Pregnancy and Training – A Note From Neil
This blog post is less a scientific article as it is a letter from the heart. Over the last 15 years I have trained a lot of women all the way through their pregnancy, from long before the day they found out, to as close as two days before they gave birth. If I have taken away anything from each of those clients it is this: every single pregnancy and every single recovery is different. Far too often I see my clients get frustrated when they compare themselves to strangers on the Internet, wondering why their pregnancy doesn’t look like the one on the screen in front of them. I wanted to write this as if I was in fact writing to a client, to help them navigate through the misinformation, have the best pregnancy possible, and return to training in the happiest and healthiest manner.
Our sphere of influence has been warped by social media, celebrity and so called “fitness experts”. When it comes to pregnancy and training, we are led to believe that it is fashionable to be incredibly fit or strong and bounce back in record time. It is not my intention to be negative or discredit anyone, rather I want to inspire and empower. If your pregnancy is making you feel more sick than strong, you are not alone- there is help available, and a lot of people going through a similar journey. Whilst your #1 goal throughout your pregnancy should be the health and happiness of you and your bub, you need to consider all your health and training goals and evaluate the “risk vs reward” of trying to make your pregnancy fit into your normal training program.
What might work for someone else might not work for you, and vice versa. That being said, there are some general patterns and things you should be aware of if you are trying to fall pregnant, are currently pregnant, or are in postnatal recovery and considering how to best exercise and what to expect.
Social Media Smarts – Searching for inspiration and posting about your journey on social media is a double edged sword. Often in seeking inspiration, we find misdirection and unknowingly set unrealistic expectations. So often we forget that what we see on our smartphones is just an edited peek into someone’s life, made beautiful by good lighting and some careful editing. These “influencers” as we call them, showcase their pregnancy, training regime and post natal recovery for the world to see, and we assume that because they have thousands of followers, they must know what they’re doing. While sometimes this may be the case, I find more often than not, they are no more than someone with an Instagram account. Are we really that naive to believe that they would show their bad days as often as they display the good ones? They might be exhausted, sick, have lower back pain, how would we know? These people are often seeking validation, positive comments and attention… and maybe that’s their journey, but it can be seriously damaging for you. I have had countless clients wanting to know why they can’t do what they saw a pregnant influencer doing on Instagram, as if their inability to do so makes them in any way inferior. Many times I have to explain that what they saw could lead to serious injury and is generally contraindicated for their stage of pregnancy. I have to tell them to “let other people roll the dice”, that the risk vs reward doesn’t add up. Knowing this, hold yourself accountable as well, and be aware of what you are posting and how it affects others. What you intend to post as inspiration may be setting unrealistic expectations for others. The use of hashtags such as #noexcuses can have negative connotations and be suggestive for those who’s pregnancy isn’t going as smoothly as the influencer’s. Don’t compare or compete, instead find people who are having a similar pregnancy to you to share your journey with, and ask professionals. The main message here is that you should be following the advice of people such as Physiotherapists, Paediatricians and Exercise Physiologists. These people are experts in the areas of health, exercise and pregnancy and have studied and practiced for years, these are not just people with a high follower count.
Morning sickness – You may barely get it at all, or, it may hit hard and get the better of you and your exercise plans; both scenarios are completely normal. Generally, it will ease off as your pregnancy continues. Do only what you can while going through the worst of it and then as it eases, you can reassess your physical capabilities and energy levels. I have had multiple clients have it to a crippling degree, and they were heavily affected by seeing other women at the same stage of pregnancy happily and easily exercising. To them it was truly discouraging, but we worked through it and took it one day at a time. Even if you do the bare minimum while feeling your worst, you will at the very least feel a little better and be ready to pick your training back up when your body allows it.
Focus on your core – Getting personalised instruction on how to activate your core as well as guidance on which core exercises are appropriate at different stages of pregnancy is so important for minimising back pain and avoiding separation during your pregnancy. If you’re looking for a group environment, Pilates(ideally run by physiotherapists) and specialised physiotherapy pregnancy classes are great ways to maintain or develop your core stability throughout your pregnancy. By learning to activate the right muscles in the right order, you will optimise your pregnancy and enhance your recovery post pregnancy. The team at Women in Focus Physiotherapy have great classes and private sessions for this, as well as bio-feedback measurement tools to guide you along the way.
Keep at it – I know that some days you won’t even want to get out of bed, let alone do any exercise. However, research continually shows that maintaining some kind of well prescribed exercise program optimises the quality of your pregnancy and recovery, as well as the health of your baby. Ideally, I’d love for everyone to be doing a specific training program throughout their pregnancy consisting of cardiovascular training, appropriate resistance training and specific stability/core training. These types of exercises are great to optimise pregnancy, however, that doesn’t mean they will suit everyone. If you would prefer something more social, try pregnancy classes. If neither of those suit, try just going for walks as a minimum. Those clients who did even the most minimal amount of exercise throughout their pregnancy were almost always better in terms of health, coping and happiness- even if they didn’t realise it at the time.
Start early – Start training before you are pregnant. Everyone should have some exercise routine- it doesn’t have to be perfectly structured, but you should be doing something. This way, when you find out that you are expecting, you can easily transition into a prenatal program. For post natal exercise, work with experts who specialise in this area and can monitor activation of key core stabilisers, measure separation and assess any scar tissue. Whenever I have a client returning to training after pregnancy, I like to work really closely with Women in Focus Physiotherapy to ensure a safe transition back to full training.
Please try to enjoy your pregnancy, be in awe of what the human body is capable of and don’t let social and celebrity culture affect you. Aim to be happy and healthy, consult the right people and the rest should take care of itself. If you have any questions or would like to find out more about training throughout your pregnancy please don’t hesitate to get in touch.