Saturday 16 December 2017

Don't let pregnancy get in the way of keeping your body fit and toned

BRINGING a new bundle of joy into the world is one of the most amazing times in everyone's life, however, no mammy-to-be likes the prospect fighting off post-pregnancy weight gain for years afterwards.

It can be an uphill struggle by times with all the lovely side effects (not) of pregnancy but keeping up, or even getting started with, and exercise programme can have massive benefits for both baby and mother, including some you'd never even think of.

Firstly, if you can maintain a good level of fitness while you're pregnant shedding that necessary extra baby weight is easier. The benefits go way beyond that, though, they include:

> Larger placenta and better nutrient delivery to your baby

> Leaner children up to 5 years after delivery

> A boost in baby's IQ

> Lower risk of developing gestational diabetes

> Reduced postpartum depression and recovery time

> Less water retention

> Decreased formation of varicose veins

> Less risk for a C-section

Can you stay fit while pregnant?

While there are "standard" recommendations that your GP will give you, I've found through research and helping my own partner, Sandra, during her pregnancy with our little girl Heidi, that you can modify these standard recommendations to give yourself 
even more of an advantage to stay or get strong and fit.

Of course all of this will depend on what level you're coming into it at and at what stage you're at in your pregnancy.

As with any exercise, though, you need to keep priorities straight, and that means keeping your health, and the health of your baby, numero uno, at all stages.

Be patient, take things slow, you're making a person, remember, so rushing headlong into an intense exercise programme may not be the best use of your resources right now.

Safety first

There are certain exercises and activities that could be dangerous or harmful if implemented during pregnancy.

The standard recommendations (American College of Sports Medicine, 2014) are to avoid:

>Contact sports such as rugby, Gaelic football, or camogie

>Holding your breath during any activity

> Any exercise that could cause even mild trauma to the abdominal area, including jarring motions or quick changes in direction like deep knee bends, full sit-ups and leg raises

> Activities where falling is a possibility (like cycling or horseback riding)

> Activities like jumping, hopping, skipping 
or bouncing

> Ballistic stretching (bouncing)

> Twisting your midsection while standing

> Lying on your back or right side for more than three minutes (especially after the third month of pregnancy)

> Intense exercise spurts followed by long 
periods of no activity

> Exercising in humid, hot weather

It's a long list, and it can, at times, seem like you can't do much while pregnant. There are lots of things you can do, though.

Always consult your doctor before starting any physical activity while pregnant, and always check in along the way to see if it's okay to keep exercising, things that are safe for you at two months may not be at seven months.

It's very important to remember that pregnancy is not a disease and shouldn't restrict you to the point of becoming sedentary.

Moderate to high-intensity exercise (done correctly) is very safe.

There can be a tendency for people to wrap you in a safety bubble and treat you like a delicate little flower just a little too much.

Don't let that stop you. Some ladies exercise right up to the due date, you should let your body and how you feel guide you, don't feel like you have to or can't do x, y or z. Only you know how you feel.

Now that you know what's safe and thing to avoid, what should you include? Here are three great pregnancy exercise strategies:

Cardiovascular exercise

Swimming, riding a stationary bike, easy, light jogging, and aerobic step-up classes are really good cardiovascular exercise strategies.

I find the best, most sustainable and doable activity is walking. Getting in as much time walking as you can will really help strengthen and tone all the muscles in your pelvic girdle, as well as helping you burn fat.

If you're just starting out, make sure you start early (at eight to 10 weeks), beginning with around four to five exercise sessions a week for 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity.

Want to go longer? Increase time and intensity every week gradually, and stay within 50pc to 75pc of their maximum heart rate while exercising.

That's a heart rate per minute of 220 beats minus your age (an exercise heart rate monitor makes it easy to keep track of this).

Resistance training

There are lots of great exercises to maintain strength during pregnancy.

It's not all about strength though, resistance exercise helps you burn more energy at rest too.

Depending on your experience level you can use just your own body weight, dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells TRX or any other form of resistance.

Once you're challenging your muscles you're on 
the right path, usually that means doing three or four sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of a given exercise.

Try to work your whole body during each workout.

This will give you more efficient and effective workouts.

There are six basic movement patterns that will ensure you work all of your muscles and joints.

You can take it easy as you approach your third trimester, but should include most of these movements so that every joint in your body stays strong and supple.

However, if I was limited to two exercises I'd do the first and second listed below.

The really work the whole body, but in particular the pelvic and hip region.

They are:

1. Squat: there's some controversy over this one but essentially it's sitting so if you're able to sit into a chair and get back out you're able to squat

2. Deadlift: Same as above but I always compare this one to picking up bags of shopping

3. Push horizontally: Wall presses, chest presses

4. Pull horizontally: Dumbbell rows, cable rows

5. Push vertically: Shoulder presses, incline presses

6. Pull vertically: Cable pull downs, Pull ups


The muscles on the front of your legs (hip flexors) can get quite tight during pregnancy, especially as your baby grows.

Include as many hip flexor "openers" and low back stretching exercises as possible. This one comes with a special caveat, especially getting into the third trimester and late pregnancy. As your body prepares to give birth, you have higher levels of hormones that loosen tendons, ligaments and other tissues so take care and play it safe or go to pregnancy yoga for guided help.

Whatever approach you take, always remember if you need help seek a professional.

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