By Megan Thole
The most daunting idea of exercising during pregnancy,especially first time pregnancies, is not knowing how much exercise to do and at what intensity to exercise in order to keep herself and her little one safe; as well as knowing how to utilize exercise as a means to feeling great . This uncertainty can lead to total avoidance of exercise, which is not necessary and ultimately doing a disservice to both mom and baby. I’m going to address this aspect of training in this article.
Training intensity guidelines
As a general guideline, maintain a heart rate of not higher than 135-140 bpm (beats per minute) while exercising. If you don’t have use of a heart rate monitor, never train to a point of breathlessness i.e. you should always be able to hold a conversation with someone. If you are at a point where you are gasping for air, so is your little one and he/she is being deprived of oxygen, so it is essential to avoid this. Bare in mind that this is just a guideline, genetically not everyone trains at the same heart rate for the same work intensity…so you may find that your point of fatigue is at 125 bpm and someone else’s is at 140 bpm, use this as your reference to guide your workout intensity. Don’t try and push yourself to 140 bpm when you are breathless at a much lower heart rate, and alternatively, don’t panic if you are training at 140bpm and are feeling fine.
Another consideration is that your body goes through a significant amount of change constantly and therefore your training intensity will vary from one day to the next, this is affected by a number of factors i.e stress levels, food & water intake, amount of sleep you get the night before as well as how far you are in your pregnancy. The key factor is to listen to your body and adjust your training according to how you are feeling on the day. On a ‘bad day’ your heart rate will increase faster & recover slower, on these days take it easy & focus on stretching & core exercises. On a ‘good day’ you will be able to do a lot more during your exercise session with less heart rate fluctuations, so take advantage of these days and optimise your workouts. Don’t beat yourself up on the days when you just cannot handle much, don’t push yourself as you would on other days – remember that exercise is a means to optimise your lifestyle and wellbeing, overtraining is achieving the complete opposite!!
A few exercise guidelines for those ‘bad days’ to minimize increases in heart rate:
- Avoid upper body exercises above shoulder height
- Select exercises in the seated position (on a ball, seat or bench) or lying down
Do machines rather than functional exercises, for example: do the leg press machine instead of squats or step ups
- Take advantage of this time to perform those essential Kegal and core exercises as well as stretches. Do not under estimate the importance of these aspects of your training routine!!
Reduce the intensity (level) and duration of your cardio. The recumbant (seated) bicycle and moderate intensity walking are good options
- Increase rest periods
A few guidleines for those ‘good days’ to optimize your workout:
- Include functional exercises such as squats, step ups and lunges
- Include more upper body exercises
- Include more cardio into your workout i.e. longer duration and at a higher intensity (according to your tolerance). Include modes such as the Cross trainer/Orbitrek, traditional upright bicycle (not in third trimester), high intensity walking or jogging (if tolerated), rowing
You can include super sets (for example squats with push ups and tricep dips) or combination training (For example lunges with bicep curls)
Your body is signaling that it’s had enough if you experience:
- Heart palpitations (your heart pounding in your chest)
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in your back or pelvis
Always keep in mind that at this stage exercising should enhance your quality of life and optimize your well being, enjoy it and most of all LISTEN TO YOUR BODY to achieve these benifits!