Mamas, did you know that new research has shown that pregnancy is just as challenging as running a marathon ?
A study from Duke University, published in Science Advances, has looked at the effects of extreme races, like the Tour de France and the Ironman on elite athletes, and concluded that the endurance required in pregnancy is akin to competing in those events. So, if you’re planning on getting pregnant, whether it’s for the first time or subsequent time(s), you should be looking at getting your body into tip-top condition for those physically taxing nine months.
Being physically active not only increases your chances of conceiving, but also helps to set your body up for a pregnancy that has fewer aches and pains, helps to carry baby safely and comfortably to term, and keeps mamas-to-be feeling supported, strong and energised as much as possible.
Here are five key exercises that will help you prepare for pregnancy:
1. Postural Exercises
Just as a building needs to have a good foundation, our posture needs to be good, so that we will have less problems. Our modern everyday life with long hours- hunched over at the computer, driving, or doing the dishes – already gives us rounded shoulders and tight hips. Add on to that the changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy makes practising good posture at all times even more imperative.
If a mama-to-be practises good posture (i.e. having a “neutral spine”), this can help:
- the baby to grow in optimal alignment in the uterus, which in turn increases the chances of having a natural labour and birth, with lesser complications;
- to decreases the severity of an abdominal separation; and
- to reduce aches and pain, such as back pain.
An example of a postural exercise is the shoulder retraction exercise. Here a step-by-step guide of what to do:
a) Sit comfortably – it can be at your work desk, and stretch out both arms in front of you like the photo above.
b) Inhale and as you exhale, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together.
c) Repeat 5 times and try to do this around 2 to 3 times per day.
2. Strength Training
Mamas, you want to be fit and strong, not only for pregnancy but also for motherhood. Strength training will help you build strong muscles and maintain a lean body, staving off weight gain and making recovery post-birth easier.
Incorporate functional movements that mimic what you will be doing as a mum, such as lifting a baby, carrying a car seat or pushing a stroller. You also want to focus on balance exercises; as a woman’s body changes in pregnancy, her centre of gravity alters and balance can become an issue.
Trust us – not only will these type of strength training exercises help you, but they’re tons of fun to do !
3. Aerobic Exercises
Did you know that when you’re pregnant, your heart pumps up to 40 percent more blood in your body ?
You want a strong and healthy heart, so a good rule of thumb, whether or not you are trying to conceive, is to get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes at least 3 times a week.
Again, this does not have to be a chore. This can be loads of fun if you pick an activity that you enjoy; or better still, to do it with your partner, family and/or friends. So, find your favourite endorphin-releasing, heart-pumping activity – it can be jogging, hiking, dancing, HIIT classes or sports such as basketball, tennis, badminton or swimming. Whatever floats your boat and keeps you coming back for more, is the best aerobic exercise for you!
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support the bladder, uterus and bowel. During pregnancy, the growing weight of baby presses down on the pelvic floor. If these muscles are weak, this can result in leaking, or incontinence in late pregnancy and after baby arrives. It can also result in medical conditions, like prolapse.
To avoid this, start practising pelvic floor muscles exercises or Kegels before you conceive. This helps you form good habits to keep practising them during and after pregnancy as well.
A simple and effective cue is to think of holding your gas, urine and lifting all the muscles in between.
Physiotherapists may ask you to use a weighted egg; the egg is inserted into the vagina and in order to hold it there, you have to engage the pelvic floor muscles. Doing this helps you to sense how deep these muscles are and how broad their reach is.
5. Restorative Exercises
The whole journey of wanting a baby, trying to conceive and being pregnant can be super stressful – and so is life as a new mum. To help you prepare for this, it is good to start learning life-long skills, such as breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques.
Not only will these skills help you with stress management, but it will also help to ease the breastfeeding and pumping process, if you are in a relaxed state. If you are stressed or anxious, milk does not flow and you may experience painful engorgement. So, let’s learn to be Zen for life and try this exercise at home:
Diaphragmatic Breathing | Source: FEA
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
a) Sit comfortably and place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly.
b) Inhale and feel your diaphragm, sides and back expand. Exhale and slowly release all your breath out, feeling feel your diaphragm, sides and back contract.
c) Start with inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 4 counts ,then see if you can lengthen the exhales, to deepen your breathing and sense of relaxation.
All the best on your journey, #makchicmumsquad!
By Kim Boey
Kim Boey is an educator, writer, personal trainer and group fitness instructor who has been in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s the creator and teacher for the Training Pregnant and Postpartum Clients course at FITM, a fitness education centre, and is a mum to two boys.