Everything You EVER Wanted to Know About Exercising During Pregnancy

Disclaimer: I feel the need to put a disclaimer on this post and let you know I am by no means a medical professional. I am however a mother, certified personal trainer, and yoga instructor. What I am sharing is based on my own research and experience. This post also contains affiliate links. 

I am in my third trimester of pregnancy with my third baby. Never thought I would type that, to see why watch VASECTOMIES, FOSTER PARENTING, & A PREGNANCY TESTOver the last 5 years of being pregnant three times I have learned as much as could about pregnancy and exercise.

I am a certified personal trainer, and yoga instructor, and also a nutrition coach. I also know there are many trainers and fitness professionals in the world who have way more knowledge than I do but don’t have the experience of having been pregnant three times. Here is what I have learned over the last several years about exercising while pregnant.

Your First Pregnancy is NOT the Same as Your Second (or Third)

Your first pregnancy is amazing for many reasons. You can nap when you are tired being one of them. But in all seriousness, during your first pregnancy your body is being stretched for the first time in a new way. Your muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, and bones have never had the pressure of carrying and holding a baby before.

My first pregnancy I exercised very similarly to how I was exercising before I become pregnant. I adopted the motto “If you were doing it before you were pregnant it is safe to do the same while pregnant“. While this may be true for certain activities I wish I would have had more knowledge of what exactly I was doing to my body.

During my first pregnancy I did lots of yoga. I was already very flexible before pregnancy and with the added hormones I became even more flexible. I don’t think yoga is necessarily a bad way to move while pregnant, but I do think you need to be extra cautious about the poses that you do.

When I became pregnant the second time I was shocked by how my body felt. I was so uncomfortable. I couldn’t do even half of what I had been able do when I was pregnant the first time.

The best way I can describe multiple pregnancies on your body is to think of a deflated balloon. The first time you attempt to blow air into the balloon it will feel like you are going to pass out. The balloon has never been inflated before. The next time it is inflated you don’t have to work as hard.

With the body the same thing happens. The fascia surrounding the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs has already been manipulated in the same way previously making it easier to move, which is good and bad. Your body was made to adapt to pregnancy, but if you already have instability in areas of the body they will become even more noticeable and potentially problematic for you.

Hire a Trained Professional

These people are worth the money. Trust me. I spent several months working with a physical therapist after having my second baby and was so sad when I was recovered because I wanted to keep working with him.

While my physical therapist was a male and had obviously never been pregnant he had way more training than a personal trainer and could evaluate the imbalances in my body.

Personal trainers are wonderful. I am certified personal trainer. But our scope of knowledge is limited. We do not have the same training as a physical therapist.

Most insurance plans will cover multiple physical therapy visits. If you have been pregnant and something in your body still does not feel right these are great professionals to go and see.

Diastasis Recti & Healing Your Pelvic Floor after Baby

Women who have given birth – can we just get a moment of silence for all the times we have accidentally peed our pants during a workout. Jump ropes, box jumps, and jumping jacks, I am specifically looking at you. If this is you, there is a solid chance your body has yet to fully recover from having a baby.

Looks can be deceiving. Your tummy might be flat at 6 weeks postpartum but that doesn’t mean that your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles have fully healed.

I mention this because the way you exercise while pregnant can worsen your abdominal separation. Don’t be like me and let your ego get in the way! It isn’t worth it. Again, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

No matter how many months or even years it has been since having a baby there is hope to heal your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles!I highly recommend the MuTu System for those wanting to heal their core and pelvic floor after giving birth. You can read about my experience with the Mutu System HERE.

Exercises to Avoid While Pregnant

These are the exercises I see recommended by trainers or #fitspo #fitmom Instagrammers that literally make me want to cry. Please, please, please if you are pregnant avoid these exercises. It is only for 9 months of your life and I promise your body will thank you in the years to come.

Even if these exercises can be performed it doesn’t mean that they should. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Your body is going to change while you are pregnant. Abdominal separation is normal and how you exercise while you are pregnant can improve your recovery after pregnancy.

