Have you ever wondered “How should I exercise when I’m pregnant?” or “What can I do? And what can’t I do?”
There’s so much information out there that it can be fear-inducing and overwhelming trying to figure out this whole pregnancy workout situation.
One person tells you crunches are safe for pregnancy.
Another person says you should never lay on your back because you’ll pass out.
Then someone else tells you that their best friend’s sister’s mother ran throughout her entire pregnancy and never leaks – so it must be okay to run when you’re pregnant.
While another one shares an anxiety provoking story of a woman who ran throughout her entire pregnancy and ended up leaking constantly for months after giving birth – so running is definitely off the table.
Who do you believe?
The truth is there’s no one best workout or type of exercise or strategy for every expectant mom.
Every body is different. Every pregnancy is different.
And it all comes back to you.
What do you want to do?
How do you want to workout?
And how can we develop a plan that works for you – without causing any issues like pain or core and pelvic floor dysfunction?
And the thing is, this may change from day-to-day, trimester-to-trimester – especially as your energy comes and goes.
One day you’re feeling super energetic and ready to lift some weights.
The next day getting out of bed sounds like a lot of work and you’d rather just not.
We need to remind ourselves – constantly – that pregnancy is an incredibly challenging task to put our bodies through. It’s a 24/7 workout itself.
And you don’t need to push through exhaustion just to get your workout in because that’s what pre-pregnant you would have done.
Yes, if you’re just feeling a little tired and you know a workout will probably actually help give you a boost of energy (and take your mind off of feeling like you constantly need to barf) go for it!
But if you’re not even remotely interested in feeling the burn because the fatigue has got you in its tight little grip, it’s okay to rest or swap some gentle core and floor exercises and stretching for that weight training or cardio workout you had planned.
What I’m getting at is that no two women are alike. No two pregnancies are alike. No two days are alike.
So use my behind the scenes peek into what I’m doing as an educational, use what works for you, leave what doesn’t tour. Not a dogmatic, must-do approach.
My Focus This Pregnancy (And How It’s Different From The Last One)
Last pregnancy I did all kinds of things I haven’t done (and will not do) this pregnancy.
For example, last go ’round I was still doing traditional core exercises well into my third trimester.
- Boat Pose
- Hanging from a bar and doing knee-ups (as a substitute for toes to bar)
- Even “modified” crunches (laying on a wedge so I was up on an angle)
Why won’t I be doing these kinds of exercises this round?
Well there are lots of reasons but one of the simplest answers is because I was getting a ton of coning and doming in my abs when I was doing these exercises last time (especially plank and hanging bar knee ups).
I wasn’t a certified pre- and postnatal fitness coach at the time so I had no idea that the doming and coning I was getting in my abs meant that I either wasn’t using the right core engagement and breathing strategies, or my body simply wasn’t able to handle the stress on my abdominal wall.
Because I just ignored the signs that my core was having issues, I probably made my diastasis worse than it could have been had I known what I know now (so thank goodness I know what I know now!)
It’s not necessarily that these are “bad” exercises, or that all pregnant woman should never do them. They just weren’t the best idea for my body because of the fact that I wasn’t using the best strategies and my core wasn’t able to handle the load properly.
Could I use different alignment, breathing and engagement strategies and make exercises like these work this pregnancy?
But this pregnancy is all about reminding myself the difference between could and should. Risk versus reward.
Could I do that exercise? Maybe.
But should I do that exercise?
What’s the purpose?
What’s the benefit?
What’s the risk?
Last pregnancy I was focused on doing exercises – like those core ones – to get my body back after giving birth.
I was doing things to get my abs back as soon as possible – without realizing the emotional and physical cost.
This pregnancy I’m in a whole other country of a mindset.
It’s like last pregnancy I was at the South Pole blindly navigating around in a blizzard.
This pregnancy I’m on the beach in Maui sipping a (virgin) mojito relaxed and feeling confident about my choices.
And what choices are those?
Well, this pregnancy I’m focusing on 4 goals when it comes to my workout strategy:
1. Workout to feel awesome and get more energy (not drain any energy I may have).
2. Focus on maintaining and improving great posture and alignment.
3. Maintain my muscle mass (as much as possible) and feel strong throughout my pregnancy.
4. Keep my core strong and balance the tone of my pelvic floor (strong, but not tight) so I feel good now and help my recovery process afterwards.
Nope. No typo in there. You won’t see do things to “get my body back” or “lose the baby weight fast” or “get my abs back” on my goal sheet this go around.
Last time I was so focused on looking like I never even had a baby as soon as possible.
I let the #fitmom psychology strangle hold me.
