Over the last year or so, we have had more pregnancies among gym members than ever before and Small Group Training for Pregnancy has been up and running since the beginning of 2019. We’re very grateful that so many women have chosen to trust us during such an important time in their lives.
Whether you’re planning on becoming pregnant, conscious it may happen in the near future or currently pregnant (congratulations!) this post aims to demystify some unknowns around how you’ll need to adjust your current training. This is written with first-time mums in mind but the majority is applicable for subsequent pregnancies. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post on the FFS Guide to Exercise during Pregnancy, which I would recommend reading if you haven’t already.
Strength Training & Aerobic Training
Let’s start with strength training. The majority of women who have already done strength training want to continue it during pregnancy and if you feel comfortable doing so then you’ll be happy to hear it’s definitely recommended. While it’s a time to shift focus to optimal health for mother and baby rather than performance goals, it’s safe to continue the movements your body is used to, provided your doctor has given the go-ahead and there’s no risk of falling or injury. For this reason, we don’t recommend chin-ups (a progressively heavier bodyweight won’t make chin-ups or pulls too appealing anyway!) but other compound movements (i.e. multi-joint) like deadlifts, squats, and lunges are safe.
It’s all about doing what feels good which will likely mean that as you begin to show a goblet squat is more suitable and comfortable than a barbell squat where the load is lighter and not so demanding on your spine. There are plenty of ways to make what may seem like a ‘light’ goblet squat feel more challenging like a one second isometric hold at the bottom and/or a 3 sec eccentric (i.e. time taken to get to the bottom of the squat).
For deadlifts, a hex or trap bar relative to straight bar immediately lessens strain on the lumbar spine (i.e. low back), it can be raised on plates to shorten the range of movement (i.e. you get the satisfaction and benefit of a deadlift with a less demanding set up position), or you can do kettlebell deadlift and step away from using a bar at all. Oh, so many options!
Whatever the movements you are comfortable and confident doing, keep the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to 7/10. Think of 10/10 as max effort and 2-3/10 being probably how you feel right now either sitting or standing.
From an aerobic or cardiovascular training point of view, the same guideline on RPE applies and continuing to do the movements your body is accustomed to provided there’s no risk of falling or injury. Again, once within the range of what feels comfortable for you, the stationary bike, rower and ski erg are all really useful in getting your heart rate up and feeling the hit of a good aerobic workout. Outside of the gym, if you’re used to jogging or running and your doctor gives the go-ahead then it’s a great way to combine exercise with some fresh air. Just remember to keep it to 7/10 and be ready to reduce the speed and distance when you start reaching that 7/10 quicker than usual or when 6/10 feels like enough.
A concern for most women is their recovery after pregnancy. The three topics that tend to lead this are pelvic floor (will I leak?), diastasis (will I have a gap between my abs / in my stomach?) and returning to pre-pregnancy strength and fitness (will I be able to get my chins / bench / deadlift / fitness back?). If one or all of these are not a concern for you then rest assured you can stay worry-free!
For some reason, we’re only vaguely aware of our pelvic floor until we start thinking about pregnancy and even crazier, many men seem to be unaware they even have a pelvic floor. This is a brilliant time to get fully informed on what it is, how it works and why it’s really important to make sure it works.
Diastasis Recti is the official term for the gap or space between the rectus abdominis (the muscles that show on the right and left of centre when someone has ‘abs’). Following the physical strain of pregnancy, we can be left with a separation which is greater than it was before when the muscles don’t fully return to sit close together.
Important fact #1: You can have functional muscles and still have a gap.
Important fact #2: Some of us have a gap pre pregnancy but we usually don’t check for it until after and so we don’t know what our ‘normal’ is.
Important fact #3: The abdominal muscles work hand in hand with the pelvic floor so looking after both of these (during pregnancy and after) becomes one comprehensive work on.
Look out for a blog post coming your way soon on pelvic floor and diastasis. If either is an immediate concern for you, then feel free to contact me ( email@example.com), my colleague Sinead Brophy or our FFS Heady of Physiotherapy, Eric Cullinane.
Returning to Exercise
Finally, returning to exercise or training post-pregnancy isn’t as simple as returning to your regular routine once you hit six weeks postpartum. Six weeks is often given as a guideline for returning to exercise but, obviously, lots of factors affect this and affect how you then feel in that first few weeks and months. Expecting our bodies to go back to what they were able to do before becoming pregnant is likely to leave us disappointed and pissed off at best and seriously affect our mental health at worst. The key point here is that we are ‘expecting our bodies to go back…’ when we’re clearly moving forward and moving forward to what is hopefully the exciting new role of Mum.
Focusing on the pelvic floor is massively important postpartum as is simply getting moving again and seeing how your body feels doing the movements and types of training you did before. 40 weeks of pregnancy, maybe less or maybe more, means your body has done something magical, so move and do what feels good. If after a few months that movement is the strength training you used to do or the miles you used to run or cycle then keep it up as long as it feels good (and babysitters are available!).
If you’d like any additional information on any of the above feel free to contact me ( firstname.lastname@example.org) or you can follow me on Instagram. Small Group Training for Pregnancy begins again in September and the first Mama & Baby Small Group Training is in the works - drop me a mail if you’re interested in either one or would prefer to do 1:1 Personal Training.
Want to find out more?
Contact Coach Aoife
If you are interested in 1:1 Personal Training or lunchtime/evening Small Group Training suited to pregnancy or post-natal then email email@example.com for more information or get her on Instagram @aoifemacneill.
Prenatal Small Group TrainingThe next lunch time group starts again in September. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
You can download a PDF version of this guide
For more information regarding exercise during pregnancy:
Article by the American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. Infographic by UK Chief Medical Officers
About the Author
Aoife has been a coach at FFS Gyms since October 2016. She is passionate about pre and postnatal exercise, an Olympic Weightlifter with International experience, and currently undertaking an MSc in Strength and Conditioning.
Email Aoife at email@example.com
Find Aoife on Instagram at @aoifemacneill