LUNGES

Most of us, personal trainers included, do not always have perfect form when exercising. For this reason alone, my advice is to avoid lunges after the first trimester. Be very careful with any unilateral exercise, like lunges, during pregnancy because of the risk of low back, hip and knee issues. In my opinion this exercise is not worth the risk of developing imbalances in the body.

Pregnancy Safe Alternative: Squats

Squats are great during pregnancy, just make sure that you have your feet and knees fairly narrow, narrower than you may have done them before, and ensure that you keep your knees in line with your feet. This is to protect your knees and hips, which are more vulnerable during pregnancy because of the horemone relaxin. Also, if you feel too much strain on your back, use a stability ball on a wall for support.

PLANKS & PUSHUPS

Planks and Pushups are beneficial exercises to do, but need to be done mindfully. You can place your hands on a bench, table, stairs, or even against the wall to modify this exercise. Planks should be avoided after the first trimester.

Pushups can be modified during the entire pregnancy. When you look at your midsection while you are doing this you should see more of a gradually rounding. If you see a bulge in the middle elevate your hands further from the floor. There is no shame elevating your pushup.

Pregnancy Safe Alternative: Bird Dog & TRX Chest Press

Bird Dog: Come to a hands and knees position on an exercise mat positioning your knees underneath your hips and the crease of your wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your fingers should be pointing forward. Engage your core and abdominal muscles. Keep your spine in a neutral position, avoid any excessive sagging or arching. Pull the shoulder blades toward your hips. In this exercise you are attempting to move the opposite arm and leg simultaneously. It is very helpful to use a mirror to help you with form adjustments. Begin by slowly lengthening the left leg until it is long and strong. Lift the leg off the floor until it is at or near parallel to the floor. The leg should not be lifted above hip height. This will help to avoid upward rotation at the hip. That might be enough. If it feels comfortable you can lift the right arm as well. Another option is to lift the leg and arm separately and switch sides.

TRX Chest Press: Grab the handles and take a step forward on one leg. Keeping your body in a straight line and both arms straight, lean froward until your body is at about a 40 degree angle. Bend the elbows and lower your body. Use your arms to push yourself back to the starting position.

trx-chest-press

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SITUPS, CRUNCHES, AND OTHER ABDOMINAL EXERCISES

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists the average distribution of weight gain during pregnancy is 30 pounds. This increase in weight causes internal pressure inside of the abdominal cavity. The pressure is upward, downward, and outward and is what creates the abdominal separation. The entire core of the body, glutes, ribs, pelvic floor, and the deeper core musculature become unstable.

This can lead to low back pain, pelvic pain, incontinence, prolapse and urinary urgency/frequency. Women who have abdominal separation also tend to have a higher degree of pelvic floor and abdominal pain.

Avoid these all together.

BOX JUMPS

As mentioned before pregnant women release a hormone called Relaxin which causes ligaments to be looser and can affect balance. Therefore, movements such as box jumps should be avoided after the first trimester. Plus they really don’t feel all that great anyway when you are pregnant.

LOWER BODY UNILATERAL MOVEMENTS

Now some trainers will tell you that lower body unilateral movements (lunges, single leg deadlifts, etc.) are an excellent way to train the body while pregnant. Their reason is that these exercises are great stabilizers and improve balance. I do not disagree that these are great exercises, but I cannot recommend them during pregnancy. It is better to keep both feet together and under the hips for improved balance and stability during pregnancy than it is to try and improve your overall balance and stability. Your chance of injury is higher with these types of movements and they should be avoided, especially after the first trimester.

TWISTING MOVEMENTS

Don’t twist or compress your abdomen torso and spine. No twisting yoga poses. Just don’t do it.

RUNNING

I have some friends who can run while they are pregnant. Personally, I feel like my body is falling apart mid stride and the next day I can barely walk. I learned during my second pregnancy that running and pregnancy, at least for me, are not a great combination. Running is very high impact.

The best prenatal exercise routine is to perform exercises that are low impact and will not create further imbalances in your body. Don’t be afraid to lift weights, increase your heart rate, and work up a sweat! These are all great things for you do.