This time I’m focused on feeling great (emotionally and physically) while growing this baby and recovering well afterwards.
There’s a big difference between focusing on “recovering well” and “getting my body back”.
It may seem like they’re similar goals but the mental and emotional states of Jen in those two places is vastly different.
I’m proud of my body and proud of myself for getting to this place.
And I’m appreciating and respecting my body for what it’s doing.
Now don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I go around saying “I LOVE my pregnancy body all the time! Oh look at that, another varicose vein! How wonderful!”
I’m not at that place where I love my body 24/7. Honestly.
But I am at a place where I’m okay with my body changing and I’m embracing how incredible this opportunity is – I’m growing (another) tiny human. That’s amazing.
So that means that instead of punishing my body at the gym to hopefully bounce back after giving birth, I’m honouring that my workouts and body are just different now because I’m growing a life.
It won’t always be this way.
One day I can hold a plank for 30 seconds again if I want.
One day I can fit back into my old jeans if I want.
But right now I’m cool with focusing on my 4 goals and feeling empowered with the wealth of knowledge and support I’ve surrounded myself with.
What My Pregnancy Workouts Actually Look Like
I’m in the second trimester of my second pregnancy and I have a toddler to take care of now so my energy is just not the same as it was before.
My first pregnancy I had more energy and time and honestly desire to go to the gym. So I would sometimes workout 5+ days a week.
This pregnancy I’m averaging about 2-3 workouts a week – with some weeks being 0-1 workouts.
And I’m good with that.
I’m not crazy about a schedule. If I get my workouts in, great. If not, that’s okay because I’m pretty darn active taking care of my snuggly toddler – which is a daily workout itself!
In terms of the type of exercise I do, I focus on weight training – because I get enough cardio chasing my kiddo around the house. 😉
But I do get in lots of walking and I go at a quick enough pace that my weight training feels a little cardio-ish most of the time.
Now when you’re checking out the behind the scenes of a typical day in the life of me working out, I want you to notice a couple things:
1. It’s not that different from my regular pre-pregnancy workouts. I may skip some movements and use less weight and take more rest, but I’m still lifting and moving and doing the things. Modifications are happening but I’m still feeling like I’m getting a “good” workout in most of the time.
Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to take it slow and easy and only do bodyweight workouts. You simply need to pay attention to how your body is responding to the challenge you’re giving it and be humble enough to back off when you know you need to. You’ll know. That little voice saying “Back off” that you’re ignoring is your sign. 😉
2. Glutes. Glutes. Glutes. Throughout pregnancy we have a natural tendency to want to tuck and clench our butt cheeks to counterbalance the weight of our growing bump.
By doing lots of glute work – both strengthening and stretching/alignment goodness – I’m helping to keep my glutes strong and in neutral position so that they’re not pulling on my sacrum (the base of my spine) and giving me back, pelvic, knee, or hip pain (or other issues).
3. I’m resting between sets, reps and whenever I want to, for however long I want to. I don’t ignore any feelings of light-headedness or breathlessness. If I’m feeling like I need a break, I give my body a break. I’m not pushing myself to exhaustion.
Pregnancy is not the time to prove you can do all the things and push through the pain. We know you’re strong. You’re growing a human. That takes a ton of strength. So give your body the rest it needs and stop worrying about keeping up.
4. I’m putting a ton of emphasis on mobility work so I can help keep my pelvis and everything else in alignment to help reduce my chances of having aches and pains during pregnancy and (hopefully) have a smoother birth.
And I don’t just do mobility work (AKA stretching) after my workouts. I usually get in a few stretches here and there throughout the day as I’m playing with my toddler, or working, or even reading. As my husband said the other night when I was reading before bed while doing some random stretching, “You read books weird” Ha! 😉
Now remember, as we dive into the specifics, I want you to use these examples as your guide, not a must-do.
This is what works for me, my body, my pregnancy right now.
My goal is to inspire you to find what works for you.
Let’s do it!
Core & Floor Connection Breath
Before every workout I start with a few (usually 10-12) Core and Floor Connection Breaths (I actually also practice this most days – even when I’m not doing a workout).
This is simply taking an inhale and releasing my core and pelvic floor, then doing an exhale and engaging my core and pelvic floor (AKA doing a kegel and engaging my abdominal muscles).
I like to put a hand on my belly and another hand on my ribcage to feel the expansion and contraction of my diaphragm (which hangs out in my ribs) and my abdominal wall (the front part of my abs).
Why do I do this breathing technique? For 2 reasons:
1. For me this is more about the release than the kegel. I have a tendency to have a tight or hypertonic pelvic floor so I’m helping my pelvic floor and core release and relax on every inhale as much as possible.
