Exercising during pregnancy

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before: Exercising during pregnancy is good for you and your baby. It can help keep your weight gain in check, prepare you for labour, help you to ‘bounce back’ quicker once you’ve had the baby, reduce the risk of gestational diabetes – the list goes on. Before I continue, please note that I’m not a healthcare professional and you should always consult your doctor and get the green light before doing any kind of exercise whilst you’re pregnant. Everybody’s different and you surely don’t want to put yourself or your baby at risk. This post is just about my own personal journey, and this might look very different for everyone else.

I thought I’d share with you what my routine looked like whilst I was pregnant, what worked for me, how to deal when your body is changing and a trip to the supermarket suddenly feels like a 90 min HIIT workout, and what it was that actually surprised me.

My routine pre-pregnancy

I’ve always been a fan of intensive workouts. For some reason I wouldn’t be happy after a workout unless it left me feeling close to passing out. It has to be worth it, right? Even though I always liked the idea of yoga or pilates and really wished I could make it work for me, I just never managed to actually enjoy it.

My weekly workout schedule would be something like:

  • Running: 2x a week, mostly running home from work which would be ~8k per run
  • HIIT or Tabata: 1-2x a week, high intensity interval training that would leave me completely shattered
  • Weights: 1-2x a week, often in combination with a HIIT workout
  • Classes: Whenever I could squeeze them in. Body combat, body pump, spinning or the like.

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Here’s how I adjusted my routine

When I spoke to my doctor at the beginning of my pregnancy, she told me that given I was very active before and all my test results so far looked great, I didn’t have to adjust my routine at all until the beginning/middle of my second trimester. I was quite surprised as I expected her to at least talk me out of high intensity workouts, but she said it was ok as long as I felt fine. So I decided to see how that would work for me, always listening to my body and changing my routine if I felt like I had to. Of course I wouldn’t do any exercises on my belly like swimmers or supermans, and I started to be more careful about abs-exercises you do laying on your back, but apart from that I didn’t change too much.

HOWEVER, my body wouldn’t always allow me to stick to my routine the way I wanted. I pretty much gave up running when I was just 15 weeks or so pregnant. As soon as I’d bounce out the door, my body would tell me to have a pee, and after I gave in a couple of times and would just stop at every public toilet along the way, it just wasn’t enjoyable at all anymore.

The other thing was that I just felt horrible, tired and sick for most of my first trimester. Some people swear that working out helps them feel better, but I often found it hard to even find enough energy to start exercising. There were definitely weeks where I didn’t do a thing, other than napping 3x a day and commiserating myself. But whenever I felt ok, I tried to squeeze in at least 30 min of exercise and it made me feel a lot better.

During the first trimester I also found weight training a lot more manageable than cardio. Even though it’s strenuous and gets your heart pumping just as much, I felt that I had more control over how hard I wanted to go on myself just by the amount of weight I’d lift or the number of reps I’d do.

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I definitely felt a lot fitter and better during my second trimester, so I used that opportunity to ramp up my cardio and did a lot of high intensity, low impact workouts. It basically means that you still push yourself to your limit, but the exercises are more gentle on your joints – and bump! – as you avoid any jumping/plyometric movements. But again, I always listened to my body and took a lot more breaks than I’d usually do, plus I drank a lot more water just to keep myself hydrated during my workouts.

I also did a lot of walking, particularly in my lunch breaks. Having a desk job I found it super important to get out and about anyway, and adding some hills to my route actually made it feel like proper exercise.

Now that I’m long into my third trimester, things have changed quite a lot again. I think I felt the best when I was 7 months pregnant at which time we did a 2-week road trip down the coast. I remember how I smashed quite heavy weights in the hotel gym and it didn’t bother me at all. When I saw my GP after my trip and told her about how great I feel and how I feel completely on top of everything when it comes to exercise, she told me off. I was clearly overdoing it, and being in my third trimester she said it’s about time to change my workouts and take it easy. She suggested swimming, yoga, walking, pilates and the like, and to do one little workout at a time.

To be honest, I was devastated. I felt great and didn’t understand why I needed to change anything. But things made more sense when a few weeks later I started to be exhausted again all the time, and just a little walk would leave me with sore feet and completely out of breath. So I gave pregnancy yoga a go and went to a class at a local studio. I could tell that the teacher was great, but it just wasn’t for me. I also felt that it didn’t quite work for my body – there was still a lot of bending and twisting and I just couldn’t work out how to do the exercises without my belly getting in the way or me feeling like I’m squishing the baby. So that was my one disappointing trial of yoga.

The week after I decided to try a Barre class specifically designed for pregnant women. I absolutely loved it; it’s low impact and yet I left the studio thinking I won’t be able to walk tomorrow. Just like the good old days!

When I reached 36 weeks though, I came to a point where I had to accept that I can’t keep going like that. Suddenly the idea of a long, gentle stretch session actually grew on me and didn’t underwhelm me with boredom. So that’s what I stuck with since; now that I’m 38 weeks pregnant, I’m huffing and puffing from doing not much at all, and I’m ALWAYS hot. People say preparing yourself for labour is like preparing yourself for a marathon, so your ‘training’ should be similar too and you need to get a lot of rest in the lead up to the big event.

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Workouts that really worked for me

  • Fitnessblender: I used their free workout videos for years before I became pregnant, and also during pregnancy I found that I would always find a workout that was suitable for how I felt that day. They allow you to filter your workouts based on how hard you want to train, what type of exercise you want to do, what body area you want to focus on, and much more. Definitely my go to in the first and second trimesters.
  • High intensity, low impact workouts: I particularly like the ‘Silent but deadly’ series; to be fair it doesn’t sound like one to do in pregnancy but for me it was a great alternative to my much loved HIIT workouts. Definitely one to do on days were you feel fit and strong though, and not for the third trimester.
  • Pregnancy yoga workouts, like the ones from Tonic. For me these were a good ‘compromise’ as they’re still fairly fast-paced and you get a little sweat going, as opposed to what feels like meditating only.

 

Things that surprised me

  • Weight gain: I won’t deny it – I am HEAVY these days. I have definitely gained more weight than I thought, pretty much from the beginning. I was hoping that exercising would help me keep my weight gain in check, but somehow it didn’t. Maybe I should blame the chocolate bars and countless Maxibons that for some reason I’ve been totally obsessed with during my pregnancy?! Anyway, I try not to see it too negatively; I can tell that I retained my usual level of strength (let’s not talk about stamina – it’s basically non-existent these days!) and I definitely feel fit and healthy enough to go into labour. It’s important not to let these things discourage you – the benefits are still clearly outweighing the additional pounds on the scale.
  • Flexibility: You know how they say your body becomes more flexible in preparation for giving birth and entangling your legs behind your head should suddenly be a breeze – well, I felt like my flexibility levels went backwards. I was never one for spending hours on stretching and foam rolling, which in hindsight would have probably been a good idea, but I was shocked at how inflexible I’ve actually become. One thing that definitely didn’t help is that I started developing symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) when I was about 32 weeks pregnant, which meant that my pelvis became disaligned and has since caused me quite a lot of pain in my groin and legs. That means that I move very differently to usual, whether consciously or not, and has made matters worse. My physio has helped me manage this a lot, but there’s no way to get rid of it for good before the baby arrives. Oh well!
  • Let your body guide you. You’d be surprised how things just start falling into place when you’re exercising whilst you’re pregnant and how your body will tell you if something doesn’t feel right. If that’s the case, never push yourself through it. I often quit workouts halfway through, and that’s ok; just try again the next day.

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