You Can Exercise While Pregnant - Start Today!Nov 17, 2022
If you are currently pregnant or thinking about building your family, this blog is for you on how to approach exercising. It can be concerning if you’re not used to regularly exercising just how far to push or what to do. You may be all in or you may be hugging the couch. Either way, I’m here to tell you the benefits of rolling out your mat, lacing up your shoes, or picking up that iron. As a physical therapist, my role is to not only put out fires that are already affecting my clients, but to educate them on potential fires in the future and how to prevent them. There is strong recommendation that in the presence of an uncomplicated pregnancy, pregnant persons currently not meeting exercise guidelines should demonstrate a progressive adjustment toward them.1 Why?! First of all, physical activity is associated with positive health benefits for the mother, the baby, and the labor and delivery process. After all, this is quite a physical event you are embarking on. Second, this is the best chance at decreasing or preventing musculoskeletal related pain during your pregnancy. We are going to go over the terms that are used in the literature and break them down: type, frequency, duration, volume and intensity.
From several sources 1,2,3, the general recommendation is to participate in a variety of types of physical activity, like cardio training, strength training, and gentle stretching or yoga. I would gravitate towards what comes naturally to you first, and start sprinkling in 1x/week the other forms that you’re not used to. To emphasize strength training here, this training is going to become essential in the 2nd-3rd trimester focusing on the posterior chain, or your entire back side from head to toe. This is because your center of mass is going to change, creating a natural but increased low back curvature and tendency to round the middle/upper back. As the bump grows, there tends to be a pregnancy waddle that should be minimized to focus on extending your hips and keeping butt and legs strong.
Here are some examples of exercises that combat this:
- seated or standing overhead press
For both pregnant and non-pregnant persons, it is recommended to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week. For the average adult, theoretically, if you did all 150 minutes on the same day, there would be no significant difference between that and increased frequency with less time. However, during pregnancy, it is recommended to perform physical activity most, if not all days of the week, with smaller durations. Duration is the amount of time spent doing the activity. If you are just starting out an exercise routine, I would highly recommend beginning with a shorter duration and higher frequency, 10 minutes a day for 4-5 days a week and each week adding 5-10 minutes to your duration or adding another day.
Here are some examples of an ideal frequency schedule:
- 5 days/week, 30 minutes/day
- 7 days/week, 20 minutes/day
- 5 days/week, 10 minutes morning, 10 minutes afternoon, 10 minutes evening
Volume refers to the amount of physical work you produce in a workout. In strength training, it refers to how many sets, repetitions and how much weight you use. For example, 2 sets of 15 at 10 lbs is less volume than 5x5 at 20 lbs2. For endurance training with walking and running, volume refers to distance covered or the speed of movement. I would recommend beginning with a low volume as you start your routines3. Starting with 2x10-15 at a weight you complete all repetitions with good form is a great place to begin. For cardio, you can spend 30 seconds or so doing a faster pace (covering more ground) and back to a comfortable pace for 2 minutes and repeat for your selected duration.
We are going to keep it simple for intensity which is how hard you are working. Heart rate is not going to be an accurate measure during pregnancy, so we are going to use a talk test and/or rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Throughout any activity, you should be able to carry on a conversation and complete sentences without being breathless. I like to use a scale of 1-10 for RPE and I think a 1 is sitting on the couch and a 10 is finishing a marathon. Moderate intensity for your RPE may be between 4-6. A lot of this exercise stuff is going to be based on how you feel while doing it, so it’s important to monitor for lightheadedness, nauseous or sharp pain. It's best to adjust or stop the session if these symptoms continue or you just feel lethargic.
Bottom line: For those who are beginning an exercise program in pregnancy, the goal is to get to 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity. Until then, doing physical activity more frequently with smaller durations is a good place to start with an intensity that is tolerable to talk. There should be a variety of activities like cardio, strength training with emphasis on posterior chain strength, and gentle stretching or yoga.
If you’re not sure where to start or how to progress, that is precisely what we help with at Athletes’ Potential. As always, we will also confer with your OBGYN, as you also should, before beginning new physical activity. Give us a call to schedule your appointment!
Krystal Fannin, PT, DPT, CMTPT, RYT-200
- Mottola, M. F., Davenport, M. H., Ruchat, S.-M., Davies, G. A., Poitras, V., Gray, C., Jaramillo Garcia, A., Barrowman, N., Adamo, K. B., Duggan, M., Barakat, R., Chilibeck, P., Fleming, K., Forte, M., Korolnek, J., Nagpal, T., Slater, L., Stirling, D., & Zehr, L. (2018). No. 367-2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 40(11), 1528–1537. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jogc.2018.07.001
- About Nicholas RubiniStrength Coach & Personal Trainer from Bologna. (2019, October 16). The volume, intensity and frequency relationship: Nicholas Rubini. Nicholas Rubini | Strength Coach. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.nicholasrubini.com/training-volume-intensity-frequency/
- Author Pete McCall Health and Fitness Expert Pete McCall. (n.d.). How to select the right volume and frequency for your clients. ACE. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/4940/how-to-select-the-right-volume-and-frequency-for-your-clients/#:~:text=Volume%20refers%20to%20the%20total,of%20an%20extended%20exercise%20program.
Let us help you figure out to live your best active life today!
Remember, Movement is Medicine!