Updated: Oct 9, 2018
Pregnancy is a wonderful, but challenging journey for the human body. As a mothers resources are diverted towards growing a whole new being, the path to labour can be exhausting an overwhelming. Movement is imperative to a healthy and pain free life, and given the dramatic changes during pregnancy, it becomes even more important. Studies show that a mothers exercise can affect a babies development; if a mother is sedentary she will program her baby to be the same! In addition a sedentary mother may actually hinder her child’s development so smart movement is key.
If you have been active and healthy before a pregnancy, then there is absolutely no reason why you should stop during pregnancy. A mother picks up her child on average 58 times a day, that’s worth training for so that you can do it safely and prevent injury. Movement is anti inflammatory and helps increase circulation, optimise hormones, reduce pain and helps every single body system function better which is always a great thing when you are growing a new human!
Traditional pregnancy exercises tend to be centered around floor work, pelvic floor strength, or very basic isolation type strength exercises, but these leave a lot to be desired in building a healthy, happy and resilient mumma's body!
Learn to Love the F word - Fascia
As a woman’s stomach is stretched during pregnancy, it becomes very important to build up the other stabilising muscles as well as creating a resilient fascial net. The fascial system (click link to read more) is a global web of connective tissue that spans from toes to nose, encases and weaves through tendons, bones, organs, muscles and skin. Fascia is the system that touches all systems, and creates space in the body by holding everything together. Fascial health affects circulation, neural health, lymphatics, cellular health, digestion, energy, pelvic floor integrity, breathing and posture.
The inter-connectivity of the web means that fascial health and integrity is vital in pregnancy to help accommodate rapid changes in posture. Traditionally fascia is underappreciated in pregnancy training, but optimizing it can make for dramatic improvements in labour time, pregnancy pain, skin health, post labour recovery, and importantly the pelvic floor stability!
Fascia loves variable loads, which means that varied loads, speeds and angles create resilience and this is exactly what a mother needs as she is being pulled forward with the bump! As a mother produces greater levels of elastin in pregnancy, her tissue becomes more elastic, and so having a strong fascial system with rich supportive collagen networks is essential.
10 key things to consider in your training if you are pregnant!
1. Drop intensity way way back
Training is no longer about performance and fitness, and shifts towards optimal wellness and maintenance. Training too intensely or too often puts the baby at risk, particularly in the 3rd trimester when workload should be reduced the most. A heart rate of 150-160 beats per minute is recommended throughout the world, to avoid overheating the baby. This means that workouts shift towards more low intensity aerobic training. The lower intensity is a struggle for many to adjust to initially, and many find it challenging keeping their heart rate down. We find this is most challenging in the 1st trimester, but tends to even out as mothers become more efficient at aerobic intensity. For this reason we don't train any pregnant women without the use of a heart rate monitor because unfortunately the perceived rate of excretion rarely matches the actual heart rate intensity!
2. Train the body as a unit
This point comes back to fascial health. When the web works well together as a system, it's happier. Training the body to work well collectively means that load is shared, communication is upregulated through the whole system, and great efficiency is increased. If load can be spread through a greater portion of tissue, there is less force being absorbed in any one joint or muscle, which is extremely important in building resilient injury free bodies, let alone pregnant ones! This means perform more exercises with the whole body like a squat, as opposed to exercises that aim to train just one body part like a bicep curl.
3. Stop the rib thrust (see the video below)
As the baby grows, your ribs flare out, thrust forward and tilt backwards. While this is a natural part of pregnancy, it can place heavy load on the abdominal fascia, and it’s important to practice dropping the ribs so that your fascial system has the ability to go in, and out of this posture to prevent abdominal separation, or Diastasis Recti. A permanent posterior rib tilt can cause problems up and down the chain, like pelvic floor or breathing dysfunction, ankle, neck and shoulder issues. For this reason it's a good idea to avoid too much overhead work (as the arms lift they will often increase the lumbar lordosis curve) or other positions like being prone or on all fours, which often loads the lumbar spine and encourages the rib thrust position.
4. Load inner thighs and outer hip /glutes
The big toe, inner seam of the calf and the adductors (inner thigh) are a highway to the pelvic floor, and this important area needs variable loading to put healthy loads on the pelvic tissue. With the ever-changing centre of gravity in pregnancy, this area can get very stuck, which puts strain on the pelvic floor as well as interfering with breathing, digestion and posture. Keep this area moving well for a comfortable pain free pregnancy, a healthy labour and baby, and speedy post-natal recovery.
As the pelvis changes to accommodate a baby, a mothers hips become more externally rotated (her toes point out to make space for the bump), and the outer hip area can become stuck this way. When the feet are externally rotated, the glutes become shortened, and the arch of the foot flattens into pronation. When the outer hip becomes tight and stuck, it will compromise pelvic floor health. Keeping the bum muscles working creates a healthy pelvic floor!
