Prenatal Fitness Myths Revisited, Part 1

If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, I want to help you get off to a good start!  It can be very hard to get started with your fitness routine when there is a TON of conflicting information out there.  I am going to help make it easier for you by dispelling some of the many myths surrounding prenatal fitness.  There’s a lot of information that I want to cover for you in this post, so consider this part 1 in our discussion of prenatal fitness myths.  Let’s begin –

You have probably heard all types of advice as to what you should and shouldn’t do regarding exercise during your pregnancy.  Believe me, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from someone: “Do you really think you should be doing that in your condition?” throughout my pregnancies.  In my “condition”???  Last time I checked, it was called having a baby, and who is to say I have to sit on my butt for the next nine months?  Unless my doctor tells me otherwise!

I am here to reassure you ladies that a lot of the guidelines you read or hear about prenatal fitness are just simply outdated and irrelevant.  You can absolutely continue to exercise throughout your pregnancy if you have received approval from your doctor or midwife, and you can continue to do REAL workouts with some important modifications and adjustments here and there.

Most of it comes down to two things: 1. Listening to your body and 2.  Making smarter exercise decisions (remember during pregnancy –just because you CAN do something, it doesn’t mean that you SHOULD be doing it).

So, let’s go over some of these misconceptions.  In this article, we will take about some of the more general myths surrounding prenatal fitness.  In part 2, we will cover those that more specifically pertain to prenatal exercise programming.  Here we go –

THE MYTHS:

  1. If you weren’t working out before you got pregnant, you shouldn’t start now.

You CAN absolutely begin an exercise program during pregnancy–as long as your doctor or midwife is well aware of it and okay with you exercising.   There are so many important benefits to you and your baby that can still be achieved even if you were not exercising before becoming pregnant.   You should aim to exercise all or most days of the week with at least 2-3 of those days dedicated to strength training.  You can split up the exercise throughout the day into 10-15 minutes bouts if necessary.  You can also start with just a 10-minute session a day and work your way up from there!  Remember, some exercise is better than nothing!!

2.  Pregnant women should only walk or do prenatal Yoga for exercise.

Don’t get me wrong!  Walking and prenatal Yoga are great activities to include as part of your prenatal exercise routine.  Prenatal yoga is great for maintaining flexibility and easing stress during pregnancy.  Leisurely walking is also another great restorative and stress reducing activity, while power or interval walking is a safer alternative to running as a means to challenge your cardiovascular system (we will get into why you should probably avoid running later).  However, these two activities simply aren’t enough to support your changing body through pregnancy -that’s where strength training comes in!  Lifting weights during your pregnancy can help increase or maintain your strength and lean muscle mass as well as alleviate the mechanical stress on the back, pelvis, hips, and legs caused by your growing belly and baby.  In addition, lifting weights can also help you prepare for the physical demands of labor and delivery, make lifting and carrying your newborn easier, and help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight more quickly.

3.  You should completely stop working out as you progress into your third trimester.

Again, unless your doctor or midwife says that you need to stop, then there is no reason to stop working out (especially strength training) during those last few months/weeks of pregnancy.  If your energy levels are okay and you feel up to it, then by all means keep on moving and lifting mama!  Most of my clients continue working out well into their third trimesters.  I continued working out up until the day before all three of my children were born -granted I was moving VERY slowly, but still getting it done because it felt good to move.

Contrary to what you may believe, strength training can be one of the best forms of exercise for you as you reach the final stretch.  It helps to alleviate any aches and pains, support an unstable pelvis, reinforce proper alignment, and maintain your strength and mobility for as smooth as possible of a labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery.

4.  You can continue doing any exercise or activity that you were doing before you became pregnant.

This one is probably the most misleading for women because some activities you CAN continue doing into pregnancy, while there are others that you should just back off from for the time being.  This is especially true for those of you that may be CrossFitting and want to continue doing so into pregnancy.  Coming from a fitness pro that teaches CrossFit classes, you are going to want to approach your WODs much differently when you become pregnant.  I cannot stress this enough!! I’m sure I will get some eye rolling from die-hard CrossFit athletes as they read this, but you’re not training just for general fitness anymore…you are training now for the “sport of pregnancy”!  It’s not about simply modifying a WOD, so that you can keep on CrossFitting.  It’s about programming for yourself, or having a coach that specializes in pre/postnatal fitness to program workouts for you that are going to support and address the physical changes that occur during pregnancy.

Many fit women, especially CrossFitters, continue their same workout regimen into pregnancy because they CAN still do it. The problem is that even though you CAN do something, as a pregnant woman with a changing body, it may not be something that you SHOULD be doing.  During pregnancy, it’s even more so about taking care of your body and protecting it, especially your core and pelvic floor.  You want to make sure that you are avoiding any activities that could cause unnecessary pain and damage and lead to a more difficult pregnancy and postpartum recovery.  So when you find yourself wondering if a certain exercise is appropriate for you during pregnancy, ask yourself (or your trusted medical/fitness pro) this question: “Even if I CAN do this, is it something that I really should be doing right now?”.

 5.  No lying on your back after the first trimester

One typical “don’t” you’ve probably heard is to not lie supine (on your back) after the first trimester because the blood supply to the baby might be compromised. This is generally not a strict rule anymore.  A good rule of thumb is that if you feel ok exercising on your back and are not in this position for more than a couple minutes at a time, then it is probably fine to do some of your exercises lying on your back. If you do feel a bit light headed, simply roll to your side, sit up and breathe normally.  You can stack some pillows, a few foam mats, or a wedge mat (if your gym has one) underneath your head and upper back to make yourself more comfortable as well.

6.  Lifting weights during pregnancy increases your risk of injury.

As you progress through your pregnancy, your body is going to become more unstable largely due to the increased production of the hormone relaxin.  As the name implies, relaxin is responsible for causing the soft tissues (ligaments and tendons) in your body to become more lax and flexible.  Contrary to the belief that weight training during pregnancy will increase your risk of injury, weight-training can actually off-set the effects of relaxin on joint and ligament laxity.  Research has shown that the exercise-induced injury rate in pregnant women is less than the injury rate seen in a control group of pregnant women who are not strength training.

Women who continue to strength train during pregnancy also experience fewer common pregnancy-related discomforts and symptoms such as low-back, leg, hip, or pelvic pain.  Prenatal strength can also help increase or maintain lean muscle mass and reduce fat deposition (not that you should be afraid of gaining weight.  It’s a necessity for the health of your baby).  Finally, weight training can help you prepare for the birth of your baby and for the demands of caring for your little one.

7.  You shouldn’t wear any pelvic or abdominal support garments during pregnancy because they cause your core muscles to stop supporting the spine and pelvis as they would otherwise.

This couldn’t be any farther from the truth!!!  These kinds of support garments during pregnancy are a Godsend for your pelvis and lower back.  While we absolutely want to focus on core stabilization exercises during pregnancy to keep your core as strong as possible, these muscles, and the surrounding ligaments, tendons, and joints are more stretched and looser during pregnancy.  So needless to say, the core isn’t working to its fullest potential to support the pelvis and spine.  Wearing any compression or support garments to give you a little extra support in that area is a GOOD thing.  They will help you feel better so that you can keep moving and enjoying your workouts.

That’s it for part 1…stay tuned for part 2!

If you would like more information on how to program your workouts during pregnancy, check out this 4 week program for moms.

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