Pregnancy and Postpartum Fitness Do’s and Don’ts

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist January 14, 2013

By Fitness Editor Paula Jager, CSCS, Owner of CrossFit Jaguar, Tampa FL

When trying to conceive most of us are aware of Dr. Weston A. Price’s incredible work and the importance of the right nutrition. This is imperative for proper fetal development and healthy growth of the child as evidenced by his extensive research of Ancestral Cultures following their natural diet.

Another important aspect to planning a pregnancy is getting yourself into decent shape, at an ideal weight and as healthy as possible before conceiving. Losing both the excess pounds and the sedentary lifestyle will make for healthier and happier offspring and a much more pleasant pregnancy experience in general.

Once you are pregnant is not the ideal time to begin a fitness routine. If you are fit before conception then you will be able to continue to perform your exercise routine with certain modifications throughout the 3 trimesters. Let’s look at each one in detail and some guidelines for modifications.

This will vary greatly from individual to individual; taking into account preconception fitness level, weight, health issues etc. And of course you should discuss your plans with your doctor or midwife but make sure you have one that is knowledgeable in this area.

1st Trimester

  • For most women it is okay to lie on your back until the 12-16 week mark so sit ups would be appropriate.
  • Most of the exercises you were doing pre-pregnancy you should be able to continue to do; use your normal weights just don’t go up or attempt to set personal records.
  • Keep your heart rate at 140 bpm or less; while this may seem restrictive, focus instead on your breathing–you should be able to carry on a conversation while you’re working out.
  • This is a time to maintain your fitness – not high intensity work or all out efforts.
  • Rest as needed between sets or exercise and be sure to stay hydrated.

2nd Trimester

  • No more lying on the back; alternate core exercises will need to be implemented.
  • Push ups may be done on the floor, an elevated surface or the wall if necessary.
  • Hanging ab exercises will work along with pull ups. Stop when you can’t or they become uncomfortable. Switch to a band for assistance or a recline pull up if necessary.
  • If jumping becomes uncomfortable switch to a lower box or step ups would be a good substitution.
  • Lower your weights about 25-35% at this time on your other exercises, especially explosive ones.
  • Use lighter weights on all squatting exercises and do not go below parallel (because of the relaxin hormone which can encourage injury).
  • Row, walk, run and jump rope until they become uncomfortable.

3rd Trimester

  • Decrease your weights as necessary.
  • Your growing belly is going to be in the way of a lot of exercises; adjust based on form and comfort.
  • Keep doing the exercises that are comfortable and substitute for those that are not.
  • Run, row and jump if you can but keep your intensity in check. Be able to converse.
  • Continue to stay hydrated.
  • Walking and squatting are the best preparation exercises for the impending birth of your baby. Squatting every day and holding it for a minute or two is considered by many to be the very best exercise to prepare for a natural birth.

CrossFit Mom is an excellent site with several suggestions for workouts and tips while you are pregnant. They have beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

Post Partum

Begin slowly – no sooner than 6 weeks after the birth of your baby to get back to your normal workouts and listen to your body.  If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Let your body adjust to not being pregnant. You will also be tired initially caring for a newborn. Give yourself some time but keep moving. You will need energy to keep up with the baby.

Working out will help you get your body back, you will feel like you are doing something for yourself and it will be good for your mental health. Maintain your clean eating habits and increase caloric intake while nursing. Extra fat, protein, fruits and vegetables will help keep the calories up.

Don’t be concerned if your body holds on to some extra weight as long as you are nursing.  This is normal.  Don’t rush to try and lose those last few pounds as it is nature’s insurance policy for your nursing baby.

Do not accept the fact that you will not get your body back after having children. It’s an excuse. If you’ve stayed active throughout your pregnancy and watched what you put in your mouth. . . there’s no reason not to get your body back.  It is a very realistic and achievable goal.

On a personal note I must add that while some of this may seem extreme to someone not involved in a fitness regimen I have trained several women pre, during and post pregnancy and have been amazed at the results this brings. Many of them had had a child prior to this lifestyle and when comparing the differences that the exercise along with the right nutrition made it was astounding. The greater ease of labor and delivery, the health and behavior of the child, the reduced frequency of illnesses, allergies and problems as that child moves through the early years is beyond compare and to me the answer is crystal clear on what we can do to do the common uncommonly well.

