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Can I Exercise While Pregnant?

In US culture, pregnancy is perceived as a highly vulnerable time in a persons life. In many ways it is. Pregnancy throws us very quickly into an experience unlike anything we've had before, and the physiological changes that come with it can literally bring us to our knees.

I am grateful that over the last few years there has been an increase in interest in fitness around pregnancy - from yoga, to local walking groups to prenatal inspired training programs. Decades of studies have already showed us that bed rest often carries more negative side effects without any evidence of improved outcomes even in high risk pregnancies. This knowledge, awareness and subsequent action allows us to finally provide pregnant people and their bodies what they really need during this time - strength!

Example: an individual discovers they are pregnant. They visit their OB, who confirms their pregnancy and provides them with the initial next steps like taking prenatal vitamins, foods and activities to avoid, follow up schedules and guidance around what and how much to eat and what to do. Most doctors always encourage walking as an acceptable form of exercise during pregnancy, and many others will encourage their patient to continue whatever level of exercise they were performing before, but apply extra thought and care into how movement needs to be modified as pregnancy progresses. If a provider is still living in the dark ages, they may prescribe no lifting over 5 to 8 pounds and no strenuous exercise that elevates the heart rate, and this is what most of the population believes is correct for pregnancy as well. Being given this limitation can be stressful to hear for those who continue to work or already have children who need to be carried, and in most cases this is totally unnecessary.

But - you're about to undergo a huge physical change in a short period of time, and then after all of that change, you have to exert energy to literally usher new life into the world. Your body has to be prepared to carry the weight of your growing baby, labor contractions and pushing, or the unique physical trauma associated with cesarean birth. And then after delivery your body undergoes an even more extreme change - while pregnancy is a gradual change over the course of 40 weeks, your body goes from extremely pregnant to totally not pregnant over the course of just a few hours. This shock can have immediate and lasting effects on your body.

Muscle plays a huge role in the body's ability to recover from stress, injury, and illness. An individual who already has conditioned their body to withstand resistance and heavy loads, has well developed muscular development around their joints and engages in activities that consistently challenge their core strength and engagement, are less likely to be injured when performing regular activities with proper form, and generally recover better from traumatic injuries, like car accidents, falls, sports injuries, or the physical trauma of childbirth. Individuals who maintain healthy muscle mass also generally recover better from disease and illness from viruses and bacterial infections!

So, if you're starting a journey through pregnancy, this would not be the time to kick back on the sofa and avoid exertion at all costs. Not only will you not necessarily improve your experience throughout your pregnancy, you may be doing yourself a disservice when it's finally time to give birth.

This is NOT to imply that you should not listen to the advice of your doctor - especially if you're diagnosed with a condition that may be made worse by exercise. This also does not imply that you should start training for the Crossfit Open, or buy a singlet and start a career slamming egg whites and showing off at weightlifting competitions.

Thoughtfully and strategically improving your strength and muscle development before and during pregnancy by following a program by a qualified program developer or personal trainer, in combination with an appropriate nutrition plan, can help you to improve your overall health, gain an appropriate amount of weight to support your pregnancy, increase your bone density and protect your joints and spine that will inevitably be affected by the changes to your hormones, mobility and center of gravity and then by delivery. Preparing yourself for one of the most physically intense experiences in ones life only makes sense.

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