Is it okay to continue sports during pregnancy? Which ones should you avoid?
It is important to be active during pregnancy. Finding ways to be active during your pregnancy is vital for both your health and the health of your baby. If you're under lockdown, you may have noticed that your workout routine has suffered. Or maybe you have some more time on your hands and want to establish some new healthy habits!
Sports During Pregnancy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who are pregnant or in the postpartum period should aim to exercise 150 minutes a week. This can be split up into five 30-minute sessions of low to moderate-intensity moves such as brisk walking.
Let's discuss some of the most common sports and workouts pregnant women do and find out what's safe and what can wait until the baby's out.
Is It Safe To Do Cardio Exercises While Pregnant?
According to Dr Brittany Robles, an OB-gynaecologist and a certified fitness trainer, it is safe to do cardio during pregnancy as long as you don’t have any contraindications to exercise.
Cardio is beneficial during pregnancy because it helps maintain a healthy weight, allows women to maintain an active lifestyle and promote good blood circulation in the lower body that reduces the risk of blood clots. It also helps women avoid pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
However, the amount of cardio exercises you should do while pregnant depends on certain factors such as your pre-pregnancy activity level, your cardiovascular fitness level and how far along you are in your pregnancy.
Image Source: iStock
How long can you do cardio during pregnancy?
According to Dr Robles, as long as you do not have any pregnancy complications, you can do traditional cardio (running) up until the end of your 2nd trimester, which is about 20 to 24 weeks. Running may be difficult during the third trimester as it can have a strong impact on your joints and abdomen.
Aside from running, some of the recommended cardio exercises to do while pregnant are brisk walking, swimming, stationary cycling, resistance training circuits and dancing (just avoid any moves that put you at risk of falling on your belly).
Moreover, Dr Robles gives the following reminders to pregnant women while doing cardio exercises:
- Avoid exhaustion (stop when your starting to run out of breath. You should be able to engage in conversation while exercising)
- Avoid overheating (stay hydrated)
- Avoid pain or discomfort in your bones and joints (especially since you have increased levels of the hormone relaxin).
More importantly, always consult your doctor first before starting any fitness routine during your pregnancy.
Walking During Pregnancy
Walking is considered one of the safest exercises to do while pregnant because it is a low-risk activity that works your cardiovascular system without putting too much pressure on your muscles and joints. It also helps pregnant women maintain a healthy weight and avoid unwanted pregnancy symptoms such as constipation and back pain.
However, every pregnancy is different. While walking is a recommended activity for most pregnant women, some women should ask their doctors first before starting a daily walking exercise routine.
Seek advice from your gynaecologist before walking if you have any of the following:
Moreover, even if you were allowed to exercise or go walking during pregnancy, you should stop immediately and contact your doctor if you are feeling dizzy or faint, extra tired, having shortness of breath or have spotting after your exercise.
While walking is considered low-risk during pregnancy, it's important to not overdo it and listen to your body.
Pilates is a whole-body training regimen that is ideal for the pregnant body's ever-changing needs. Pilates can help at every stage of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery.
Image from iStock
Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned exerciser, a competent instructor can tailor the workout to your specific needs while still challenging you safely.
Pilates balances strength, mobility, and flexibility to support your body's structure, with a strong emphasis on your breath. Prenatal Pilates prepares you for labour and delivery, lays the groundwork for recovery, promotes pelvic floor health, and aids in the prevention or management of diastasis recti.
Weightlifting During Pregnancy
Resistance exercise, including weight lifting, is considered safe during pregnancy by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The following are the advantages of weight training during pregnancy:
- Improves back muscle strength
- Less difficult labour
- Improved weight management
- Reduces the chance of gestational diabetes
- Improved mood
- Body image enhancement
- Reduced risk of preeclampsia
- Improved weight control
If you don't currently have a weight-lifting regimen, it's simple to get started with exercises that target numerous muscle groups and allow you to use weights or your own body weight.
Tips for Lifting Weights Safely While Pregnant
- Three to four times each week, lift mild to moderate weights. For most healthy pregnant women, this is considered a safe range.
- Practice moves that are safe to do.
- Work out your entire body rather than focusing on certain muscle areas. This aids in the relief of pain in a specific place following an exercise.
- Concentrate on higher repetitions with less weight than usual.
- Throughout the workout, maintain a strong upper back and appropriate breathing.
- Concentrate on exercises that aid in postural alignment.
Experts agree that weightlifting is safe during pregnancy, as long as you consult with your healthcare physician first and are not suffering from any pregnancy-related health issues. However, there are some precautions you should take before beginning any workout plan, including weight training, while pregnant. These are some examples:
- Avoid lying on your stomach or back.
- Watch out for the abdominal area.
- Work with lighter weights.
- Avoid lifting weights higher than your head.
- Avoid strenuous exercises.
