Most women don’t think much about adjusting exercise in pregnancy before they get pregnant. It’s usually right before they are heading to the gym or mid-workout when the thought occurs, “Is this okay to do right now?!”
These are just a few of the most common questions I get from women:
“Can I keep lifting heavy?”
“Is it okay to keep doing box jumps in the second trimester?”
“When should I stop running?”
“Can I keep doing pull-ups?”
“Am I hurting the baby if I do burpees-I’m not really showing yet?”
You’ve been told to just keep doing what you’ve always done or to just listen to your body, but really, what does that even mean?! Most doctors don’t specialize in exercise, so they give very general advice, and that leaves many women confused and a bit overwhelmed with what to do or not do during pregnancy. OR they just keep doing everything without making appropriate modifications to their training and ignore what their body is trying to tell them.
The tricky thing with the "listen to your body" guidance is that it is really vague and leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. It also doesn't account for the women that are used to working out at high intensities and loads where they have been accustomed to ignoring the discomfort they experience during a workout. So listening to their body really wouldn't work for them. Pregnancy is not necessarily the most appropriate time to be pushing past discomfort. This is why better guidance is really needed.
When I did a search, I found plenty of sources saying things like “only do this exercise in pregnancy”, “here’s a list of exercises you must avoid when pregnant”, the list goes on…
A quick note if you are given absolutes (i.e. you “must” avoid this or “only” do that)-look for other guidance! These recommendations do not take each woman’s personal needs into account and often are rooted in fear-mongering.
The most important thing to note from this is that every woman is different and individual considerations NEED to be taken when providing guidance around what is most appropriate for you.
So, what should you do in regard to exercise in pregnancy? How do you listen to your body and what do you even listen for?
Here are a few things to “listen for” when considering if an exercise is appropriate for you at that time:
ANY amount of unintentional leaking (urine or feces)
Pelvic pain or pressure
Heaviness or a bulge feeling in the vagina
Coning or doming along the midline of the abdomen
Pulling sensations in the abdomen
Feeling faint or excessively hot
Any spotting or bleeding
Pain during or after exercise (back, hips, pelvic, belly)
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s likely time to make an adjustment.
An important point to make is that the adjustments you make in pregnancy and early postpartum are for a very short period in your overall athleticism and you will get back to them, but what you do during these chapters can have a great impact on your long term health, function, and performance. Adjusting your mindset to understand this and focus on immediate AND long term athleticism is a great first step to take!
The great thing with exercise is that there are SO MANY different ways that you can make it work for you! So, if you experience symptoms doing one thing, try a different way or a different movement. And sometimes, you may feel great at the beginning of a workout using a certain weight or performing an exercise a certain way, then it doesn’t feel so great a few reps in.
All you have to do is change it up!
HOW you can make adjustments:
Try a different breathing strategy (blog post on this coming SOON!)
Try changing up the range of motion you are using (i.e. try a shallower squat if going full depth causes a lot of pelvic pressure)
Omit or decrease any resistance you are using
Change up your stance or posture (i.e. if your low back is bothering you and you notice you’ve been squeezing your butt like you are holding some dollar bills between your cheeks, relax/untuck your butt and see how that feels or maybe that wide-stance lunge is really bothering your hips-try a narrower stance)