Exercise during pregnancy has numerous benefits for mom and baby. It can help you navigate three trimesters with strength and comfort, while also helping you prepare for the demands of labor and motherhood. ACOG recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, as well as strength training as a recommended form of exercise too.
Exercise during pregnancy may help with:
- Decreased pain and comfort, including back pain
- Improved comfort and strength during pregnancy
- Faster labor (likely due to being able to maintain an upright position and continue moving)
- Decreased likelihood of prenatal complications such as gestational diabetes or hypertension
- Promotes healthy weight gain
- Eases constipation
- Boosts mood and energy levels
There are also numerous benefits to baby.
As you continue exercising throughout pregnancy there may come a time where not every movements feels great, but you may or may not need to completely omit the movement from the program. I found I needed to make a few swaps during my second or third trimesters, which is OK.
When to make modifications during Pregnancy
As the belly grows there’s A TON going with your body. You may also find your belly starts to impede your bar bath or makes it challenging to get into certain positions. That is a great sign to modify the movement rather than try to maneuver the weight around the belly and compromise form, or your low back.
In general, if something doesn’t feel great anymore – that’s a sign to back off. Other signs?
– Pressure or pulling out on the midline (or obvious coning)
– Pressure or heaviness down on the pelvic floor
– Bleeding or pain (please call your provider)
Seven ways to Modify Exercises during Pregnancy
Make room for the Belly
This will be the first modification needed during pregnancy. As the belly grows it starts to impede hip flexion. When we bend over / hinge the belly hits our thighs. In response we may try to curl to complete the movement, but this brings our body out of neutral and puts our low back in a non-optimal position. Our goal is a maintain a neutral stacked body position while lifting.
1. Widen your Stance: For something like a squat or deadlift, widen your stance. For a deadlift I love a sumo option.
2. Elevate it: Bring the ground closer to you. This is a great option for deadlifts or face down (prone) positions. For a deadlift, you can use blocks or bumper plates to set the bar higher. This switch decreases the range of motion and makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine. For a plank type movement I encourage moms to move towards a higher surface, such as an incline bench/chair or wall for additional support.
Pregnancy is often considered a time of instability as the body and pelvis prepare for delivery. As pregnancy progresses we want to take a closer look at the stability demands of the movement, and potentially make a few swaps (varies by person). If you find that your form is being compromised, you’re experiencing pelvic girdle pain, having a hard time managing your breath, or experience any leaking, pressure, or doming, then we need to switch it up.
3. Switch up equipment: Swap a barbell for free weights and bands. Once the belly grows it can be VERY challenging to maintain a stacked body position with a barbell on your back. Using dumbbells also add an element of instability and challenge.
4. Increase Support with props: Add props! I love using yoga blocks, pillows/bolsters, and suspension straps to give mamas a little extra support during movements. An example would include holding onto something sturdy while completing single leg movements, like a single leg deadlift or lunge.
We can also increase support by limiting movement of the feet. Instead of a walking lunge, we can move to a reverse lunge (one foot moves), static lunge (no feet move), to a squat (no feet move, bilateral movement). This also leads to number five.
5. Change your position: Standing, split stance, tall kneeling, half kneeling, side lying. A ton of options here. Standing is typically the most challenging, so give the movement a try in a different positions and see how that feels.
Example above: tall kneeling
6. Bilateral / Unilateral Swaps: If you’re struggling with pelvic pain, this is a great option. Instead of a weighted lunge, opt for a Single Arm Racked squat instead. You’ll still get the benefits of a unilateral movement with added core challenge 🙂 As you progress in pregnancy a great option is to place an elevated surface behind you for support/as a target.
One big to remember is we do not want to experience pain or discomfort with a movement. This is a sign we need to do something different. If you cannot find a variation that works with your body, then I recommend omitting the movement for now.
Another thing to keep an eye out for are movements associated with pressure management issues, such as coning through the midline and heaviness and bearing down on the pelvic floor. These issues can lead to a more severe Diastasis Recti, Pelvic Organ Prolapse (or ramp up symptoms), hernias, and leaking. I recommend seeking the support of a coach and Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist if you’re unsure.
Lastly, number seven.
7. Remove weight altogether – yes, I said it. It’s OK to work with lighter weight or none at all.
We can still continue to train, but in a way that supports our body where it is today. As Brianna Battles says, “Intention now for Intensity Later.”
Questions about training through pregnancy? I offer 1:1 support in San Diego, or virtually. I’d love to chat.
As always, feel good mama.