5 Great Exercises to Perform During Pregnancy
Written by Therapydia Physical Therapy
We all know of the many benefits of exercise—improved overall health, energy, mobility, etc.—but how are these benefits affected during pregnancy? Does carrying a child change how the body reacts? Does exercise efficiency help more than those going to work?
We’re going to explore how exercise changes with pregnancy and provide some tips and guidelines for pregnancy exercises. Even though your body is changing, that doesn’t mean exercise has to stop or that its benefits are lessened. In fact, pregnancy exercises can be as important – if not more so – at this time! Even with social distancing, there are home exercises ideal for keeping you active and healthy as your pregnancy progresses.
Body Changes During Pregnancy Affect How You Exercise
During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is released which, among other functions, causes the body’s ligaments to relax. This is good for the pelvis during pregnancy and delivery but can make the body more susceptible to joint injuries (such as ankle sprains) due to the increased laxity. This is why performing certain strengthening and stability pregnancy exercises both before giving birth and beyond is so beneficial. Paying attention to the body’s core by performing core exercises is necessary, too. The more work you do while pregnant, the less time it takes after giving birth to get back to “normal”. These exercises don’t always require equipment, but back and core exercises are essential for improved overall health.
Seeing your physical therapist prior to and after pregnancy is a great injury and pain prevention step to take as it allows you to learn the best pregnancy stretches and exercises for your body and lifestyle.
The Benefits of Pregnancy Exercises
The increased heart rate experienced during exercise while pregnant is good for overall blood flow throughout the body. This, in turn, helps the developing baby. A huge bonus of keeping active while pregnant is that you’ll build overall muscle strength. This helps your body to support the normal weight gain of pregnancy. Pregnancy exercises can also help to maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugars. Some women choose physical therapy during pregnancy, which allows them to learn the proper technique. It also gives them a chance to get used to the non-physical benefits of exercise.
Some of these include:
- Improved sleep
- Better mental focus
- More energy
Pregnancy Exercise Guidelines
So, how much should a healthy pregnant woman exercise? The truth is, pregnancy exercise guidelines vary and the answer depends largely on how active the woman was prior to getting pregnant. It also depends on what these women have time to do. Holidays, summer vacations, periods where extra work is necessary… they can all derail the availability of exercise time.
Don’t let this happen!
The typical advice is that a woman should keep up her current level of activity. For example, if she’s used to going to the gym five days per week performing cardio and strength training, then it’s a good idea to keep that up.
On the flip side, if a woman has not been active, then pregnancy is a good time to make exercise a priority in her life, albeit gently. (Word to the wise: If you haven’t done a particular form of exercise or activity but want to start while you’re pregnant, it’s advised to consult your OBGYN or physical therapist prior to commencing pregnancy stretches or exercises.)
It’s good to at least keep up moderate activities to avoid excessive weight gain, low energy levels, or other musculoskeletal issues associated with pregnancy. Something as simple as walking daily can carry massive benefits for your health. Healthy hamstrings, feet, legs, and knees are important for women that are getting ready to give birth.
What’s really important though is not to over-do it. It’s actually not a bad idea to use a heart rate monitor to make sure that your body is okay with the level of aerobic activity. Too much exercise can increase the risk of injury (mainly due to changes in the ligaments) so trusting your instincts is key. Being pregnant isn’t an excuse to skip out on things like spin class, cycling, running, or even aerobics.
Just be sure that the exercises you pick are the right ones for your stage of pregnancy.
If a certain pregnancy back exercise or another type of activity doesn’t feel right, causes pain or discomfort, or if you have trouble breathing, it’s important to stop and consult your OBGYN or physical therapist. If you’re looking to keep your body moving while pregnant, the following pregnancy exercises you can do at home are a good place to start.
TrA (Transverse Abdominis) Abdominal Set
This pregnancy exercise targets your deepest abdominal layer. This muscle acts like a corset for your lumbar spine and pelvis. Learning how to contract this well by practicing the above pregnancy exercise in your second or third trimester will enable you to contract your “core” and feel more stable throughout the day with your activities.
Lie with hips and knees bent. Slowly inhale and then exhale. Pull navel toward spine and hold for 3-5 seconds. Rest for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
This pregnancy stretch covers a lot of key muscles for postural health while promoting healthy spine motion. It predominantly targets your cervical, thoracic and lumbar paraspinal muscles.
Start on hands and knees with a flat back and a tucked chin. Extend one leg while raising the opposite arm. Don’t let your back arch or your hips twist. Pretend you’re balancing a glass of water on your low back. Keep your abdominals tight. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times, switching from side to side and keep your movements slow and controlled.
This pregnancy back exercise targets your upper back muscles while cueing good scapular mobility and position for healthy posture. A resisted row also forces you to sue your abdominal muscles to stabilize and support your back. This is a great pregnancy exercise for the third trimester in order to improve strength to counter your expanding belly.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Anchor a resistance band or tube around something at about waist height. Holding the two ends, face the anchor and slowly pull your arms back while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly release. Repeat 15 times. 2 sets.
This exercise predominantly works your quadriceps muscles. This is a great pregnancy exercise for at home to get your legs strong throughout your term. Strong legs help to support your back as well as make walking, stairs, sit-to-stand and squatting easier. the stronger you are, the more likely you’ll be to avoid neck and knee pain later.
Leaning on a wall, slowly lower buttocks until thighs are parallel to the floor. Put your weight through your heels. Keep an upright posture with your shoulders against the wall. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Tighten thigh muscles and return. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
This pregnancy exercise targets the gluteus medius which is a very important hip stabilizer muscle. It helps keep our pelvis stable and level with walking. It also indirectly supports the low back and reduces stress to the low back with walking and running. A hip flexor stretch is useful, low impact, and doesn’t require additional equipment to perform.
Exercising is good for all of us and when you’re pregnant, it can make you a lot more comfortable. Plus, it’s good for the developing baby for so many reasons!
It’s recommended that you do post-pregnancy exercises like kegels after giving birth. This strengthens the pelvic floor, so you may want to learn proper technique for these before the baby comes – just to prepare yourself. Many people only associate physical therapy and exercise with injuries or conditions where strengthening the body seems essential. However, pregnancy exercises, exercise for Alzheimer’s patients, athletic exercise or simply exercising to promote overall health are important, too.
If you have more questions about pregnancy exercises or guidelines, use the BetterPT clinic location tool website or download the mobile app to find a suitable physical therapy clinic near you. Telehealth is also an option for those that don’t want to seek in-clinic care. You can request appointments with quality clinics like Therapydia Physical Therapy and feel great during pregnancy!