Exercise Intensity, Heart Rate, & Rate of Perceived Exertion

Over the years the recommendations issued by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) on pregnancy and exercise intensity have dramatically changed:

  • 1985: The ACOG issues a statement that the maximum heart rate during pregnancy should not exceed 140 beats per minute and women should not participate in strenuous exercise for more than 15 minutes.
  • 1994: A new statement is released removing specific limitations regarding exercise during pregnancy. The ACOG said, ‘‘there is no data in humans to indicate that pregnant women should limit exercise intensity and lower target heart rate because of adverse effects.’’ They still recommended that women avoid exhaustion during exercise.
  • 2002: The ACOG published ‘‘Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: ACOG Committee Opinion 267.’’ In this paper, the ACOG Committee recognizes that ‘‘in the absence of contraindications, pregnant women should be encouraged to engage in regular, moderate intensity physical activity to continue to derive health benefits during their pregnancy as they did prior to their pregnancy.’’

It has been many years since the maximum heart rate during pregnancy was recommended not to exceed 140 beats per minute. If a doctor or trainer tells you otherwise there is a good chance they are sharing outdated information. What you want to be mindful of is not allowing your body to become overheated to the point that it can not cool itself down.

If you regularly exercise with a heart rate monitor you can continue to do so while pregnant or you can evaluate your intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), or how you feel based on a scale from one to ten. As a general rule, keep your RPE in the 5-6 range during pregnancy workouts.

Your 5-6 RPE pre-pregnancy will not feel the same as your 5-6 while you are pregnant. During pregnancy the body produces more blood and the heart works harder to circulate the excess. The increase in blood is responsible for fatigue, nausea and dizziness during the first trimester.

General Tips for Exercising while Pregnant

Remember to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise. Dealing with dehydration is not fun when you are pregnant. I learned this the hard way with my second pregnant and ended up in the hospital twice.

Find out what works best for you. For me and my third pregnancy this has looked liked swimming laps, incline walking on the treadmill, lifting weights, and stretching.

Once you reach the third trimester be extra cautious and careful with your movements. During your final weeks of pregnancy your uterus is 500 times its normal size. You’re carrying around an extra 20 to 40 pounds, making even the simplest movements a workout. Enter the gym with zero ego to ensure you are as safe as possible.

Properly warm up and cool down as this will help to reduce the risk of injury.

If you feel dizzy or lightheaded at any time discontinue your current activity and give your body time to recover. This will happen sometimes due to increased blood flow.

High risk activities should be avoided. If you road bike avoid the risk of becoming off balanced by finding a indoor cycle class. Any risk or trauma that could potentially happen to the abdomen should be placed on hold until after you deliver.

Be mindful of the amount of time you spend on your back. The added weight of the baby can place more stress on your spine.

Dealing with varicose veins? Be sure to read the following post Varicose Veins & Pregnancy for more on this topic.

Wear comfortable clothes that aren’t overly tight especially around your waist. My favorites include: Lululemon Studio Pants, Lucy Get Going Pants, Reebok Studio Pants, Lululemon Tech Shirts, and Reebok Burnout Shirts.

Hopefully this post was helpful and encouraging to you! Let me know what you think. How was your experience exercising while pregnant?

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MuTu System 12 Week Online Program Review

MuTu System 12 Week Online Program ReviewThis is not a sponsored review. I purchased the MuTu System 12 Week Online Program with my own money and have not been compensated for this post. I highly recommend this program and because I loved it so much I became an affiliate. This means that if you purchase this product from my links I will earn a small comission. Thank you for helping to support this blog and our family.

When I was nearing the end of my second pregnancy I started to research how I wanted to strengthen and allow my body to heal after childbirth. I knew going into this pregnancy that my core just wasn’t the same as at had been since the birth of my first child. Planks in particular really caused me to struggle. I couldn’t figure out why I had this annoying cone shaped bulge in the middle of my torso whenever I would engage my core in planks or in yoga while on my mat, like in boat pose.

After having my babies I didn’t realize how greatly my body would be impacted and forever changed. I can remember teaching a yoga class 2 months after my son was born and showing a transition from lunge to side plank that just about took my breath away. I felt like my pelvic floor was ripping in half and had to drop down to my knees to recover.

