Personal trainer Ange Noy is pregnant with her first child and trying to maintain her fitness level as best as possible while navigating sometimes conflicting advice from her endocrinologist, GP, midwife, family, friends, assorted fitness instructors, online forums and phone apps. When you fall pregnant, how do you keep fit while doing what’s best for baby?
Around 20 years ago it was considered pretty normal to drop your gym workouts and ‘just wait’ for the baby to turn up from the second you had a positive pregnancy test. These days, it’s interesting that despite modern research indicating that doing modified versions of training suitable for your changing body is actually beneficial for both mother and baby, many women are still abandoning their exercise efforts upon finding out they are pregnant.
When did we decide that pregnancy was a ‘diagnosis’ that meant we had to stop all activity?
Don’t get me wrong; if your pregnant body has decided to let you know that exercise isn’t such a great idea (i.e. early contractions, bleeding) and/or a medical professional has told you to avoid exercise, then I believe you should absolutely listen to them. Also, this is not the time in your life to be taking up new exercise programmes (unless okayed by a GP), pushing yourself too hard, or doing certain types of competitive sport.
However, if you were relatively fit in the leadup to pregnancy, it’s generally accepted that you can continue exercising in a similar, modified manner throughout your pregnancy as long as you feel up to it; a big plus for heading into pregnancy as fit as possible!
Having previously been training to compete in the upcoming club level rowing season, figure skating, gymming and training clients most days of the week, I have entered pregnancy much fitter than your average gym-goer. So the second I found out I was pregnant, one of my initial questions was to what extent can I continue exercising?
The first 13 weeks
I have polycystic ovarian syndrome which comes with an assortment of higher-than-usual potential risk factors including gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia. This means it’s particularly important to me that I should keep my fitness levels up and nutrition moderated – not just for during pregnancy, but also following birth – as lifestyle conditions help to keep PCOS in check.
For me this means regular exercise six days a week (not necessarily hardcore workouts, but making sure there is at least 45 minutes of purposeful activity each day), having 6-7 hours of good sleep a night, de-stressing through regular yoga sessions and ensuring I plan ahead, and eating a well balanced diet that includes everything in moderation.
I know I’ve been pretty lucky that I haven’t had much of a problem with morning sickness, but the fatigue was unlike anything I had ever experienced; that combined with a new development of low blood pressure/dizziness, which resulted in close to zero activity for at least four weeks.
I listened to my body and stripped my routine back to taking short walks when I felt I could manage it, but as my energy levels improved heading into the second trimester, I began easing back into some semblance of my old routine. Unfortunately finishing off the rowing season was out, as was figure skating thanks to impending changes in my centre of gravity and potential balance/falling issues. However, the gym made a reappearance.
I attend a gym with a large membership base, and up until now, I’d never really noticed that there are almost no visibly pregnant women training on the gym floors or in the group fitness classes. Where do they all go?
I feel too fit to cut back on my high cardio classes, regular yoga classes and weight training, and substitute them for pregnancy-specific slower-paced prenatal workouts. So what were my options?
Personalised advice from my GP and endocrinologist indicated that I could continue doing much of what I was doing before but within reason. As a personal trainer I already have a good idea of what I should/shouldn’t do, but the guidelines are often a little vague. For example, if avoiding overheating, how hot is too hot? Women in hot desert-like overseas countries have managed to procreate and have normal children, so surely some sweating won’t do Bean (our name for as-yet-unnamed-baby) any harm?
I’ve made it my mission to become as informed as possible to be able to continue exercising to whatever capacity I can.
What I do at the gym
For me, hitting the gym now is purely for ‘fun’ exercise and a social experience, so despite being a personal trainer, when I’m in the gym all I want to do is group fitness classes. My personal tastes are for the high-cardio Les Mills BodyAttack class, or stretching out in yoga.
The differences between my pre-pregnancy training and workouts while pregnant have been:
– I always perform the low impact options and avoid jumping and running in cardio classes
– I ensure I don’t overheat and when possible stand by a fan or open window
– I now usually barely break a sweat during a one hour class
– I don’t perform deep squats or lunges (they are uncomfortable!)
– I always take a bottle of pre-chilled water to help keep my core temperature cool
– I never lie down on my back – for abs work, I perform pointers on all fours rather than crunches
– I avoid closed twists in yoga and perform open twists instead
– If my body has had enough – even if I’ve only trained for 15 minutes – I will stop
– I will always approach/signal the instructor for an alternative exercise to substitute if I need to
– I no longer push myself to my maximum
I am still doing full push ups when I can 🙂
For me, I consider these workouts to be more about keeping up my workout habits than anything else. I want to be strong for my baby and for the delivery, to avoid difficulty trying to lose the baby weight post-pregnancy, and to continue getting the feelgood endorphins, stress release and oxygen circulation from training which no doubt Bean will be also experiencing.
If you are pregnant and have been cleared by a medical professional to continue training, I would highly recommend consulting a qualified gym instructor or personal trainer – not just doing an internet search (!) – to get a programme that has been adapted specifically to your fitness level and pregnancy requirements. If you typically attend group classes, take the time to tell the instructor you are pregnant and ask for their recommendations to ensure you are exercising safely. There are different guidelines depending on what trimester you are in, what kind of activity you are doing and what symptoms you have been experiencing.
Are you pregnant? What are you doing to maintain your fitness? What difficulties have you run into?
Disclaimer: Remember, if you are pregnant, it’s important to be cleared by a GP or another medical professional for exercise. Do not start new exercise programmes without checking with them first. Always listen to your body during training and stop if you experience dizziness, bleeding, breathlessness, contractions or any other signs of labour.