Pregnancy brings with it a wide range of emotions, physiological changes and sometimes confusion surrounding exercise. Maybe you’ve fallen pregnant and worried if the exercise you’ve been doing is safe? Can you continue to train in a way that you enjoy? From what you see on the socials vs what a GP may recommended, to giving up altogether? How do you know what is right for you? 

Good news! You CAN still train in a way that you enjoy during pregnancy and you can still train with intensity, it is all relative and mostly a case that your exercise needs to be modified, not stopped.

During pregnancy there are a range of physiological changes taking place. It’s important to understand what they are and any implications for exercise, to then understand why certain modifications may need to be made.

Pelvic floor & abdominals

One of the most important physiological changes during pregnancy and one that needs special consideration! Your pelvic floor is made up of layers of muscle and other tissues, stretching like hammock from the tailbone to the pubic bone. Your pelvic floor supports your bladder, uterus, and bowel. It’s vital to keep pelvic floor muscles functional as they become compromised during pregnancy due to changing hormones and increased load with some serious potential consequences. A compromised pelvic floor can lead to short and/or long term incontinence of the bowel and/or bladder, decreased support to the pelvic contents and lower back, increased risk of prolapses and impact your self-confidence and mental health. The abdominals also stretch and weaken during pregnancy, with the thinning & separating of linea alba impacting the mechanics, structure and integrity of the core and decreasing the support to the lower back and stabilising muscles.

What this means for your training

If you have been keeping high impact exercise in, cease this from 12-16 weeks. Avoid heavy overhead movements, reduce the load and/or take them seated from the end of the second trimester to reduce the weight on the pelvic floor. Rule out exercises that involve forward flexion (crunches) or that increase intraabdominal pressure (pull ups, planks), instead incorporating movements that focus on the deeper layer of the abdominals, the transverse abdominis (lying leg extensions, bird dogs, pelvic tilts). 

Set the weight belts, bracing and breath holding aside during pregnancy and pay attention to your breathing. Exhaling on the effort of the exercise gives your pelvic floor a natural ‘lift’, better maintains the intraabdominal pressure and support during the movement (e.g. squats – inhale down, exhale to stand).

As your pregnancy progresses decrease the weight used (volume can remain high) and from the third trimester consider reducing the depth and width of stance of your squats. Incorporate pelvic floor exercises with a mix of long holds and quick flicks (targeted exercises) in addition to functional movement (squats, deadlifts), ensure you are training with a certified pre and post natal trainer and see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist to help support your journey.

Respiratory & cardiovasular

Feeling out of breath walking up that flight of stairs or delivering your presentation in that important meeting? Changes to the respiratory system include the diaphragm moving up towards the chest, an increase in oxygen uptake and increased respiration rate leading to an enhanced sense of breathlessness. As pregnancy progresses there can also be altered shape of the rib cage to accommodate the growing baby.

There is an increase in blood volume, cardiac output, and resting heart rate with blood volume increasing 30-50% during pregnancy. Blood flow return to the heart is less efficient and your heart rate during activity will be higher at any given workload than your pre-pregnant state.

What this means for your training

In addition to shortness of breath it is likely your perception of effort will increase for any given work rate. Monitor the intensity of your sessions using the rate of perceived effort (RPE scale 1-10) working between a 4-7 RPE and increase your rest periods and/or decrease your work efforts. Heart rate ranges are more individual and depend on several factors, *120-150bpm is a good (general) working range.


Maybe you’ve noticed you’ve felt more flexy in your yoga class? Relaxin is responsible and has implications for exercise selection due to its associated decrease in joint stability. Relaxin levels are highest in early pregnancy. It has a softening effect to the ligaments and connective tissues throughout the body. Relaxin helps the abdominals lengthen as baby grows and is particularly useful pre and during labour, allowing more ‘give’ to the joints and tissues of the pelvis. Progesterone balance in pregnancy is essential. Following successful implantation a consistent supply of progesterone to the endometrium helps nurture the developing fetus. After 8 to 10 weeks of pregnancy, the placenta takes over progesterone production from the ovaries and substantially increases progesterone production. It also relaxes smooth muscles, altering the lining of intestines, blood vessels and other soft tissues, sometime responsible for reflux and constipation.

What this means for your training

Increased ligament laxity means that joints are more vulnerable to strain and injury. Choose more static and stable movements over dynamic ones (no single leg bosu ball squats), reducing high impact exercises and be mindful of overstretching. Drinking plenty of water and consuming adequate fibre will assist in avoiding constipation.

Weight gain, metabolism & postural changes

Metabolism increases and weight gain leads to additional stress on joints with a weight shift towards the front of the body impacting balance and posture. You may start to experience lower back, pelvic pain, or carpel tunnel.

What this means for your training

Focus on movements to strengthen your posterior chain; back, glutes and hamstrings, decrease the load used as your pregnancy progresses, be mindful of your balance on any unilateral movements (single leg squats, lunges and look to reduce these by the third trimester as they can aggravate the joints of the pelvis leading to pubic symphysis dysfunction. See a Women’s Health Physio if you experience any joint or pelvic pain.

Emotional & pyschological

Hormonal changes, impacted quality and quantity of sleep, adjusting and embracing your changing body, acceptance of shifts to work, financial situations and relationships bring with it a range of emotions. 

What this means for your training

Don’t focus on the number on the scales and aim to keep moving in a way that you enjoy. Looking at pregnancy as a forced taper and embracing the modified training, moving for your mental health – not to hit personal bests. Find a certified trainer and women’s health physiotherapist to support your journey or check out my Exercise & Nutrition for Pregnancy ebook to help feel educated and empowered one exercise and pregnancy.

Understanding the above changes and the impacts to exercise selection exercise can help keep you moving in a way that you enjoy throughout your pregnancy!

Gain more clarity and confidence through Brooke’s Exercise & Nutrition for Pregnancy eBook or become a certified pre and post natal trainer through Functional Fitness for Pregnancy and PostPartum course for FitPros.

*Every pregnancy is unique, as is each day in your journey. The above is general advice only and does not replace advice from your medical professional. 

Source link