As with any fitness program, seek approval from your physician before beginning, especially during pregnancy.
I always thought it was humorous when people would come up to me during the last couple of months of my pregnancy and say, “Aren’t you ready for that baby to come out?” It was my first child! Of course, I’m ready. They would then they would follow it up with “I’m sure you are so ready; you must be miserable!”
Being in the health and wellness industry, I find this sentiment is pervasive. In fact, my husband recently had a conversation with a pregnant couple urging us to get pregnant too so we could be miserable together.
As a personal trainer and fitness junkie, I don’t just love exercise and nutrition; I also believe that just as our bodies are strong and capable of fitness, women’s bodies are also strong and capable of an enjoyable pregnancy and birth.
Are there uncomfortable aspects to pregnancy at times? Yes. The possible months of nausea are not great, the swelling is pretty interesting, we all know about the weight gain aspects, the going to the bathroom throughout the night, being physically out of sorts and many other common pregnancy symptoms. Pregnancy is a multifaceted experience both wonderful and filled with unique challenges for each of us. A woman’s body goes through much, but does it really have to be as physically uncomfortable as many women experience, let alone miserable? I say for many, no.
I believe we can be proactive in combating many of these discomforts through proper exercise. That was my personal experience, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the experience of countless pregnant women I have worked with over the years. While I did experience months of nausea (not fun), other than that I felt great. I didn’t experience the aches and pains that other women talk about in their backs, hips and joints that I had anticipated before becoming pregnant. Pregnancy can be a joy! I felt good and I felt strong. I had a physical confidence with the extra 45 pounds I was carrying on my body and I really attribute that to being physically active before and during my pregnancy and eating nutrient dense foods.
I was on my feet 8-10 hours a day with clients, and I focused most of my exercise on my postural health. Making sure my spine and my hips were supported by a strong core can be life changing. I was just reading that more than half of all women complain of lower back pain during pregnancy. There are things we can do about this!
Most of that pain is caused by lordosis (rotated pelvis). Many other women also have SI Joint dysfunction, leg cramps, numbness and aching in the hips and legs. The majority of these ailments can be alleviated with appropriate physical activity, massage/myofascial release, chiropractic and stretching. By doing so, individuals create strength and balance in their alignment relieving a lot of unnecessary pressure on their frame. I’ve seen this myself through my own pregnancy and the many women I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years as well as others my colleagues have trained.
It’s a new physical world that we live in. Many of us spend our days sitting behind a desk or at a computer. Others are in the car for work or with their families. These positions can weaken and put strain on our bodies. We just do not have the physical demands as those generations that came before us. Our days are generally not spent foraging food, washing clothes by hand, and carrying water on our shoulders. Most of us have to make a point to get physical activity to strengthen our bodies. And that’s ok! We can do it!
Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a great place to start. These are a few of my favorite specific strengthening exercises for preparing the body for a comfortable pregnancy and a great birth.
One of my favorite core exercises for everyone is bridging. Bridging is utilized to strengthen the glutes, hips, pelvic floor, and core. It is especially beneficial for individuals who spend a significant amount of time sitting. This particular exercise helps to lengthen those muscles that are contracted during sitting and help strengthen the muscles that are relaxed in that position. Women and men that sit often times have weak glute muscles and have a difficult time activating them which can affect the knees and lower back.
Bridging is also advantageous for those that have an anteriorly rotated pelvis, by strengthening the hips to stay in a more neutral position.
1. Lie on back or stability ball with knees and feet straight and in line.
2. Tuck pelvis to neutral position, keeping shoulders relaxed and spine straight.
3. Squeeze glutes and pelvis up off floor keeping core tight and knees straight. Pause.
4. Slowly lower down to starting position and repeat.
*Try 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 3 times a week.
Squatting is one of the most functional exercises people can do. Individuals use it almost every day whether bending down to grab something out of a cabinet or to sit on the floor. It not only supports movements in everyday life but can also help women achieve an easier birth physically and support their bodies throughout the pregnancy. A squat strengthens the glutes, hips, core, feet, back, pelvic floor and the stabilizing muscles around knees. People with previous injuries are often afraid to squat, but when executed and practiced with proper form, squatting can actually help prevent an injury from recurring.
1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes following knees.
2. Keep core and glutes tight, sit back straight and lower as if sitting in a chair with a neutral spine.
3. Pause at bottom, keeping feet flat on floor.
4. Sitting up tall, keeping glutes contracted, press through heels and return slowly to starting.
*Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
A perfect asymmetrical exercise for pregnancy, the quadruped helps to strengthen our core through an unstable position. By executing exercises in this manner, it allows for better control over the body by strengthening the stabilizing muscles. To keep the body in a neutral position when practicing an asymmetrical exercise requires better muscle recruitment. Over time this provides more support for the spine and more control over body. This is an especially beneficial exercise for those combating sciatica or Diastasis Recti.
1. Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.
2. Activate core and glutes.
3. Keeping back and hips level, raise arm and opposite leg straight out. Relax shoulder.
5. Take your time, move slowly keeping core tight (draw belly button to spine) and glutes
6. Return to starting position and alternate sides.
*Important to keep spine straight and not twist or shift hips.
Pregnancy and birth are miraculous and unappreciated times in our life. While opinions are pervasively negative regarding the functioning of our bodies during this time, knowledge, effort, and some labor can help prepare our bodies, ease the burdens placed on it, and help us enjoy the amazing moments of pregnancy and birth a little more.
Katie Dudley is responsible for the new and improved exercise and nutrition program in the Birth Boot Camp 10-week educational series. You can find her at Cornerstone Integrative Fitness and Wellness in the Atlanta, GA area or on Facebook.