 

Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar in Tampa, FL

Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results
paula@crossfitjaguar.com

 

 

Comments (30)

  1. I follow this blog daily and think it is wonderful to post and promote exercise for pre/post pregnancy, however, as a fitness professional who teaches pre/post pregnancy pilates and yoga I have to comment for there is a HUGE lack of education in this country as for what is the best exercise pre/post partum. One major point that must be relayed to any women pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant is how important it is to COMPLETELY eliminate all abdominal work lying on your back if it involves your chin coming to your chest and your shoulders coming off the floor, as in a typical crunch or sit up. Diastasis-recti is a serious condition that is NEVER talked about and needs to be. This is when the two recti muscles separate due to over use of the recti muscles as the weight of the uterus is coming forward and out. Due to the hormone relaxin, as stated above, the connective tissue (also known as the linea alba) is soft and not always strong enough to maintain stability while performing a sit up with the pressure from the weight of the baby, even in the first trimester. I have worked with too many women who report having lower back pain and very loose abdominal muscles along with an interesting gap indentation in the center of their belly during or months, even years after their pregnancy. There are many fabulous alternate core exercises one can focus on either on all fours or just working the lower abdominal muscles (it is safe to lay on your back until it is uncomfortable. Supine hypotensive syndrome is affects mom first before baby and can immediately be relieved by rolling to the side. In my experience, it was not until the 3rd trimester where I only needed a little lift in the upper back while lying back) Diastasis-recti can be healed manually, not necessarily surgically, however once it is present it can be a MAJOR factor to why one would not be able to deliver naturally due to the recti-abdominus not being functional once split. Jumping, jump rope, and running are also very risky for the joints are soft, including the pelvis, and you want to maintain balance in the pelvis during pregnancy. Quick movements while working out in general can be hard on the joints and can be the best choice for stabilizing the pelvis. Pubic symphysis is also a very common injury I see a lot of and many women are not even aware of how it came to be and often times it is due to quick movements of the legs with poor mechanics. All they know is they have a major pain in their pubic bone or referred pain to their lower back. This condition can only be relieved by a chiropractor or physical therapist and can haunt women for many years post partum if not addressed promptly. Please research these topics for it can only help women who are trying to stay fit during their pregnancy.

    Reply
    • As a fellow fitness professional thank you for your input and elaboration on the topic. The article was indeed a generalization and the health, pre existing conditions and current fitness level of each individual must be considered when deciding on the appropriate exercises. “Most” women can safely do sit ups during the first trimester. However there are many excellent core exercises that will work equally well and if there is any doubt, concern or condition they should be substituted.

      Jumping, jumping rope and running (with reduced effort and intensity) are generally safe for women that have been performing these activities prior to conception and with the correct mechanics. Otherwise yes, they are risky at best.

      And it is certainly wise for everyone to research these topics in depth.

      Reply
    • Laura, as a fitness professional and a doctor of natural health and nutrition, I would like to second you on your comment. I was a serious bodybuilder during my first pregnancy and I developed Diastasis-recti. My abdominal muscles separated creating a “shark fin” down the middle of my abdomen when I did tricep work or any exercise requiring abdominal stability. Thankfully, I had three natural birth (two homebirths, in fact) with no complications. However, my lower back was affected and I needed to continue with my fitness in order that the abdominal weakness, caused by the Diastasis-recti, did not cause me lower back discomfort. To this day, I still have minor separation, but it has not caused me problems. Your warning should be heeded by all women who wish to continue in fitness during pregnancy. I weightlifted and ran during three pregnancies, but I knew my limitations. I will express, however, that exercise during pregnancy can make for a super fast labor and easy delivery. My first labor and delivery was a total of 5 hours, three for my second, while my last was a whopping hour and a half from start to finish, and no pain!! I was at home and I do not believe in the use of pain killers or drugs; these pregnancies were 100% natural. Do exercise, but take necessary precautions and remember that hormones relax the joints, especially in late pregnancy, that can lead to serious joint injury if care is not exercised.

      Reply
      • Thank you Laura and Dr. Kim for speaking up and enlightening fellow readers on the dangers of incorrect core exercises. Along with typical ab exercises being so incredibly bad for causing Diastasis-recti, they also puts an insane amount of pressure on the pelvic floor (as does running, jump- roping, and many pilates exercises). These can lead to a dropped pelvic floor, which can seriously impair the ability to push during labor, and later causes incontinence, dropped bladders, and a host of other problems. The last thing I would have ever done in my two pregnancies or post-partum were abdominal exercises. I instead swear by hypopresive (negative pressure breathing) exercises, which are big in Europe (primarily Spain). In Belgium, the government actually sends therapists trained in hypopresives to the mother’s home to help train her post-partum. I hope that the U.S. gets on board soon with realizing how dated and incorrect their fitness information is for mother’s and mother’s to be. It is very dangerous, really.

        Reply
        • As a midwife, Ayurvedic/yoga practitioner, Maya Abdominal therapist, and mother, I agree wholeheartedly with Sara — abdominal exercises during pregnancy and postpartum, as usually done in our country , can have negative impacts. Both the diastasis recti and pelvic floor problems can result. I usually recommend prenatal yoga classes (with someone trained specifically in prenatal yoga) and the breathing exercises that Sara described for pregnant and postpartum women!

