Greetings fitness fans. Today’s post will be full of fantastic information brought to you by personal trainer Keli Howe. Keli has graciously taken time out of her busy schedule to answer some in-depth questions regarding a topic she knows very well, fitness during the prenatal and postnatal periods of a woman’s life. This information certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you’re a male with an expectant woman in your life; sister, co-worker, or friend, feel free to share this information with her!
Often times as women, when we find out we’re expecting, the question pops up in our minds’ if it’s safe to keep up our regular exercise routine. Current, updated information and guidelines can be hard to find. Please always check with your doctor first regarding any pre- and post-natal advice you read, and for more information here’s a great site to check out from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) on exercise during pregnancy.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff! Here is my interview with Keli Howe on pre- and post-natal fitness.
Q. So Keli, wha t are some of the modifications that women will need to make in their exercise routine once they find out they are expecting? Does it vary by trimester?
A. “The most important consideration when determining exercise guidelines is to maintain a favorable environment inside the uterus. There should always be plenty of blood and oxygen going to the uterus. As a trainer with prenatal/postpartum clients, I will alter their programs as the pregnancy progresses to help make their deliveries and recoveries as easy as possible. Moderate exercise is the recommendation.”
Keli goes on to mention during the first trimester, it’s most important to consider: a woman’s current fitness level, what her doctor has recommended for her in terms of physical activity, what exercises or activities she’s done lately, and how she’s currently feeling with each exercise. Keli uses the first trimester as “a great opportunity to teach proper body alignment and focus on proper biomechanics to reduce potential muscle imbalances”.
As women enter the second trimester, Keli says “the ACOG recommends avoiding exercises in the supine position [lying flat on your back] as much as possible once you get into the second trimester, for the rest of the pregnancy. This is also a point where modifications may become necessary to accommodate the growing baby,” with methods like balance training. “It’s also a time to work on Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor,” she recommends.
The last thirteen weeks of pregnancy make up the third trimester, and Keli says “this may be the most uncomfortable time for the Mom. There is literally not enough room for the baby and all of her organs so she feels compressed. The diaphragm can actually be pressed up towards the lungs which can lead to a shortness of breath. If Mom can keep on doing something consistently, that is the most important part. Whatever she feels comfortable doing she can continue right up until she delivers with the approval of her doctor.”
Q. Keli, is it still safe to do abdominal work while pregnant?
A. “Abdominal work is very important during pregnancy. The exercises are not about traditional flexing of the spine. Crunches and spinal rotations are not the ab work that we focus on because the spine is stressed enough form the additional weight load. Core stabilization is far more beneficial.”
Q. Are there any exercises women can do to help reduce their pregnancy related discomfort or to help prepare them for labor?
A. Keli suggests “strengthening the pelvic floor with Kegel exercises, pelvic tilts, and pelvic clocks” in order to “help reduce lower back pain from the shift in center of gravity.”
Q. How hard can a woman work out while pregnant?
A. “The ACOG no longer recommends a specific heart rate number below which to keep your heart rate while exercising. Moderate exercise is the recommendation. The talk test and REP (rate of perceived exertion) scale is a valuable tool for determining intensity and the one I use with most of my clients. The intensity of effort should be solely based on how the client feels and responds during the exercise session.”
Q. After the baby is born, how soon can women get back to exercising?
A. “After birth, physiological and morphologic changes can persist 4-6 weeks postpartum. It takes weeks for the uterus to shrink back to pre-pregnancy state (4-6 vaginal birth; 6-8 weeks caesarean birth). This is the major consideration in getting cleared by your doctor before resuming an exercise program. A client may be permitted to start exercising before this time and should get confirmation from the doctor in that case. Pre-pregnancy exercise routines may be resumed gradually as soon as it is physically and medically safe.”
Q. Are modifications still necessary in the few months following childbirth?
A. “If a client is permitted to exercise before the uterus is back to pre-pregnancy state, intensity should be kept moderate to ensure plenty of blood and oxygen supply just as during pregnancy. Also it is important to keep range of motion conservative for several months after due to potential joint laxity, especially if she is breastfeeding. Abdominal and core exercises will be more difficult after c-section or if a client experiences diastis recti (a separation of the abdominal muscles from the pregnancy) and there are exercises,” Keli mentions, “to help with this condition.” She also says that “working to increase and maintain integrity of the deep core stabilizers is crucial.”
Q. Do you have any tips on how to incorporate exercise with your baby or ways to sneak it in as a tired and busy new mom?
A. “Physical activity should be stress relieving and not stress provoking. It is important to set aside time for yourself for a nice quiet walk or workout. Get a good quality jogger and take the baby for a stroll or light run. Some of my favorite memories are when my kids were babies and going for a run along the water! I developed my Moms in Motion fitness class for this reason. It is a great way for moms to connect with other women in the community that are at the same place in their lives. One of my greatest pleasures is seeing the friendships that develop between the moms and as the babies become toddlers!”
I would like to thank Keli profusely for answering all my questions, and best of luck to all the new moms and mamas-to-be!
In good health,
Ryan Healy, BS, NSCA-CSCS