Let me first say, being pregnant and giving birth is an amazing miracle and I am so thankful that both my babies were born healthy. For those of you reading this who are struggling with infertility my heart breaks for you and my prayer is that you will be able to experience the joy of being a parent in the future. Please know, I am not trying to tell a story of how hard pregnancy is or how horrible labor was at all but instead only want to convey that pregnancy does do some crazy things to your body.

It is so important to take care of yourself after giving birth. I strongly encourage anyone reading this who is thinking about becoming pregnant, currently pregnant, or just had a baby to allow your body time to heal. I love running, high impact exercises, and plyo workouts (think of exercises like squat jumps, burprees, and jumping lunges) but since Maisie was born (she is 17 weeks old today) I have not done any of those things. Eventually I will run and do burpees again but for now I am content with what I am able to accomplish with my body and that each day I am getting stronger and healthier.

ANATOMY OF THE ABS

If you have had a baby you might be one of the many women who have no idea that their abdominal muscles have separated and are still separated. Did you know that this could even happen? I had no idea until after I gave birth to Caden. As a personal trainer this was nothing I even learned about in my course work.

Take a look at the Rectus Abdominis both before and during pregnancy…

Diastasis-Recti-V3-720x484

The Linea Alba, the connective tissue between the right and left half of the Rectus Abdominis, stretches to accommodate the growing baby. For some women the gap closes naturally on its own. For others the connective tissue has become overly stretched and aggravated that it does not heal properly which leaves the new mama with an unwanted belly bulge months and even years after her bundle of joy has arrived. And for a mama who has multiple pregnancies the gap can become noticeably wider each time.

This gap is known as Diastasis Recti.

YOU CAN HAVE A FLAT TUMMY

While I do have a small amount of diastasis recti I have found that in order to encourage my tummy to become flat I can’t just focus on abdominal work.

Why you ask?

Because it will not re-train the core and pelvic floor. Crunches, sit-ups, and various other abdominal exercises will only put increased internal pressure on the abdominal wall and never allow you to achieve the tummy you want. No mom wants to have low back pain, an unstable core, a tummy that sticks out, and a pelvic floor that doesn’t work properly. Instead you must focus on adjusting your body’s alignment and stretch and strengthen your muscles to get a strong functioning core and pelvic floor.

The big question everyone asks is how do I do this?

Your body is a system. Everything works together. Muscles work together to support each other. So instead of only focusing on one part of the problem the entire system that supports your midsection needs to be addressed.

If you are looking for a way to heal, re-train, improve, and strengthen your core the MuTu System is the perfect program for you.

There are several programs available that focus on healing diastasis recti. I have looked into many of them. By far the best program that I have found and that I support is the MuTu System. The creator Wendy Powell is simply amazing. This program focuses on retraining the muscles in the body, healing the mommy tummy, and correcting the internal pressure.

You can get a free video with Wendy’s top 10 ab exercises by signing up on her website (top right corner).

The Mutu System offers several different programs, DVD + online training. I have the 12 week online program and love it! It never expires and I am currently doing it right now.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

In order to do this program you will need the following items:

I used 8 pound weights for this program. I would recommend starting off with 5 pounds if you haven’t been exercising consistently and also getting a heavier and lighter resistance band so you can make your workouts more challenging as you progress each week.

Mutu System also just released their own MuTu Kit Bag that contains a resistance band, loop + small ball. Everything you need to get going with our programs. You will only need to purchase your weights separately.

WHAT’S THE 12 WEEK ONLINE PROGRAM LIKE?

Watch this trailer for a detailed look at the 12 week online program…

To be honest, I was skeptical about this program. I mean it sounded great and all, but I really wasn’t expecting to be as challenged as I was or to make a huge difference in my body. Once I started, I couldn’t believe just how weak and unstable my body had become since being pregnant and giving birth. This program has really challenged me. The workouts are fast paced and take 20 minutes total. I love that each week builds off the last and that every exercise progresses just enough that you feel challenged but not enough that it seems impossible.

