Should I train during my pregnancy? This is a question I’ve been asked by many mums-to-be, on the one hand they have heard that training can be good for both themselves and their babies and on the other hand they have heard all kinds of stories about how dangerous it can be.
The truth is training while pregnant can not only improve your physical strength and energy levels but also improve your mood and mental health. Having stronger muscles will make your pregnancy physically easier to cope with as well as making the delivery easier too due to stronger core muscles and a higher pain threshold, not to mention the fact that as any mother can tell you, we don’t stop carrying our babies after they are born.
Health benefits for both mother and baby
In addition many recent studies have even documented a positive correlation between training in mother’s and the physical and mental health of their babies, including higher birth weights. For those of us who love to train regularly or have been involved in training for a while, being pregnant can actually have some real advantages especially during the first trimester while we are still relatively mobile, at no other time in our adult lives do we have so many hormones that are so conducive to strength and muscle gains coursing through our bodies as we do when we are pregnant, so much so that for this reason back in the 1980s Olympic Soviet athletes have actually been known to get pregnant on purpose just before an Olympic event. Should I train during my pregnancy? The answer is a resounding yes!
Be careful with flexibility
One of the hormones produced by our pregnant bodies is called relaxin and it does exactly what it sounds like it would: it causes our muscles and convective tissue to relax and become more flexible. This is necessary for obvious reasons and is generally a good thing especially if you are an Olympic gymnast, the only downside is that it can lead to hyper mobility in some of your joints, notably knees and elbows, making them more susceptible to injury. This is by no means the end of the world and injury can easily be avoided by simply not locking out on pressing exercises like bench press, overhead press etc, as well as by not locking your knees while doing any weight baring exercise like squats for example.
How about squats during pregnancy?
The other big question I get asked is should I squat? My answer is yes, if you already squat, enjoy squatting and can do it without any pain. As a general rule of thumb when pregnant, as soon as anything starts to hurt or feel uncomfortable simply stop doing it – this could also be said even if you’re not pregnant. I don’t mean our good old friend normal muscular pain that we get from pushing our muscles during a set, and I admit that for those of us who didn’t train before they were pregnant this might be a slightly harder distinction to make. What I am talking about is any pain that is very sharp or acute that occurs during a set and/or continues well after the set is finished, or any pain located in the joint rather than the muscle. Learning how to preform a squat safely and properly can be difficult enough for many of us even when we aren’t pregnant, so for that reason I don’t recommend learning to squat while pregnant, especially heavily pregnant.
What about abs?
The other area that seems to give pause to many pregnant women is around the area of abdominal training, I can understand that it seems to make sense that because I have abdominals I need to “soften” and stretch in order to make room for our growing babies, training them might somehow hinder that process. Nothing could be further from the truth – if you want to avoid injury from the stress of carrying your baby to term and do it with the minimal amount of stress and strain on your spine then you will need a good strong core, and the stronger the better, not only that, but what do you think will be called upon when it comes time to deliver? You guessed it – core.
From a practical point of view there comes a point in every pregnancy redirect abdominal training is simply not going to happen and that can occur sooner in some of us than others. For me personally the end of the first trimester is about my limit, but remember the core isn’t just the muscles in the rectus abdominis, it’s all the muscles around your midsection. They all get used as stabilizers in all sorts of exercises so don’t think that just because you can’t do crunches you aren’t helping to strengthen your core.
Lastly, some women think that training abs can cause an abdominal DR, which is the gap that we sometimes get between the abs while pregnant. The truth is that abdominal training in the first trimester can actually help you avoid a DR. So in a nutshell there are many benefits and no downsides to training while pregnant for you and your baby if done correctly. Happy training!
By Raechelle Chase IFBB Pro Figure Athlete, Myprotein Athlete. Fitness Model & Mamma of soon to be 5 children!