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Exercise & pregnancy

From cardio to weight training – what's the advice?

Author Rosie Stockley
Categories   First Trimester

The Edit

Finding out you’re pregnant is one of the most exciting, but also incredibly daunting to a lot of women.

There are so many things to consider, from changes in the body and mood, to wondering if your baby is growing well and getting prepped for life once they arrive. Many women want to stay active, but are unsure what exactly they should be doing or avoiding. There is so much advice out there it can be overwhelming.

Here, Rosie from Mamawell explains some of the main things to be aware of. Firstly, in a normal ‘uncomplicated’ pregnancy where you have no prior health issues, you should be able to exercise as normal with just a few adaptations, but seek guidance from your GP if you feel faint, dizzy or have extreme shortness of breath. Pregnancies involving conditions such as, but not limited to, placenta previa or high blood pressure should take extra guidance. All advice is given as guidance only. Seek help from a fitness professional if you have any doubts about your pregnancy workout routine.

Pre and post-natal exercise specialist Rosie Stockwell.

Great reasons to prioritise exercise during pregnancy include: reducing the risk of gestational diabetes, increasing energy, better sleep, keeping blood pressure level, improving mood, reducing risk of constipation, reducing risk of back pain. Exercise can also help reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, plus it can help speed up recovery time post-birth. Women who exercise through their pregnancy report feeling confident and strong - both mentally and physically.

The first trimester is usually considered the most 'risky' so you want to be happy and confident with everything you're doing fitness wise. You don't want to look back and wish you hadn't done a certain class. Physically, not much has changed on the outside, but there are so many hormonal adaptations as the baby begins to grow. This often results in nausea, fatigue and changing moods, so make sure you honour how your body is feeling and rest where needed. You may not feel like doing your normal fitness routine in the first 12 weeks – instead a brisk walk, stretch or similar may be perfect. 

“When it comes to cardio, it’s fine to do through pregnancy, but be mindful of energy levels and adjust the intensity as necessary. Always take a break if you feel lightheaded and make sure you drink plenty of water throughout all workouts.”

Once you’re in the second trimester, energy levels often return and it can be a golden time to get into a regular fitness routine. Your body is not yet limiting your movements so you can really do a lot. Enjoy this time and if you feel like getting really sweaty and working hard then go for it.

By the third trimester the growing abdomen may get in the way of some movements, and you may experience fatigue again. I’d recommend longer rests where needed and watch your intensity. It’s pretty obvious when you can’t do a move because your bump is in the way, but this may be things like spinning and moves that hinge forward at the waist. Some movements may feel less comfortable on the pelvis, for example side lunges, in which case adapt them. You may feel like taking the energy down and focusing on something like pregnancy yoga at this stage.

In general, throughout pregnancy avoid any new types of exercise as you want to be confident with your form and how the body reacts to each movement. Don’t suddenly start swinging kettlebells around if this is not something you usually do! The exception to this rule would be starting a specialist class like antenatal yoga as you will learn beneficial moves for your pregnancy and birth. 

When it comes to cardio, it’s fine to do through pregnancy, but be mindful of energy levels and adjust the intensity as necessary. Always take a break if you feel lightheaded and make sure you drink plenty of water throughout all workouts. 

Having a baby requires you to be strong, so if resistance training is part of your workout then you should definitely keep doing it. Avoid straining and holding the breath, for example when lifting heavy weights. A good idea is to reduce the weight a little and do increased reps as an alternative. Be mindful of technique when lifting weights as your altered centre of gravity due to the bump might throw you off your balance.

It’s so important to keep breathing throughout all movements, and never more so than when pregnant. All oxygen will also go to the baby so it’s vital to be mindful of not holding your breath. Avoid straining when lifting weights and be careful of intensity levels during cardio workouts. A good indicator is the ‘talk test’ – you should always be able to hold a conversation even if you’re a bit out of breath, but never be on the floor gasping for breath.

Be aware of overstretching or loading up the body with too much weight during pregnancy as Relaxin will be present in the joints. This hormone is produced to relax the ligaments and soften the area around the pelvis to facilitate childbirth, which is obviously incredibly clever of the body! It will be present in all joints, so you may find you are slightly more flexible and therefore at risk of instability. Be particularly careful with shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints. 

Understanding the body’s needs during pregnancy is paramount and many people find they become so much more in tune at this time. Some movements or classes may suddenly feel less great on the body, so take that as a sign to step back and give them a rest. If you feel energised then there is no reason why you can’t exercise every day, but if your body is crying out for a break then you should absolutely honour that.

The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week throughout pregnancy, and this doesn’t have to be in big hour-long workouts – every little 15 minutes throughout the day adds up. So, keeping active where you can, little and often is also great. 

The priority is, really listen to your body and what feels best for YOU each day.

Author Rosie Stockley

MAMAWELL founder Rosie Stockley is a pre and post-natal exercise specialist who understands first-hand the changes the body goes through in childbirth. Alongside caring for her daughters, her vision is to empower women to use their bodies to give them strength and energy through pregnancy and childbirth. In the postpartum period, Rosie educates women on the changes their bodies have gone through, how to safely exercise, and encourage them to find confidence and balance in this mentally and physically challenging time.

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