5 Prenatal Fitness Myths

Every now and then I read an article or hear in one of my pregnancy circles certain pregnancy fitness myths that make me cringe. Today I’ll attempt to clear some of these myths up, with one caveat- they’re only myths if they are applied to a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy. What do I mean by that? Well, if you have any history of pre-eclampsia, pre-term labor, incompetent cervix, placenta previa, etc., you likely have a higher risk level and will want to avoid anything that can exacerbate your condition. Even if you don’t have a high-risk pregnancy, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor or midwife before starting any exercise program. With that being said… 

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Myth #1: You can only exercise during pregnancy if you exercised before pregnancy.

Why would something that will benefit the short- and long-term health of both mother and baby be discouraged? Why would you tell a woman not to prepare her muscles to push a out a baby? In my opinion, this is the most shocking pregnancy myth floating around out there.

Fact: It is perfectly safe to begin a moderate exercise program during pregnancy. Start slowly, and listen to your body. Unless you are experiencing any of the warning signs posted at the end of this article, your exercise is probably safe.

Read More: The Mayo ClinicBaby Center
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Myth #2: You must keep your heart rate below 140 bpm while pregnant.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) exercise guidelines published in 1985, pregnant women should not allow their heart rate to go above 140 bpm. I just knew this rule didn’t make sense when I first heard it. How can one number be applied to ALL women, regardless of different resting heart rates, VO2 max, etc.??? The answer is, it can’t. Still, during my first pregnancy, I tried to follow this rule (until I finally got to see my doctor at 12 weeks who confirmed this rule is a myth). Despite having a resting heart rate of 51-54 bpm, which put me in the “athletic” status, I couldn’t jog for more than about 30 seconds without my heart rate shooting above 140 bpm. This actually makes sense, because the more conditioned your heart is, the faster it is able to speed up and get oxygen to your muscles for exercise. Despite an amendment to the exercise guidelines added 20 years ago in 1994, this myth is still being circulated for some unfortunate reason.

Fact: If you are a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy, you do not need to focus on heart rate while exercising. Instead, you should pay attention to your RPE, or Rated Perceived Exertion. As long as you are able to speak in 3-5 word sentences, you are exercising at an acceptable intensity. If you are unable to do so, you should probably slow your pace; If you are able to speak more, you should increase it.

Read More: The Mayo Clinic
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Myth #3: You must not lift anything over 40lbs while pregnant.

This is another one that drives me nuts. What does it even mean? I can squat 40lbs in my sleep but I wouldn’t be able to do a single-arm shoulder presses with it. Do you think a gym rat’s body reacts the same to 40lbs as a couch potato’s? What’s with the number 40, anyway? When lifting weights during pregnancy, your goal should be muscle maintenance. This is not the time to push yourself to new levels, but it’s also not the time to slack off unnecessarily. My recommendation is to stick to moderate weights you can do for 8-12 reps throughout your pregnancy, but I know others would be more comfortable with more or less. There is no one size fits all approach to weights. As long as you aren’t holding your breath while you’re lifting, and you’re not feeling any pain other than ordinary muscle fatigue, you’re probably fine.

Fact: There is no one size fits all approach to weights. The current recommendation is that the maximum load a pregnant woman should lift in late pregnancy should be reduced by 20 to 25 percent from that which she was able to lift in her pre-pregnancy state.

Read More: Today with Dr. Judith Riechman
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Myth #4: You must avoid abdominal exercises during pregnancy. 

Engaging your abdominal muscles throughout your pregnancy will not only prepare your body for labor and delivery, it might also prevent stretch marks and help you regain your figure after pregnancy. The tighter your abdominal muscles are, the less your belly will be able to stretch out during pregnancy. While it is probably (but not necessarily) true that certain supine exercises should be avoided after the first trimester, there are many abdominal exercises that can be done without laying flat on your back, such as planks. Note: If you experience Diastasis Recti, certain abdominal exercises should be avoided alltogether.

Fact: There are many pregnancy-safe abdominal exercises to choose from that will prepare you for labor, delivery, and recovery.

Read More: 14 Ab Exercises for Pregnancy

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Myth #5: It is not safe to squat while pregnant. 
Squatting is one of the most beneficial exercises you can peform before and during pregnancy. It directly strengthens your pelvic floor and basically all the other muscles you use during labor. Don’t give up squatting unless you were advised to do so by a doctor. Make sure you know how to perform a proper squat.
Fact: Squatting can be one of the most beneficial exercises you perform during pregnancy.

Read More: Livestrong.com
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WARNING SIGNS
I just wanted to add this at the end in case you DO happen to feel any of these symptoms during exercise. While these warning signs don’t necessarily mean you’ll have to stop exercising all together, they are usually a sign that you should slow down and let your doctor know what’s going on before continuing.

-any pain other than ordinary muscle fatigue
-dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
-chest pains or heart palpitations
-contractions or cramping in the lower abdomen
-vaginal bleeding
-amniotic fluid leakage
-an unusual change in your baby’s movements
-extreme shortness of breath (remember it is normal to feel moderately out of breath)
ALSO
-Remember to warm up and stretch.
-Focus on breathing throughout your exercise. Never hold your breath.
-Drink plenty of water.
-Don’t workout in extreme heat.
-Take breaks when needed.
-LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Your instincts are probably right.

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