What kind of exercise can I do now that I am pregnant?
This is a question that I get in my office. A. LOT.
I am very blessed to work with a very active population, and when that population gets pregnant (or gets referred to me once they are pregnant!) there's no doubt that they want to keep moving.
But, what they hear and see can be counterintuitive. While it is true that more and more women are staying active and fit through pregnancy (ONE of the upsides of social media!) many women also hear the opposite from their friends and family.
“Are you sure you should be carrying that?”
“Should you be working out like that?”
“Shouldn’t you be taking it easy?”
Now, I am the first one to say that pregnancy is not a time for PR’s or starting something brand new that you haven’t tried before. But if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, and have not received a medical reason from your OB or midwife to not exercise then you should be exercising. You don’t have to just listen to me, there are plenty of studies that show that exercise is not just good for mom, it’s also good for baby.
So what can you do?
For every exercise you do, there is a cost benefit analysis.
- Dr. Karlie Causey
To answer this, let’s start with what you “perhaps shouldn’t do”
(I try to not speak in definitives!)
Lots of lumbar (low back) flexion
Sit ups, crunches, seated twists, toes to bar… these are just a few of the movements that I generally recommend my patients cut out during pregnancy. Because everything is a cost benefit analysis, the cost of doing this is that you can overstretch the linea alba (line down the center of your abdominal muscles) causing increased separation of your abs and making it harder to recover postpartum.
Let me be clear. It does NOT hurt the baby. It doesn’t even hurt the mom normally, but as the belly grows and we lose control of our core and try maintain intra-abdominal pressure, these movements are more likely to contribute to an increase in diastasis recti.
One-rep max lifts
As with lots of things in pregnancy, this is an "it depends" moment. If you only started weightlifting a few months before you got pregnant and you are still learning and improving basic form, there is a chance you would do a 1-rep max without any increased risk. But, if you’ve been lifting for many years, it’s unlikely (and probably not necessary) that you would neet to hit a new 1-rep max PR.
Generally speaking, I recommend my pregnant athletes stay under/around the 70-80% range. This still allows for “heavy” lifting in a safer weight range.
Other than these two limitations, the answer is: it depends.
Can you run?
Well, it depends, again.
Do you have pelvic pain? Leaking?
If so, the cost is probably not worth the benefit. But if the answer is “no”, then most likely running is safe for you to continue at that time.
Now let's talk about what you should do.
There is still a lot of core work that you can do during pregnancy and you should, especially since the transverse abdominis (the big flat muscle across the lower front of our stomach region) actually helps to push the baby out during delivery. Sounds like that might be an important muscle to keep strong, no?
A few of my favorites are pallof presses, side planks from the knees, side planks from the knees with hip hinges, glute bridges, and bird dogs.
As the belly grows, the diaphragm gets more and more pressure pressing up to it. For this reason, I have seen many women in my office who lose the “endurance” of the diaphragm during pregnancy, When the baby comes out, they realize they have been using the accessory breathing muscles (the muscles in the neck and upper shoulders) to breath and not breathing deep into their bellies. I find 3-5 minutes of breathing drills per day very helpful to the pregnant patient. Spend time deep breathing, feeling the lower ribs move out laterally and allowing your nervous system to down-regulate and relax.
Hip stability drills
Once you are pregnant, Relaxin starts to kick in to help loosen the ligaments to give birth. Studies show that Relaxin is actually highest in the first trimester; so while you may not see many physical changes, they are happening! For this reason, I almost always recommend pregnant women do some hip stability drills. Think about it, if you have a hormone working in the body to loosen the ligaments, which create stability, the only defense you have against it is to create stability using the muscles.
Now we can get into a discussion about how pregnancy is a natural and normal process to go through and our bodies shouldn't need any additional training to help it perform this tas, but we don’t move or bodies the way they are intended to move. We sit way too much. Most of us aren’t out walking many miles gathering/hunting food, then squatting down for hours gathering berries, making a fire, or tending to animals. I digress.
My favorite lateral hip drills for the pregnant patient are glute bridges with a band, standing clam shells with a band, single leg hip hinges and fire hydrants.
Not only is squatting important to maintain strong glutes and posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your body that support your spine and pelvis) but it is also important in later stages of pregnancy to prepare the pelvis for giving birth. Even if you give birth on your back, you’re still in a squatting position (think about it) so feeling comfortable and confident in this position is very important.
Whatever activity/exercise feels good to your mind and body
Feels like I don’t need to elaborate too much on this one, but it is your body and your pregnancy. I always recommend working with a sports chiropractor or physical therapist who specializes in the peri-natal population, as well as listening to your OB or mid-wife if you do have complications which make exercise during pregnancy a bad idea.
My goal is always to help pregnant and postpartum athletes feel strong and confident, so let me know how I can help! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Dr. Karlie Causey
Dr. Karlie Causey is a sports chiropractor, certified strength & conditioning coach, Level 2 CrossFit® coach, mom, and the Co-Founder of Jen & Keri. She is ridiculously passionate about helping moms and moms-to-be restore their bodies and continue exercising after their babies are born.