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Staying Active During Pregnancy

Written by Jennifer Ryskamp PTA
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pregnant 4I wanted to take this opportunity to connect with my fellow women who are currently pregnant, and let you know that you are not alone. I am speaking specifically to those who have historically always been very active and are now finding themselves forced to slow down due to the immensely wonderful and yet altogether difficult task of growing another human being.

What an amazing process! The way a woman’s body will change and adapt to this new tiny life that has taken up residence on the inside. It knows exactly what to do to support that life (even if you don’t have a clue!) and give the little one exactly what it needs to survive until it is able to survive (with lots of help) on the outside of our bodies. The unfortunate part is that this amazing and difficult experience is not always a pleasant one for the mommies.

My pregnancy started as many do… nauseous, hungry and fatigued beyond anything I had ever comprehended. Within the first 3 months, it was all I could do to get through a day at work. When I finally made it home in the afternoons, I would down some very bland foods (ie, eggs, toast, and breakfast cereals) I found my pjs and climbed into bed, praying my dinner would not make a second appearance.

And getting a workout in? Forget it! The thought alone of moving more than I had to made me want to throw up. Now that I am out of that dreaded first trimester, I am feeling better (week 23). However, as hard as I have tried, I have not been able to keep up with my pre-pregnancy workout schedule.

We have all heard of those women who have succeeded in pushing themselves through their pregnancies. I have read the blogs and heard rumors of those who are able to run marathons in the months and even days before giving birth. That is not what this blog is about. This blog is for the rest of us who have had, or will have to slow down. Pregnancy for me has been about rediscovering a new normal. Understanding that my body is working very hard to create an environment for growing and nurturing a new life. And it’s exhausting!

I certainly can’t push myself as hard as I normally would (pre-pregnancy) without paying for it later.  I might feel pretty good during a tough workout, but later have to deal with cramps, aches, pains and excessive fatigue. I have already experienced aches and pains especially in my middle and lower extending abdomen, my SI (sacroiliac) joint, and sometimes even shooting pain down my legs. These days even a flight of stairs will leave me winded when I was once able to run 4 miles before needing a break.

According to my doctor at the Women’s Health Center in Grand Rapids, MI, the last thing I should do is give up on my exercise routine just because I am pregnant. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), a body that is in shape and physically active will be able to better cope with labor and delivery. You will also have better chances of avoiding excessive weight gain (every woman’s worst nightmare), better chances of giving birth to a baby within normal weight ranges and avoid other complications such as gestational diabetes. And let’s not forget to mention exercise will help reduce some of those normal aches and pains, increase your energy, improve your mood, and help you sleep better.

So where do we start? What is safe? What exercises should be avoided? How much is too much? The ACOG has recommended that women do not increase the intensity of an exercise routine in any dramatic fashion. If you are training for an event, it is important that you increase your intensity level gradually. If you have historically been sedentary, you will want to begin an exercise routine, but do it gradually. Equally important, every woman must listen to her body. Let pain be your guide. If it hurts, you need to stop. You are at risk for causing permanent damage to your body or causing harm to the growing baby inside you. As always, please consult with your physician before adding to or changing your routine, especially if you are at risk for any pregnancy related complications.

Let’s start with cardio. A cardiovascular workout will help train your heart for the increased amount of fluid it will have to deal with while you are pregnant. According to healthline.com the mother’s heart at rest is working 40% harder into the second trimester due to a steady rise in plasma and red blood cell count.

RS2739 shutterstock 40142764Workouts to safely increase your heart rate:

  • Walking
  • Running (if you were a runner prior to becoming pregnant)
  • Swimming
  • Stationary cycling
  • Low impact aerobics

Resistance training can also be very beneficial to increase endorphins and keep your body strong throughout pregnancy. You will want to be aware of using correct postures and be mindful to avoid over-doing it with the weights. In my experience, if I have performed a weight lifting exercise with too much weight, I will feel sacral or low back pain, or lower abdominal/pelvic pain. If this is the case for you, you will want to modify the amount of weight, or make sure you are performing it correctly. And always maintain a tight core while performing the exercise.

Pregnant 2Try this:

  1. Do a Kegal (draw the pelvic floor up toward your heart) and hold.
  2. Blow your air out slowly (like blowing out a candle), then tighten your lower abs at the same time.
  3. Now repeat 1-2 together and try to hold it as long as you can.

This posture should be performed with any resistance exercise training, even after your baby has arrived. It will take some practice! Once you have gotten used to this move, try your exercises!

Good examples of resistance training:

  • Any type of upper body strengtheningPregnant 3
  • Mini-squats or lunges
  • Pelvic tilt against the wall (lean against a wall, flatten your low back and hold)
  • Spinal Balance (on all fours, lift an opposite arm and leg)
  • Side leg raises, making sure to feel it on the side of your hips.



Other things to consider:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid working out in excessive heat.
  • Stop exercises if you feel dizzy, have any vaginal bleeding, or notice a decrease in fetal movement.
  • Avoid the supine position after the first trimester. This can block blood flow to the fetus.

Phew! Okay ladies! Go get strong! I wish you all happy, healthy and relatively pain-free pregnancies! Now let’s go take on motherhood! 




“What Bodily Changes Can You Expect During Pregnancy?” Health Line. June 4, 2012.


“Frequently Asked Questions.” American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. August 2011.

Stannard, Alicja B., Wing, Cary H. “Pregnancy and Exercise Guidelines” ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal. Print 

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