A healthy posture can accommodate multiple positions, and it’s important to load the outer hip in basic movements like lunges, or squats to hydrate, strengthen and mobilise the outer hip.
The more we can change the foot position subtly, the greater the health of the tissue, this means simply tuning a toe slightly in or out to create a global change and enhancement.
5. Train uneven angles to pick up baby
It’s estimated that a new mother picks up her baby an average of 58 times per day. So train for it by picking up heavy objects in different positions and angles so your body is ready for the task ahead! Performing this move could look like a ground to standing drill where you sit to stand which is fantastic for greater circulation and training for life! It may also be picking up a weight and placing it on a bench in an awkward angle, which mums may need to do as they carry the baby in one arm, and perform tasks with the other hand. Being a mum isn't a symmetrical task, so train with unusual angels to enhance your ability to adapt.
6. Practice getting up and down
Ground to standing drills will help pump the lymphatic system and enhance circulation (which often is reduced late in pregnancy.) Prevent waste pooling or pregnancy ‘cankles’ by helping your heart pump all of the extra fluid around your body with a global change in position (like getting up from the floor). All you need to do is get down to the floor, and back up again the more varied ways you do it, the better. Not only will this increase mobility, fascial health and strength, it’s one hell of a workout for a mumma!
Breathe for stress management, and for pelvic floor health! Many of us are chest breathers anyway, which means we use the neck muscles to breath, rather than the purpose built diaphragm. Pregnancy decreases the space in the abdominal cavity, making belly breathing harder. It's important to maintain deep breathing during pregnancy, and a good strategy is to try and breathe in down to the pelvic floor and feel it softly lengthen as the belly and ribs expand. A tight pelvic floor is more common, and problematic than many realise, as tighter, stuck tissue is what causes the lack of resilience and the failure or leakage! Relaxing the pelvic floor is best down with a soft intentional breath, rather than kegels. (Read more about why pelvic floors are often tight, not weak here)
It's also worth mentioning to focus on rhythmical breathing during exercise. Holding your breath creates unnecessary tension. Instead a strong outward breath through the mouth in exertion can be helpful in creating stability, and a subconscious core strengthening effect that enhances pelvic floor.
8. Build resilient collagen
This is best done by following point 2, by training the whole body as a unit. The more segments of the body you train at once, the longer and stronger collagen bonds you create, knitting your fascial web strong. A strong collagen network means decreased wrinkles, stretch marks, abdominal separation and cellulite. Performing fascial release helps hydrate stuck segments of fascial tissue so that you can move and feel better. In pregnancy soft fascial release or traction foam rolling is best to avoid pain. Key areas that often need greater movement enhancement are the sole of the foot, the outside shin (fibular head), inner and outer thigh, and lateral rib cage.
At out studio we also use powerplate vibration on our pregnant clients to optimise circulation and hydration to the fascia tissue. Vibration training helps release stuck areas, decrease pain and supercharge circulation, and our pregnant clients can't get enough of it on their calves and inner thighs!
9. Eat to support yourself and your baby
This cannot be emphasised enough. Growing a baby is a responsibility, and not only are you what you eat, you are now growing a baby from what you eat! Avoiding inflammatory foods like sugar, vegetable oils, soy, grains and processed junk food is essential. These foods will negatively impact a babies development and often cause issues with gut health and detoxification, as well as driving up inflammation and likely creating pain and discomfort during pregnancy and labour.
Vegetable oils and sugar in particular are well documented for degrading your fascial and cellular health. While many pregnant women have cravings, it really isn't a normal phenomenon, and often happens due to nutrient deficiencies or blood sugar irregularities because the last meal perhaps wasn't ideal. Eating these inflammatory foods during pregnancy will only cause more cravings! If cravings are happening, seek to increase nutrient quality with nutrient dense and satisfying foods like fats like macadamia, olive oil, butter, grass fed and pasture raised meats, fish, dark leafy greens, eggs and organ meats.
10. Train barefoot
Circulation is often a struggle for many mothers, particularly in the 3rd trimester when fluid tends to pool around the lower legs. For this reason it's great to train barefoot to help move all of the foot more deeply. In addition barefoot training helps build more resilient strength and balance, and seeing as the big toe runs directly to the pelvic floor through fascia, we need to make sure it's moving well for pelvic health. The arch of the foot has global effects up the chain, and creating a strong foot with barefoot training, provides you with a more stable base of support during your changing center of gravity in pregnancy.
We adore training pregnant women and sharing the precious journey with them along the way. We have seen the above factors make a tremendous difference to our clients along their journey to labour, and after using powerplate since opening our studio, many new mums can't wait to get their first powerplate release session after giving birth!