Core Exercises for Pregnancy
Strong, fit pregnant woman holds a plank position during a home exercise session. | Image from iStock
Unless your doctor has restricted activity during pregnancy, most abdominal workouts are safe early on (with some adjustments, as there are specific exercises to avoid while pregnant). Try these core-strengthening exercises at any stage of pregnancy:
Transverse abdominis breathing
Transverse abdominis breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, stimulates your deepest core muscles (which maintain proper posture and prevent back discomfort) as well as your pelvic floor. It's a terrific approach to start any ab exercise and keep your core stable throughout the action.
- Stand or sit up straight with your hands on your sides. Inhale to allow your sides, back, and tummy to expand.
- Exhale to compress your abdominal muscles and lift your pelvic floor.
- Consider "hugging your baby" toward you while you contract and release the pelvic floor.
Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Begin by resting on your back with your feet hip-width apart and your knees pointed up. You should be able to reach the back of your heels with your fingertips if your heels are close enough to your butt.
- Begin by taking a deep core breath to brace your core.
- Lift your buttocks off the floor by pressing through your heels. Avoid arching your back and extending too far at the peak.
- Return to your starting position slowly, releasing the pelvic floor as your hips touch the ground.
Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
- Begin by laying on your left side, elbow underneath your shoulder. Legs should be long and stacked, and hips should be stacked and looking forward. Bend your knees to alter this ab exercise.
- To engage your obliques, lift your right hip up (the sides of your core). Balance on the side of your bottom foot or, to modify, balance on your bottom knee while straightening your top leg and placing your foot on the floor for stability.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then slowly lower down. Repeat on the other side.
Perform for 6 reps, 3 on each side, alternating every time.
- Begin by standing on all fours (with hands below shoulders and knees below hips).
- Extend your right hand and left leg, pause, and reach long from your fingertips to your toes. Return each to their initial positions.
- Continue alternating between the opposite sides (left hand and right leg). Tip: Move your hips forward for greater core engagement, or back for greater stability.
Perform 3 sets of 30 seconds.
Squat with rotation
- Begin by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly out. Squat deeply by bending at the knees. Maintain a high chest and a tight core.
- As you rise to a stand, press with your heels and twist through your knees, hips, and torso, extending your arms to one side.
- Return to a squat position, then repeat the rotation on the opposite side. Continue to alternate.
Perform 3 sets of 30 seconds.
- Sit on your buttocks, knees bent, heels on the ground, and arms behind you, fingertips pointing toward your heels.
- Brace your core and raise your hips to a "crab" position.
- Inhale, then exhale to lift one knee and crunch it in toward your chest before returning your foot to the ground. Repeat on the other side. Continue to alternate.
Perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Is Bowling Safe During Pregnancy?
If you bowled regularly prior to pregnancy, you should be fine bowling while pregnant. Bowling is a low-impact social activity that many people enjoy.
It is beneficial for pregnant women to maintain normal activities and routines, therefore bowling can be a safe hobby while pregnant. Even though it is low impact, some lifting and balancing are required, therefore appropriate body mechanics can help prevent discomfort or injury.
If you have preeclampsia, heart illness, placenta previa, or premature labour, or if you are carrying twins or multiples, you should avoid bowling until you consult with your doctor about the optimal level of exercise for your condition and stage of pregnancy.
Sports to Avoid During Pregnancy
When selecting your activities, be cautious and consult with your clinician. Avoid doing the following during pregnancy:
- Any sport that involves a lot of jerky, bouncing motions that could lead to a fall, such as horseback riding, downhill skiing, off-road cycling, gymnastics, or skating.
- Any sport where you might get hit in the stomach, such as ice hockey, boxing, soccer, or basketball.
- Any exercise requiring you to lie flat on your back (after the first trimester), such as sit-ups. When you lie on your back, your uterus presses against a major vein that returns blood to your heart. Lying on your back might lower your blood pressure and restrict the blood supply to your baby.
- Activities that can lead you to hit the water hard, such as water skiing, surfing, or diving.
- Scuba diving or skydiving. Decompression sickness can occur as a result of scuba diving. This is the point at which harmful gas bubbles grow in your baby's body.
- Exercising at a high altitude (above 6,000 feet), unless you reside at a high altitude.
- Activities that may raise your body temperature to dangerous levels, such as Bikram yoga (also known as hot yoga) or exercising outside on hot, humid days.
Sports During Pregnancy: Don't Ignore These Warning Signs
Low to moderate-impact cardiovascular exercises are safe and excellent forms of exercise when you're pregnant. That being said, remember that any physical activity can carry risks if you overdo it.
According to Healthline, here are some warning signs that you shouldn't ignore when exercising while pregnant:
- chest pain
- bleeding from your vagina
- regular contractions of your uterus
- rapid heartbeat different from what you usually experience when exercising
- painful contractions
- fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina
- calf swelling or pain
- shortness of breath different from what you usually experience when exercising
- muscle weakness
- changes in foetal movement
- pain in your hips, pelvis, or abdominal area
If you experience any of these symptoms, stop what you're doing immediately and call your doctor. Do not attempt to restart any physical activity unless your doctor says it's okay to resume.
As we have emphasized in this article, be sure to get clearance from your doctor before starting any sort of workout routine. And if you have concerns about activities you can and cannot do during pregnancy, do not hesitate to consult your gynaecologist before doing it.
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