Most women can safely participate in physical activity throughout their pregnancy, and the benefits of being physically active throughout this unique time of their life generally will outweigh the risks. Exercise goals during pregnancy should include maintaining a sense of well-being, avoiding fetal harm, and maintaining regular exercise sessions to decrease the risk of chronic diseases or conditions. Physiological, anatomical, and mental changes affect the women's ability to perform during exercise sessions, so it's important for women and trainers to recognize the value of exercise modifications to their exercise plan.
ACSM provides many resources and recommendations that personal trainers can apply to a client's exercise program during pregnancy. But what I realized when I got pregnant unexpectedly this year is that there is much more to maintaining an exercise program than what science tells you. As a personal trainer and an endurance runner, I initially thought it would be easy to maintain my exercise program for the next nine months. I quickly realized that I was not exempt from the many challenges that come with pregnancy that impact an exercise routine. Over the past nine months, I have had to adjust, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize my exercise several times. Here are some tips for managing your exercise during pregnancy.
Track morning sickness
Track your morning sickness to understand what times of day you experience symptoms. The title 'morning sickness' is not always true - some women can experience symptoms at any time of the day. I used a pregnancy app that allowed me to track my symptoms so I could analyze my symptom patterns.
Modify exercise timing
Modify your workout time based on when you typically do not experience symptoms. If you're a person who likes to workout first thing in the morning, like I was, it might not be realistic to continue to work out at this time due to unfavorable symptoms. There will be times in the day that you won't experience symptoms, so prepare to use that time for working out. As trainers, we need to be flexible in scheduling and discussing with our clients the best time of day to train based on their symptoms.
Decrease exercise intensity
This change can be difficult to mentally accept for anyone who is used to high-intensity workouts. I struggled with this at first, and after every workout I would feel nauseous and sick. Decreasing my exercise intensity allowed me to continue my workouts and enjoy the positive effects of exercise. It is our responsibility as personal trainers to find ways to modify the intensity levels of each session to keep our clients motivated and happy with their workouts.
Be open to changing workout routines
Your body is constantly changing - so don't get stuck on a specific type of workout. Some mornings, my brain wanted to go for a run, but my body was telling me I needed to do yoga instead. Any type of exercise can be good for your body, and being flexible to changing your workout to meet your body's needs will allow you to maintain a happy relationship with exercise. When training a client, be adaptable to change the exercise plan for that day's session based on how they feel.
Use a heart rate monitor to maintain the right level of intensity for you. The right level of intensity could be different day-by-day, but keep the intensity to a moderate level at most. Track your heart rate and track how you felt when you were at that level so you can appropriately manage your intensity during future workouts. Be consistent with wearing your heart rate monitor and you will quickly learn what heart rate ranges are right for you. Remember: this will also change as you get further along in the pregnancy.
Track your baby's growth
I felt very discouraged when I would become winded after going up three flights of stairs - but then I learned how my lungs were compressing to give the baby more room to grow. Learning about this adaptation helped me focus on what my body was going through in order to grow a tiny human. Trainers should encourage their clients to mentally focus on what is actually happening in the body, instead of the negative thoughts that can arise when an exercise session is difficult or doesn't go as expected.
Accept weight gain as part of the process
One of the hardest elements of pregnancy for any women to mentally overcome can be the weight gain that comes naturally. Women are told they should gain 20-35 pounds over the next nine months. A mental shift I had to make was to focus on the importance of gaining weight in order to deliver a healthy baby, and not associate the weight gain with fat or other negative thoughts. Knowing that the fetus would be 6-8 pounds, the placenta would be 2-3 pounds, the amniotic fluid would be 2-4 pounds, the uterus and breasts would be 5-7 pounds, and muscle and fat would be 1-6 pounds - it didn't seem as mentally hard to accept the 20-30 pounds that I would be gaining because I now could associate the weight gain with growing a healthy baby.
As someone who lives a healthy lifestyle, loves to physically exert myself to the max, and compete in endurance races, pregnancy was not easy. The end result is well-worth it - but it's also important to focus on staying healthy during the pregnancy. What tools, workouts, and motivation techniques have you used to stay healthy and exercise during pregnancy?
Julieann Harris is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Yoga Instructor, Certified ACE Group Fitness Instructor, Certified Spin Instructor, Certified Workplace Wellness Specialist and has her Masters in Public Health. She has been in the fitness and wellness industry for nearly 10 years.
She currently serves on the Exam Development Team for ACSM's Committee on Certification and Registry Boards (CCRB). Julieann writes for a few online magazines and blogs, including Livestrong.com and Patriots Fitness Magazine. Julieann currently works as the Wellness Specialist for Rocky Mountain Health Plans and loves helping employer groups implement their wellness programs. When Julieann isn't working, she loves music, the outdoors, and running.