Some helpful cues to release and relax are to think of a flower blooming or a tunnel widening. Imagine your vagina and anus as that flower or tunnel and let them relax, release and widen. If that’s not doing it for you, simply act like you’re on the toilet having a good pee and poop. Relax those muscles and let go.
This is important birth prep for me (and you) because it trains our bodies and brains to relax instead of clench with all our might during labour. We want our pelvic floor to be able to relax as much as possible to let that baby go through the birth canal. So the more we practice this now, the better chance we have at making that happen during birth.
2. It’s helping my body/brain remember that when I exhale my core and pelvic floor are supposed to jump in and get to work. This will help my body function well during pregnancy and help me recover postpartum when my core and pelvic floor need a little (or a big) boost to bounce back into action.
Here’s what it looks (and sounds) like…
Circuit 1 & Circuit 2
I tend to program short circuit workouts for myself (and usually my clients too).
I’ll do 3 sets of 3 exercises then either call it a day or do another 3 sets of 3 exercises if I have the time and energy for it.
This works well for me because I’m done in 30 minutes or less (including warm-up and stretching) and I’m not interested in spending more time working out than I need to – especially if my toddler is trying to “help” me! 😉
On this particular day I did 2 circuits that looked like this:
Circuit 1 was 3 sets of…
12 Chest Presses (I did them on the ball but you can do them on a bench if you prefer)
12 Goblet Squats
20 Hip Thrusts (with the mini band around my knees)
Circuit 2 was 3 sets of…
10 Reverse Lunges (on each side)
10 One Arm Bent Over Rows (on each side)
20 Abductor Leg Raises
Pay attention to the hint-hint, nudge-nudge that your body is sending your way.
I also want to make it very clear that I’m focusing on my breath, core engagement strategies and alignment constantly.
I’m never holding my breath. That can put too much pressure on my core and pelvic floor and spike my blood pressure. I’m exhaling through the hardest part of the exercise and inhaling through the easiest part (or when I’m resting for a second between reps).
I’m also engaging my core without sucking my belly button in aggressively, or bracing hard through my abs, or tucking my butt under and clenching. Remember, it’s not a huge movement – this whole core engagement thing.
And I’m always reminding myself “Untuck your butt. Stack your ribs over your hips.” Both these cues help ensure that everything in my core is aligned well so that all my bits can talk to each other and function as well as possible during each exercise.
Bottom line – I’m making sure that I’m using the best breathing + engagement + alignment strategies possible so I’m feeling good, and I’m not getting any pressure in my pelvic floor or any bulging or doming in my abs throughout any exercise I’m doing (not just core stuff but any exercise I do).
This is important because if I do get some pelvic floor pressure or doming in my abs that’s a sign that my core can’t handle that exercise or the way I’m doing that exercise isn’t working well for me and I need to cut it out or I need to adjust my strategy.
Remember, the point isn’t to punish your body, the point is to support your body to feel well as you grow your tiny human and help you recover faster afterwards.
This isn’t pregnancy bootcamp. It’s pregnancy “let’s workout so we feel awesome now and forever” camp.
Stretch it Out!
Like I said, I try to do some mobility work throughout the day – not just after my workouts.
But that doesn’t mean I run through all these stretches each time.
Usually I do a couple of them at a time throughout the day or a few of them before bed – just to weird out my husband 😉
These aren’t all the stretches I do, it’s just a taste. But it gives you a good balance of body bits to work with.
I usually hold my stretches for anywhere between 30 seconds to 1 min depending on what feels good.
In this series I did:
Hamstring Stretch with a Band
Hip Flexor Stretch
Supported Deep Squat (you don’t need a TRX for this. You can do it leaning against a stability ball pushed up against a wall or holding onto something in front of you that’s stable – like a treadmill)
Side Leaning Stretch (I like to do this against the wall to help remind me to keep my butt untucked and ribs dropped down)
Doorway Chest Stretch
Reclined Butterfly Stretch (I support my head and shoulders with a blanket to help keep my ribs from popping up)
Pigeon Pose (if this feels like too much you can do a seated figure 4 pose instead)
Here’s what it looked like…
Do you have any questions about what I’m doing and how it could work in your life?
Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this post please share it with all your pregnant friends.
And remember – you’re amazing.
What you’re doing right now is literally a miracle.
You’re growing a person. A human being. You deserve to feel as good as you can and that includes giving yourself the space and permission to rest, slow down, change things up so that it feels good on your body.
Do what feels best for you.
This moment in time is temporary and you have nothing to prove.