. You may be able to find a class specifically designed for pregnant women but if not, ensure that you let your instructor know beforehand and check whether they are qualified to give instruction to women during pregnancy.
Weight training, provided you do it safely, is fine to do during pregnancy. You should not be lifting very heavy weights and you should seek professional advice if you have not lifted weights before. As your pregnancy progresses you should reduce the weights you lift; you can still ensure that you are getting a good workout by compensating with the number of repetitions that you do.
How much exercise should I do during pregnancy?
If you are new to exercise then believe it or not, now is not too late to start. However, if your level of fitness is low then you must ensure that you take a gradual approach to exercise and take serious care not to overdo it. Regardless of what your fitness levels are, always discuss your exercise routine with your GP when you first become pregnant. If any complications arise during pregnancy then make sure you speak to your antenatal team or GP again to ensure that your exercise routine is still appropriate.
Your goal during pregnancy should be to achieve and maintain a healthy fitness level, rather than achieving your best fitness level or breaking any records. The purpose of staying fit during pregnancy is to look after you body, but not to lose weight or to win yourself a body-building medal. You can work towards this (gradually) after you have had your baby!
Aim to complete a 30-60 minute workout (including warming up and cooling down) 3 to 4 times per week.
Do I need to do pelvic floor exercises?
All pregnant women should be doing pelvic floor exercises, or Kegels as they are commonly referred to. Unfortunately the best way to assess whether you actually need to do them is to wait until after you've had the baby and see how bad your stress incontinence is. So, if that approach doesn't appeal to you, make sure you work these exercises into your daily routine from now onwards.
Pelvic floor exercises are easy and you can do them anywhere. However, even if you are completing 3 sets of them a day, as is advised, they are not strenuous enough to be counted as aerobic exercise. You will still need to get up off the sofa and get those legs moving in order to stay fit and healthy.
What exercises or sports should I avoid when pregnant?
Any exercises that pose a risk of you falling or taking impact to the tummy should be avoided during pregnancy. Pregnancy itself can impose balance issues when it comes to simply standing still or climbing the stairs, so you should not put yourself or the baby at any further risk through sports. For this reason, you should rule out contact sports such as rugby or those with a risk of contact such as football, tennis or squash. Any sport that has a high chance of falling, such as skiing, climbing, horse riding or gymnastics is best avoided during pregnancy.
Even if you have been used to intense workouts prior to getting pregnant, you should scale these down now that you are pregnant, and more so as your pregnancy progresses. Your joints are more relaxed during pregnancy and you will be more susceptible to injury.