Training During Pregnancy: How to Modify Your Workout Without Losing Your Workout
Women who have trained prior to pregnancy probably won't be thrilled about some of the exercise rules and regulations you find in books and online. No muscle ups, crunches, knees to elbows, or jumping? No more snatches or pull ups? While it's true that you should avoid certain exercises during pregnancy, just because you have to modify some exercises doesn't mean you have to lose your workout altogether. Here are four exercises that I've had to modify during my current pregnancy, and some tips for making them more manageable.
During my first two pregnancies I gave up on running pretty early on. Now during my third, I'm twenty weeks along and don't plan on stopping anytime soon. Although my times aren't anywhere near what they used to be, it's enjoyable and has kept me conditioned. However, I'm not going to say it's always comfortable. Here are a few things you can do to minimize discomfort:
- Purchase a good sports bra for some extra support. Toward the end of the first trimester you'll probably notice things are expanding a bit in the chest department, which is great until you try to run a several miles.
- Get a support belt. When I hit nineteen weeks I started to get lower back pain the day after a run. I'm pretty sure it's because my belly is hanging out. I've heard a support belt can help with this issue.
- Don't be afraid of the run/walk. If all-out running is too tiring or uncomfortable, try throwing in some walking intervals. It will help keep your heart rate down and might even improve your time! If running intervals are too much, you can substitute another cardio exercise like rowing or swimming.
Pull Ups and Chin Ups
Some women can continue to do pull ups and chin ups throughout their entire pregnancy. I've started to find them pretty uncomfortable since I started second trimester, so I've discontinued the strict versions of both. You might notice a tugging feeling in your abdomen, especially once your belly starts expanding and the abdominal muscles start to weaken. Since I've had serious issues with diastasis recti before, I like to err on the side of caution to avoid aggravating the problem.
Here are some tips for modifying these exercises:
- Kipping pull ups: If you also find strict pull ups and chin ups uncomfortable, you can get a similar effect with kipping pull ups but only if you've already done them prior to pregnancy with good form. The momentum will take some of the pressure off of the core muscles. If you're a pregnant CrossFitter you might appreciate this video:
- Australian pull ups: These are a good substitute because you can adjust the intensity by changing the height of the bar. For a nice upper body workout, I like to alternate Australian pull ups, push ups, and side planks.
If both of these are uncomfortable, find a set of monkey bars and forget the "up" part altogether. Just hanging and swinging from the bars will go a long way in keeping your upper body conditioned.
A lot of the pregnancy resources out there will tell you not to do any overhead lifts during pregnancy. While it's true that overhead lifts can put a lot of stress on your lower back and may challenge your balance, personally I've continued to do them throughout my pregnancies and have also done them with pregnant clients who are used to strength training.
Before you stop them altogether, try these modifications to see if they help:
- Instead of a barbell, use a kettlebell or dumbbells for your overhead lifts and alternate sides. This will allow you to use the non-working side to help maintain balance. You will probably have to do a little bit of navigation around your belly as pregnancy progresses.
- Lower the weight. Generally speaking, I personally never work above 70% of my normal max during pregnancy. Usually I keep it around 50% with overhead lifts to minimize stress on the lower back.
- Substitute long, slow movements with higher-intensity movements that don't require you to keep the weight overhead. The one-arm kettlebell snatch or clean and press are great modifications for overhead lifts.
If you experience ligament pain during pregnancy you might have a hard time with squats, weighted or unweighted. You might also experience knee pain during squats. Here are a few modifications to keep squatting in your routine:
- Once again, lower the weight. Instead of squatting with a barbell use a kettlebell for goblet squats. These are one of my favorite exercises for pregnant women.
- Use blocks or a rolled up towel to elevate your feet. This is great if you have a hard time keeping your heels flat during a squat. I'm actually not a huge fan of using a lot of props to modify exercises, but squats are one of those essential movements that are worth it.
- If weighted squats become too uncomfortable, do bodyweight squats instead. Remember your body is already hauling around a lot of extra weight. I like to do dynamic exercises that incorporate squatting, like walking side squats with a resistance band or wall balls.
The most important modification you can make during pregnancy is to increase your awareness of what's going on with your body. Pay attention to breath patterns, pain, straining, and other things you might normally ignore if you're used to training hard. Pressure is normal but pain is not. I also recommend incorporating yoga, stretching, or other low-impact exercise into your routine to relieve stress and aid in recovery.
I hope these modifications help you keep up with your workouts. What helped you keep up with your training throughout your pregnancy?
Photo 1 courtesy of CrossFit LA.
Photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.