Pregnancy & Exercise for the Fitness Professional
By: Clare Hallas
The health benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy are well documented. In spite of this, there is still great contention regarding how much and what type of exercise women should and should not participate in whilst pregnant. Those in the fitness industry who lead from the front will always be scrutinized by peers and clients, and we know all too well that we follow a different set of rules to those we may recommend to others. But at what point, if any, should we defer to medical or public opinion about what to do with our own bodies when we are pregnant?
THE PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
The main considerations for pregnant women when exercising, from a medical viewpoint, are:
- Don’t overheat, as this can increase your chance of miscarriage. Your body temperature should be less than 39.2 degrees C after exercising
- Keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute (bpm_
- Be careful not to overstretch your pelvic floor muscles by engaging in high impact activities
- Avoid lying flat on your back or standing in one place for long periods, as both can reduce your immediate blood pressure.
LES MILLS has produced BODYPUMP® and BODYBALANCE® Pregnancy brochures that include these considerations. In addition, BODYSTEP®, BODYATTACK® and BODYCOMBAT® offer lower impact options, which are advised for pregnant women.
Leigh Sherry, Director of SmartLife, AEP (ESSA) BAppSC (Exercise & Sports Science), and LMAPs very own National Trainer and Presenter also advises that pregnant women should heed the advice of medical professionals regarding physical activity. Leigh states, “Pregnancy and your response is a very personal thing but some basic considerations are strongly advised.” In particular, Leigh stresses that pregnant women should avoid contact and high-risk based sports where possible. She explains, “Due to the increase in body weight there are changes in weight distribution and an increase in the curvature of the spine, which can affect balance and coordination.” In addition, Leigh states, “Relaxin, a pregnancy hormone that ‘loosens’ joints, can affect the connective tissue of the lower spine and pelvis. Excessive high impact exercises like jumping, over-stretching and big directional change-based movement should be undertaken with caution.”
When you’re a fitness professional used to exercising at high frequency and intensity, these general guidelines may seem extreme. Some of our tribe offered to share their own experiences of how they adapted their own routines, or why they decided not to.
NO CHANGES NECESSARY
Liv Johansen teaches BODYPUMP®, BODYSTEP®, BODYATTACK® and BODYBALANCE®. Liv exercised throughout all three of her pregnancies and said she followed medical advice she received to, “keep cool, hydrate more and listen to your body regarding the level of exertion”. Her doctor advised Liv to simply, “Keep doing what you’re doing”. Liv found BODYPUMP® and BODYSTEP® easy to continue teaching well into her third trimester. “BODYBALANCE® is the program that everyone assumes will be fine, but to be honest, it was the one I found I had to alter the most.” Liv’s advice to pregnant instructors is to “Listen to your body! And do your own research. Every pregnancy is different and what works for someone else may not work for you.”
Jessica Parry, a QLD based instructor, also exercised vigorously throughout her two pregnancies, including teaching BODYPUMP®, BODYATTACK®, BODYSTEP®, RPM™ and boxing. Jessica says, “I found my lower back did not like the constant pounding from running but everything else was fine, including tuck jumps, plyo lunges and shorter running bursts, as in BODYATTACK®.” Karen and Jessica both received criticism for continuing to do a lot of high impact exercise while they were pregnant, to which Jessica’s advice is, “Listen to your body and don’t think that you have to wrap yourself in cotton wool. People will judge you and will have an opinion on what you should be doing. Some will thank you for making it ok to exercise when pregnant but many will question if what you are doing is harmful for the baby. Exercise made me feel better, improved my mood, kept my weight gain minimal and (in my opinion) made my deliveries and recovery quick and complication free.”
Lou Wall had different exercise regimes for her three pregnancies. “During my first, I didn’t do much more than walking. The second one I continued BODYCOMBAT® and BODYSTEP® participation until 32-weeks. THEN I became an instructor and it all changed! Number three, who is now 7-months old, had to put up with 38-weeks of jiggling around inside while I taught BODYSTEP® and BODYCOMBAT®.” Interestingly, Lou says, “I found that BODYATTACK® was the best when I was really big. Lunges and Jacks were the most comfortable moves for me at that stage.” She also found that exercise was the best temporary cure for her morning sickness, adding, “The only time I wasn’t nauseous in my first trimester was when I was exercising”.
A NEED FOR CAUTION
Elisa Bellairs, a BODYSTEP® and BODYBALANCE® instructor, exercised until she was 28-weeks pregnant and comments, “My heart rate was at 140bpm in the first three tracks so I think that guideline is a bit of a joke, especially because your heart rate is naturally higher during pregnancy.” Having said that, Elisa regrets not changing her training while she was pregnant. “I had to stop exercising at 28-weeks because my body felt like it was breaking down. I have now learnt (the hard way) that you need to change your routine.” Currently pregnant with her second child, Elisa says, “Now I lift heavy weights, walk and do as much core strengthening as I can fit in, along with teaching BODYSTEP® with low options.”
The considerable experience of Roselyn Meredith certainly suggests that caution should be taken when exercising during pregnancy. Ros has experienced six very different pregnancies, and as a result had to adapt her exercise routine differently each time. Her first two pregnancies she was not yet an instructor, though participating regularly in four programs. Ros experienced complications and followed medical advice to stop exercising. Despite this, both babies were born underweight and premature. By baby number three Ros was teaching BODYSTEP®, BODYPUMP®, RPM™ and BODYCOMBAT® regularly. She felt great throughout her third and fourth pregnancy and her doctor advised her to continue exercising, as she was strong and healthy. Ros says, “I watched that I didn’t overheat and, while at times my heart rate went over the recommend 140 – 150pms, I could tell when I was overheating and would pull back during the class.” She says, “I drank plenty of water and adapted BODYPUMP® with an inclined step box to ensure plenty of blood flow to the baby during chest and tricep tracks.” She delivered full term healthy babies. Unfortunately, Ros recently miscarried her sixtth baby. She says, “I believe I did not take care of myself and definitely did far too much.” Roselyn’s advice to pregnant instructors is to, “Listen to your medical specialist, as I know from experience that no pregnancy is the same.”
Clare comes from a marketing background and currently works for LES MILLSAsia Pacific as a National Trainer and Presenter in BODYATTACK®, BODYSTEP® and CXWORX®. She also teaches BODYPUMP® and RPM™ and is based in Melbourne.