Exercising during pregnancy doesn’t always require strict rules, precise schedules, or limiting workout intensity. In fact, according to Catherine Cram, MS, it is much more helpful if guidelines aren’t like that at all.
While exercise guidelines for pregnancy are important, creating overarching ideas of what is good and bad that don’t actually fit anyone in particular won’t make your pregnant fitness life any easier. Instead, there is a way to do it right that only requires your own good sense.
But first, let’s conquer some of the biggest myths about exercising while pregnant that still loom over many women, despite having no data to back them up.
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Top Myths about Exercising during Pregnancy
- Don’t start exercising if you didn’t workout pre-pregnancy.
One of the myths that is mentioned the most is whether women should start exercising during pregnancy if they didn’t exercise pre-pregnancy. Many say that it’s a bad idea to begin while pregnant, but there is no real data to support this claim.
In fact, for a lot of women, pregnancy is an excellent time for them to start building healthier lifestyles in preparation for having kids. As long as they are being safe and working with people who have experience in prenatal fitness, the door is there for them to open themselves up into a world where they are more comfortable with their body.
- Yoga and weight training are off limits.
Another common myth is the idea that certain types of exercise should be off limits, such as lifting weights or performing yoga poses like Downward Dog. None of this is supported by real data.
There are some instances where specific types of exercise may be discouraged during a high-risk pregnancy, but those are few and far between. It’s recommended that expecting moms talk with a medical professional prior to exercising to make sure there are no complications, but in most cases, you will be absolutely fine to start or continue exercising in a safe and free manner.
Safe Heart Rate Zones for Pregnancy
In the past, there were exercise guidelines for pregnancy that stated women should keep their heart rate below a specific threshold, but in recent years, it’s come to light that exercising safely during pregnancy is different for everyone. What a high heart rate looks like for you may look very different for somebody else, depending on factors such as age and training level.
This is why Catherine likes to look at pregnancy exercising guidelines a little differently. Rather than ask how high the heart rate is or how many hours someone has been exercising, she asks:
How do you perceive the exertion you are experiencing?
Focus on Perceived Rate of Exertion
During pregnancy, there are huge changes that go on in a pregnant woman’s cardiovascular and metabolic systems. All of these make it much more difficult to exercise as one might have pre-pregnancy. Additionally, while heart rate might normally have a linear relationship with your exertion level pre-pregnancy, it’s certainly not as linear during pregnancy. So Catherine focuses on how her client feels in each moment.
According to her, pregnant women should be aiming for an exertion level that feels moderate to somewhat difficult for them. They should stay at a point where they can still talk and feel relatively comfortable while also getting a workout. If they start to feel out-of-breath or fatigued and lightheaded, then they should dial it back as needed.
More rigid pregnancy exercising guidelines can lead to over- and under-exertion, but this method ensures you are doing everything you need to keep your body in shape and your baby safe at any given point during your exercise routine.
Core Temperature and Blood Pressure Considerations
When planning your own unique exercise regimen, core temperature is an important factor to consider, especially during the first trimester. It’s fairly difficult to reach a high enough core temperature that it becomes damaging to your baby, but it’s still possible. Thus, it’s good to always be aware of your core temperature while exercising.
As often as you can, avoid hot tubs, saunas, or other sustained high-heat, high-humidity environments. You really don’t want to be exercising in an environment that’s making your core temperature rise too quickly, as that can hurt the fetus.
The second major thing to keep in mind while exercising is blood pressure. It’s not just about the fetus’ safety, it’s about yours. Due to the changes in your cardiovascular system, you’re much more prone to your blood pressure dipping very low while you are exercising. This can cause you to feel lightheaded or fatigued.
These are the things you want to be watching for. There aren’t exact limits for how hard or how long you should exercise, so it is imperative to find your own based on what you know you can do safely. It’s all about listening to your body and how you feel in that moment.
Hot Tip: Get familiar with your resting heart rate by measuring it every morning, and then keep track of what works and what doesn’t. What is too much, and what can you do more of. If you want to push a little on a certain day, see how you feel during and then also how you feel afterwards. Be brave but mostly be safe.
Women often want to jump right back into their pre-pregnancy routines after giving birth. Although your body will slowly return back to normal, there will still be fluctuations in your internal systems postpartum. Not to mention, now you have a little one to take care of.
Another thing to consider while exercising postpartum is weight. Making sure you’re eating enough to sustain both breastfeeding and exercising is essential. Similar to exercising while pregnant, find a sweet spot based on an intuitive understanding of where you want to be and how you can get there safely. Find a point you can comfortably get to, without being too hard on yourself, and get there by trying new things and seeing what works.
Take it One Day at a Time
Everyone is special when it comes to the world of exercise, and when you’re about to have children, everything is thrown out of whack. From day to day, week to week, trimester to trimester, you’re going to have to figure out new ways of keeping in touch with your body and your ideal exercise routine.
The most important thing to be aware of is whether you really feel ready. If you do, awesome! If you don’t, that’s okay, too. You’re not a superhero – not completely, anyway – so you don’t have to get back into running or starting something for the first time the same way you would have done pre-pregnancy. Instead, you have to do what’s right for you.
It’s hard, and sometimes it can feel like you’re not a bad-ass if you’re not doing it all, but you really don’t need to worry about how you compare to others. All you need to worry about is being safe, happy, and healthy, so your baby can be, too.
For more information on exercise guidelines for pregnancy or to read about my personal experience, here’s a library of posts and podcasts you’ll find informative and interesting.