Updated: Dec 4, 2017
Should we be doing cardio in pregnancy? Is it safe to exercise?
The answer is a resounding YES - if your pregnancy is ‘normal’ and your doctor has advised that exercise is fine for you. Always make sure you take note of how you body is feeling before and during exercise, keep hydrated and take regular breaks.
Cardiovascular exercise that safely raises the heartbeat contributes to general health, promotes better sleep, can reduce the possibility of gestational diabetes, can reduce constipation and help with aches such as back and leg pain. The NHS states: “Exercise is not dangerous for your baby – there is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour”. Even more reason for us to be keeping our energy levels up and making time for some exercise. The NHS recommends starting gently and “ Increase this gradually to at least four 30-minute sessions a week”.
In my first trimester I noticed my energy levels were lower and I was getting tired more quickly, so I took note of that and listened to my body - making my runs shorter and taking more breaks. However when I moved into that golden time of the second trimester (I was lucky here - no aches and pains, and feeling strong) I was really able to enjoy my workout again. As my baby grew I stopped running and switched it for uphill treadmill walking, but still at enough intensity to break a sweat. I had been loving lifting heavy weights before I fell pregnant, so I tried to incorporate those into my prenatal routine, reducing the load and being really aware of my breathing as it is not advised to hold your breath in any way when pregnant. I found some exercises that were safe and effective for my abs, and I hope they contributed to the lack of a too pronounced Diastasis Recti (separation of the abdominal muscles - more to come on that in future blog posts!)
What about the rule about heart rate not going above 140BPM?
This rule was specified many years ago and but is now misadvised. The Mayo Clinic states: “If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, there's no need to focus on your heart rate for exercise during pregnancy”. When pregnant your resting heart rate (RHR) is raised, therefore likely to be high during exercise, so the heart rate monitors on cardio machines do not provide an accurate reading of intensity.
How do you know what is the right intensity?
The NHS recommend being at level 12-14 on the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion which equates to ‘somewhat hard’. This can be measured easily when you workout, by doing the talk test - you should be able to speak normally at all times, although be slightly too out of breath to break into song!
What exercise is best for me during my pregnancy?
Firstly you should always do exercise that you enjoy, you will have a lot better chance of sticking to it and seeing results. In pregnancy it is advised not to try anything new, so don’t go swinging kettle bells around just because you’ve seen someone else in the gym doing it! Try to adapt your current routine to fit your changing body, maybe take the intensity down a little and avoid heavy weights.
Great cardio exercise for pregnancy is: walking uphill on a treadmill, elliptical machine, cycling or recumbent bike (may not feel great in 3rd trimester), pilates, yoga, swimming or aqua aerobics. Always mention to your instructor that you are pregnant so they can advise of any contraindications to be aware of. Working with a qualified pre-natal trainer is a great way to safely keep working with weights and to really get the most out of your pregnancy workout. A good trainer will also be able to assess any aches and pains you may have and give you some exercises to strengthen these areas.
If you work out in the gym, it is worth taking some advice on a professional on exercises that are to be avoided, particularly after 16 weeks. These include, but are not limited to, any isometric movements such as planks, holding your breath, supine positions (lying flat on your back), abdominal crunches and inversions in yoga. There are so many exercise you can still do, so you just have to find the ones that feel great on you and your body and give you a safe and energising workout.
Remember, raising the heart rate and sweating causes the body to release those feel good endorphins which is only a good thing for both you and your baby!
If you are looking for advice on pre or post-natal exercise please email firstname.lastname@example.org
**Always consult your GP before exercising, and if any movements feel difficult, stop immediately and seek professional advice. Mamawell does not recommend undertaking a pre-natal exercise routine without first seeking advice from a fitness professional.