          Reply
  2. Many women do not lose weight after their babies because they are under-nourished. It is so important to eat enough and to eat very nourishing foods. Herbal teas can help as well. A magnesium deficiency seems to play a role in the inability to lose weight (and lots of other things).

    I lost the baby weight easily after my first two, but held onto 10 lbs. after my third. I got pregnant with my 4th still heavier than I should have been. I immediately focused on nourishing myself even better to help my growing baby and also stave off morning sickness (it worked). In addition to lots of bone broth, butter, sourdough bread, salads with olive oil, and etc. I also added an herbal multivitamin tincture and transdermal magnesium. An interesting side effect of all of this (in addition to having lots of energy and little morning sickness) was that I didn’t gain any weight until I was about 20 weeks along! My body adjusted for the weight I was carrying.

    I plan to continue this, along with walking and hopefully dancing with the kids after baby is born and I expect the weight will come off easily. We must not forget about the role that nutrition and hormones play in weight loss as well.
    Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama\’s last post: Create a Morning Routine that Works

    Reply
  3. Well, I agree that each person has unique strengths and weaknesses; I did situps all through all 3 pregnancies, as I was an aerobic instructor for 15 years. I had exercised for 20+ years, so, along with my doctor’s ok, I did everything except high impact. My pregnancy was the easiest part! I will say that I had hard deliveries and I really think it was because I hadn’t taken time to relax and learn to “let go” if you know what I mean. Anyway, just adding my experience! Thanks!

    Reply
  4. This is an issue that I’m recently butting my head up against, actually. I’m 8 weeks pregnant, and struggling with morning sickness. I’m trying the natural remedies like magnesium supplementation (with pills and with magnesium oil) and B6 supplementation, I’m getting bone broth and healthy fats, and I’m taking my FLCO. But I still am having issues with nausea. I got pregnant right around the holidays so I would have had some time off from my regular sessions with my personal trainer anyway due to the holiday break.

    My normal sessions are in the mornings at 7 before work, twice a week with a personal trainer. (I also have Irish dance and 2x per week yoga, which I am maintaining fine.) Work provides these sessions so they are paid for but I don’t have the option to reschedule. I want to maintain my weightlifting and body strength exercises for the pregnancy but with morning sickness and fitness overlapping I’m really struggling. What to do here? I know it’s not a good idea for me to totally quit and then start back up again in my 2nd trimester when morning sickness is gone, but I don’t know.

    Reply
    • Hi Abby, I’ve a few clients that despite what all they were doing right they too experienced nauseous for the first 2 months. They still managed to workout, however we adpted a different approach. I had them take a relaxed attituded and train as often as they could. When they did they would always feel better afterwards. Sometimes just moving and even going through the motions at a reduced effort and intensity helped. Both of them found it easier to fall back into a training routine at the start of the second trimester. Good luck and stick with it!

      Reply
  5. Paula, when you talk about squatting in the third trimester, do you mean a full squat, not just a partial squat? And if so, why shouldn’t I squat past parallel in the second trimester?

    Reply
    • Just to about parallel because of the relaxin hormone. All your joints become more relaxed, with this sudden increased joint flexibility it is possible to cause damage because you have a great range of motion than before. In order to avoid overstretching the ligaments it is rx’d to squat only to parallel.

      Reply
  6. Great article! I weight trained through all 5 of my pregnancies and back in the gym within one week (not full force of course). Plus, I did a sprint triathlon 6 weeks after one of my births. I wouldn’t recommend it though…that Tri was too much too soon. I have trained many pregnant women all the way through until giving birth and then postpartum. I have found that exercise during preganancy is a wonderful way for a woman to feel healthy, in control, and have easier ‘comebacks’. Thanks for your wonderful post!

    Reply
  7. Hi Paula,
    I am 14 weeks pregnant with my 4th pregnancy, and not fit. What can I do to help my body be better prepared for labour? I also have very poor abdominal muscles.
    Thanks,
    Alexia

    Reply
    • If you haven’t been working out it wouldn’t be the time to begin a serious fitness program. You could however incorporate walking, appropriate core exercise, pre natal yoga and clean and healthy nutrition. Post partum and as your body returns to “normal” you could begin to increase efforts and intensity.
      Paula\’s last post: January 15, 2013

      Reply
  8. Sara- that is great to hear about hypopresive for I have not heard of this technique! It looks very much like yogic breathing done in some practices such as Iyengar yoga.

    Dr Kim- if there is still a split present I recommend ordering Carolyn Anthony’s “healing exercises for diastasis-recti and c-section” She is who taught me and has figured out an incredible formula of stabilizing exercises and manual fascial manipulation to close the gap. It will also teach you how to prevent it from happening again. There is also another wonderful technique called Tuppler technique based out of New York, however it is a much older technique without the manual adjustments. Still very educational. I would also recommend looking into Yamuna therapy balls that can also assist in the fascial alignment. :)

    Reply
    • My pleasure, Laura. If you look on Youtube under the fitness integral channel there are lots of post-partum exercises and explanations about hypopresives in English. All the rest of the videos I have found on them are in Spanish.