THE RESULTS

So I know everyone is really big on before and after pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I am as well and will be sharing my 4 Month Body After Update next week pictures included. In case you missed it you can read my Body After Baby: 1 Month Postpartum Update.

I think the biggest benefit of this program, even bigger than how you look, is learning how to improve how your body functions and feels. From day 1 of this program I have noticed improvements in my body and what I am able to do. Lunges were not something I could do easily or comfortably during pregnancy and after giving birth, but a few weeks into the program when lunges were added I could do them. I am so happy!

The abdominal separation that I had after giving birth has been reduced by a finger width. Overall I am stronger and my balance is much better because I am rebuilding core strength and retraining the muscles of and relating directly with my pelvic floor. When I do the core exercises and stretches before bed I have noticed that I do not have to get up to pee 5 times at night because I am learning to relax overly tight muscles and retrain the weaker stabilizers like my glutes and transverse abdominus.

Update: To see my before and after pictures read Body After Baby: 4 Months Postpartum

GET STARTED TODAY, 15% DISCOUNT CODE, & MUTUVATION 2014

Thank you Wendy for your creating this wonderful program! It has been such a blessing to me and I am excited to have been able to share how much I love the MuTu System with my readers.

If you are ready to invest in your health and re-train your core and pelvic floor you can get started today. That is the beauty of using a program that is all online!

Take a glance at the MuTu Store to see which MuTu program is right for you! I personally think the MuTu System 12 Week Online Program is a great choice and will cost you $97 before the discount. Wendy, the creator of the MuTu System, was kind enough to offer a 15% off discount code to all readers of The Workout Mama.

Go and checkout the MuTu System and use the discount code tamara15 to save on your order.

If you live in LA, Houston, Chicago, or New York City you can join Wendy at MuTuVation. MuTuVation will inspire you to think, exercise, move and live in ways that will transform your well-being. If you are a mom this is for you. If you want to learn about the stuff you don’t understand about your body, the stuff you’d like to change about your body, what its OK to feel and look like after you’ve had babies, and whats not OK, and what you can do about it click the image below to find more details on MuTuVation. MuTuVation will be in Los Angeles on October 18th, Houston on October 20th, Chicago on October 22nd, and New York City on October 25th. All events will run from 9.30am until 4.30pm.

 

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on The Workout Mama is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to prescribe, diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is your responsibility to educate yourself and address any health or medical needs you may have with your physician. Please seek professional help when needed.

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The Truth About Diastasis Recti & Healing Your Core

If you did not read last weeks post Prenatal Fitness, Diastasis Recti, & Body After Baby you might want to do that before you read further so you have some background on what it is I am discussing.

Medical Disclaimer: I also feel I need to put a disclaimer on this post and let you know I am by no means a medical professional or a diastasis recti expert. I am however a mother, certified personal trainer, and yoga instructor. What I am sharing is based on my own research and experience.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DIASTASIS RECTI & WHY IT MATTERS

When abdominal separation occurs the rectus abdominis (otherwise lovingly referred to by many as the six-pack muscle) is not the only muscle that is affected. It is however what the majority of people notice. Take a look at this picture of the core musculature.

Core Muscles

Many of these muscles are attached to the same structures. The reason this is important to note is because when a muscle looses its stability it can cause a ripple effect throughout the entire body.

In the case of diastasis recti, the entire core of the body, glutes, ribs, pelvic floor, and the deeper core musculature become unstable. Diastasis recti can lead to low back pain, pelvic pain, incontinence, prolapse and urinary urgency/frequency. Women who have abdominal separation also tend to have a higher degree of pelvic floor and abdominal pain.

Hopefully you are starting to see this is a much bigger issue then just a bulging tummy. Diastasis recti can also alter the function and insertion of the transversus abdominis and external oblique muscles. The transverse abdominis is located under the obliques. It is the deepest abdominal muscle and wraps around your spine for protection and stability. Think of this muscle as your internal girdle. When this muscle is strong and well developed it will tighten and slim your waistline. But when this muscle is weak it will alter the basic function of many other muscles. This alteration in biomechanics and insertion can lead to abdominal trigger points. Trigger points are common causes of urinary urgency, urinary frequency and pelvic pain.

