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Training during pregnancy

Exercise Cardiovascular_training Health Bodycare Weight change

Written by:
Magnus Kranker
Personal trainer and life style coach

There are many myths surrounding the subject training during pregnancy. Therefore many pregnant women find it difficult to know what to do, and what not to do. Here are some examples of myths about the consequences of training during pregnancy:

The risk of abortion is large
No, there is no evidence supporting that training increases the risk of abortion. Actually research has shown that regular exercise prevent complications during pregnancy and when giving birth, thereby reducing the risk of abortion.

The risk of giving birth early is large
This is also a myth. Women that exercises regularly during pregnancy do not give birth earlier that those who exercise regularly.

During training the child’s blood supply is decreased and thereby also the oxygen
That is not true. Actually the oxygenation of the mother’s tissue, and thereby the child’s is increased for those who exercise regularly. It is scientifically proven that the placenta grows larger and more healthy if the pregnant woman exercises regularly, which increases nutrition and oxygen supply for the fetus.

It is difficult to get pregnant if you exercise while you are trying
No, exercise makes the body healthier and thereby more fertile. However extremely hard cardiotraining on an elite level can in some cases prevent a pregnancy. However this is only if it is extremely intense training for several hours every day 6-7 days a week.

The child will be smaller
Research has shown, that the weight of a newborn is actually less when the mother has exercises regularly. But the same research also showed, that the children were only smaller because they had a lower fat percentage. Meanwhile studies have shown that the women that exercise regularly give birth to children with a stronger heart and circuit, better musculature and nervous system.

The truth is that according to modern science in the area, there are only health related advantages to keeping in shape before, during and after the pregnancy. However there are a series of advice that ought to be followed, if you want the optimal results of your training in the different phases of the pregnancy.

If you are already exercising long before your pregnancy and you are in good shape, there is no need to alter the way you view exercising.

However if you are not particularly physically active, if you are in bad shape or perhaps overweight, you should off course start with the basics. But do not hesitate to start your training due to your pregnancy, that is no reason not to do it. Most can easily exercise during their pregnancy, until a certain level during most of the pregnancy. If you live healthy and exercise regularly the body will be in better balance, pregnant or not. There are several examples of coupes who have had difficulty getting pregnant, who have changed to a healthier lifestyle, and hereafter the woman got pregnant – a healthy lifestyle simply makes you more fertile.

During the pregnancy the body goes through various and quite substantial changes to be prepared for the pregnancy. It is good to know a little about these changes, in order to understand how and why the training must be organized differently during the different phases.  
A pregnancy increases the load on your back, stomach and pelvis. Therefore it is important to strengthens these muscle groups together with cardio training. For example it is easier to give a natural birth, if you have strong abdominal muscles.

1st trimester
The first 1-3 months of the pregnancy the body will adapt the heart and the circuit to the pregnancy, to make sure that the baby will have a strong blood supply and nutrition. The blood vessels are expanded, the heart gets less blood and beats slower and the blood mass is increased. Because the body takes longer to produce hemoglobin, which is used to transport oxygen around the body, there will be a less concentration of oxygen transported to the brain, muscles and the organs. That is why most women experience discomfort in this period, typically nausea, sickness, tiredness and a general lack of energy.

Because of  these big changes for the body, it will be difficult for many to maintain the regular training. Therefore it is important to keep exercising, but at a lower level than before to avoid a complete stop, until the body is used to the physiological changes.
Strength as well as cardio training is sensible to have in your training program. It is not good to get the pulse too high, if you are experiencing discomfort as it may get worse. If you do experience discomfort it may be a good idea to pause the training that day. Therefore it is a good idea to train at a lower intensity over longer time, than intensely over a short time period. Perform strength exercises for the entire body, but focus on the back, stomach and pelvis.

2nd trimester
After the 3rd month the body will typically be used to the substantial physiological changes for example in the circuit. It will now be easier for the body to release heat, easier to absorb oxygen in the blood etc. Therefore the pregnant woman will in this period have more energy. As the body has accustomed it’s circuit, without gaining much weight yet, it is possible for the pregnant woman to train more intensely than she did before the pregnancy. It will even be possible for many to get in even better shape than before the pregnancy due to the advantages of the better circuit.

It is recommended in this period that the exercise still consists of combinations strength training and circuit training. The strength training should focus on training of the back, stomach and pelvis muscles. These muscles are very important to give extra strength and stability to carry the extra load of the baby and off course to make the actual birth easier. In this phase it is important that you build up and maintain your body’s strength, as it later in the pregnancy will get harder to maintain the training of the muscles to help carry the extra weight and also intense circuit training.

3rd trimester
The last 2-3 months of the pregnancy the girth of the stomach will gradually increase, which increases the load on the lower back and the pelvis. A pregnancy will because of extra hormones always increase the elasticity in the body’s tissue, the ligaments and tendons. This happens in order to give the body room to the growing fetus, and to prepare the body for the birth. The increased elasticity will for some cause unstable joints. The unstable joints can be painful in ankles, knee, back and the pelvis region. Therefore it is advantageous to maintain the muscular strength through strength training during the pregnancy, so the joints are made more stabile with the help of stronger muscles.

It is still recommended that the training program has focus on circuit training and muscle strength. Particularly the important muscle groups in the back, stomach and pelvis should be maintained. However certain exercises are not appropriate and not pleasant at this stage of the pregnancy. The following general advice can be advantageously used. If you experience Braxton hicks during training, it is recommended that you pause until they stop.

The stomach should not be trained lying down, nor with too much of a load, because of the baby’s weight can squeeze the mother’s blood vessels in the stomach region, which can be dangerous.

The stomach can continually be trained controlled and sitting, but in the last couple of months it may be a good idea only to train stabilizing, with help of various breathing exercises. It might be a good idea to get help from a personal trainer for these exercises.

Back exercises is best performed sitting, since it may be impossible or unpleasant to lie on the stomach.

It is ill adviced to perform broad standing weight bearing exercises with a lot of load (e.g. squat exercises) since these exercises put a huge pressure on the already burdened pelvis.

The pelvis can effectively be trained with levator exercises, which can be integrated into all strength training exercises. Levator exercises can also prevent problems with involuntary urination both before, after and during the pregnancy.

After the pregnancy
Right after the birth the training can be continued as before (off course once the doctor gives the green light). Her focus should be on stability and strength training of the back, stomach and pelvis, which have carried a heavy load during the pregnancy.

Use your common sense
Whether you exercise before or during the pregnancy, it is important that you use sensibility and logical sense. If something for example hurts, you are probably doing it wrong, and then you should get help from an instructor/personal trainer. If you experience discomfort, then take a break and consider if you have had sufficient rest since last, or if you have had enough fluids.

Remember that pregnancy is not a disease, so maintain the healthy lifestyle for you and your baby’s sake.

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