      Reply
  9. With my first baby, I ran and lifted weights. I ran up to about 7 1/2 months and then used the elliptical machine until a couple of days before I gave birth. I lifted the whole time. With my second, I lifted and swam the whole time up until the day I gave birth. I really helped me feel good and helped morning sickness as well.

    With my first baby, the gym I worked out had a guy who nearly daily told me how much I was traumatizing–psychologically, physically, and emotionally–and destroying my baby. He was such an ignorant jerk (sorry for the language). Even after birth I ran into him and he still had nothing nice to say…

    Reply
  10. The 140bpm’s limit is a pet peeve of mine. That recommendation from ACOG was reversed in 1994!! Better to use a perceived scale of exertion. (http://onefitmom.ca/2011/02/12/pregnancy-myth-1-dont-let-your-heart-rate-get-above-140/ – good explanation) I ran though both of my pregnancies, weight lifted, did boot camp class etc… Both my children are incredibly healthy and I recovered very easily. I was back to jogging at 3 & 4w post-partum (slow jogging but I couldn’t sit still any longer!) Every woman needs to do what is right for her given her level of fitness and how her body is handling pregnancy.

    Reply
  11. As my baby goes with me for my exericise I’m taking 1 yr to get back at it. wont run till I’m sure beyond sure that it is safe for her head for me to burst train again. My marker is if she can run around herself then i can burst train with her in jogging stroller even on back trails at the park.till then I walk.

    Reply
  12. I *never* got my body back after my first pregnancy. I am going to really try hard after this baby (35 weeks now!) to do better. I think it was all the factors – breastfeeding twins round the clock, healing from surgery, etc – yeah, my cesarean was actually necessary. Anyway all of the factors made it very tough. I was in good shape before my pregnancy though so I was able to carry my twins to almost 42 weeks and they were super healthy. I totally believe most women can get their bodies back, though. My biggest concern is just extra skin, not extra fat. I stretched out so much with the twins! I eat a really healthy diet – bone broth, FCLO, most grains we eat are sprouted, and we get our fresh produce. Can exercise actually help with the extra skin thing, or is that just a matter of time?

    Reply
  13. Thanks for this great article. Can you write about preconception fitness? How should we prepare our bodies to carry before even getting pregnant? You mention it briefly but it would be great to see an in-depth article about preconception fitness.

    Reply
  14. Pingback: Pregnancy and Postpartum Fitness Do's and Don'ts – The Healthy … | Healthy Pregnancy

  15. I experienced diastasis recti during my pregnancy with my first daughter. I practiced prenatal pilates faithfully while carrying her. I had no idea what was wrong with my stomach after giving birth to her, and had to a lot of research on my own to figure out what happened. I went on to have my second daughter naturally, but I sill have the muscle separation and bad lower back pain. I wear an abdominal splint to give me some support. I also hate that I have a little pooch belly. Do any of you know what to do to heal an abdominal separation? My husband and I really want to have a third child, and I am concerned about the condition getting worse. I have been to see doctors about it who tell me there is nothing to do about it, and I tried some physical therapy, but they just told me to try to hold my stomach in. Is there anything I can do?

    Reply
  16. Alicia-
    you can heal your diastasis-recti! That is the good news. I have helped women with this condition who have had it for over 30 yrs! Where do you live? The best way to start the process is:
    COMPLETELY eliminate all traditional crunches or sit ups, until it is healed. Also, eliminate over stretching the area as well, such as a back bend or stretching backwards over a ball. This condition can occur from either too lax or too tight abdominal region so the goal is to BALANCE the abdominal muscles. You will find great support by strengthening the obliques such as in a side plank. You should do them often.
    I highly recommend going to http://thecenterforwomensfitness.com/about/ and find a trained post pregnancy specialist who can help you heal your diastasis. I also recommend buying Carolyn Anthony’s DVD which you can buy on that website.

    It’s very important to heal the problem for your next pregnancy for it can lead to many unfortunate problems other than just back pain. Without balanced and functional abdominals, uterine prolapse, bladder, digestive, and pelvic floor problems can occur.

    I also recommend researching womb massage or mayan abdominal massage (same thing) This massage technique can help you before the next pregnancy! Good Luck!

    Reply
  17. First set you do twenty five reps in the normal crunch position.
    Stamina 55-1610 In Motion E1000 Elliptical Trainer.
    Ease Of Use – With regular sit-ups you must use the right form or you can
    do them without getting any results.
    Luis\’s last post: Luis

    Reply

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