HEALING YOUR CORE

There are many factors that play into healing your body after having a baby. Here is a quick breakdown.

  • By 8-12 weeks postpartum your body has done what it will naturally do on its own. Your uterus has shrunk and whatever amount of abdominal separation you have remaining is most likely where it will stay until you intervene.
  • Adjust your thinking about how you are going to go about healing your body. You need to retrain the muscles that have been affected by birthing your baby. Instead of doing a million sit-ups, which by the way won’t do you any good closing your gap, focus on getting back to the basics. Keep reading to see what program I recommend.
  • While nobody likes to hear it, there are certain factors that will determine your rate of healing such as age, space between pregnancies, weight gain, nutrition, and genetics.
  • Keep in mind that no matter where you are in your post baby journey, maybe you had your baby last week or 10 years ago, there is always a way you can improve. Let me be honest, you might never close your gap completely, but you can always improve it. Don’t give up on yourself.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists the average distribution of weight gain during pregnancy is 30 pounds. This increase in weight causes internal pressure inside of the abdominal cavity. The pressure is upward, downward, and outward and is what creates the abdominal separation. Before any exercise this abdominal pressure needs to be addressed. There are several ways you can start addressing the pressure right now by adjusting the alignment of your body.

I am a huge fan and believer in chiropractic care. If you are local and need the name of a great chiropractor go and see Dr. Jason Taylor. He is awesome! Besides seeing a chiropractor there are several things you can do at home to begin to correct your alignment. How we sit, stand, and hold ourselves everyday can be adjusted to begin fixing this pressure.

How to Adjust The Alignment of Your Body
  1. Resist the urge to tuck your tailbone. Tucking your tailbone shortens the muscles in your pelvic floor and creates more upward pressure in your abdominal cavity.
  2. Stop sucking in your tummy. Gasp! I know right! But listen and hear me out. I promise this is not just crazy talk. When we suck in our belly’s everything that was hanging out has to go somewhere. So by sucking in we cause more downward pressure on the pelvic floor and further weaken those muscles.
  3. Relax your shoulders. Try not to hold tension in your upper body. Our entire musculature is interconnected by fascia and when the body becomes tight or tense in one spot it has a direct correlation on another.
  4. No high heels. When we wear high heeled shoes our alignment shifts forward. Elevating your heels places more of your body’s weight on your toes, which causes your body, particularly your pelvis, to tilt forward. To compensate and stay upright, you unconsciously lean backward and overarch your back, creating a posture that can strain your knees, hips, and low back.
  5. Find and work the transverse abdominis. Keep reading to see what program I recommend. I will also do a separate post on why this muscle is so important.
  6. Avoid exercises that open the gap. To see what to avoid read my last post: Prenatal Fitness, Diastasis Recti, & Body After Baby.

There are several programs available that focus on healing diastasis recti. I have looked into many of them. By far the best program that I have found and that I support is the Mutu System. The creator Wendy Powell is simply amazing. This program focuses on retraining the muscles in the body, healing the mommy tummy, and correcting the internal pressure.

You can get a free video with Wendy’s top 10 ab exercises by signing up on her website (top right corner).

The Mutu System offers several different programs, DVD + online training. I have the 12 week online program and love it! It never expires and I am currently doing it right now, even during pregnancy. I will also be doing this program after baby girl is born.

 

I want to thank all of you for reading, commenting, and e-mailing me on this topic. It is nice to know that this information is helpful to you! If you are still wanting more information on diastasis recti please look into Wendy’s program. She is an expert on this topic and has spent years developing the Mutu System to help women reclaim and retrain their bodies after having a baby.

Make sure to share this post with your friends and social network. Let’s get this information out to all the moms we know!

You might also be interested in my Losing The Baby Weight Series! Topics include: Pregnancy & ExerciseWhat to Expect After DeliveryThe First Six WeeksNutrition, and Exercise.

Disclosure: I was so impressed with the Mutu System that I decided to become an affiliate for the program.  

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