Fitness instructor Steph Sinnott: Bring your bump to the gym
‘Once a GP has cleared you for exercise, there is still a lot you can do in the gym’
Fitness instructor Steph Sinnott: ‘Squats with a weight is fine as long as it’s not too heavy.’
Press-ups are one of the exercises which are safe and effective for pregnant women.
There are misconceptions that cause women to worry that exercise will somehow endanger their pregnancies, says Prof Fergal Malone, chairman of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland’s (RCSI’s) department of obstetricians and gynaecologists and Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.
“There is a myth out there that in early pregnancy exercise might cause a miscarriage or something like that, or lead to pre-term labour.
In low-risk patients, that is not true.” Whereas exercise definitely contributes, he says, to reducing significantly the incidence of gestational diabetes, which is currently rising sharply in Ireland.
Women don’t need a formal medical evaluation to be cleared for exercise, but he suggests they discuss it with their midwife or obstetrician beforehand “just in case there is one of the very rare medical issues going on where you need to be cautious”.
He recommends 20-30 minutes’ exercise a day – “even if it is just a walk, that would be a big benefit”. Jogging, exercise bicycle, yoga, Pilates and swimming are all also considered to be very good, he adds.
After the birth of her first child eight years ago, she founded her own company, BabyBodyFit, in 2010, to specialise in both pre- and post-natal fitness.
Sinnott devises strength workouts for pregnant women that are aimed at maintaining fitness but should also be beneficial for birth and physical recovery.
She leads pre-natal classes in Clontarf and Sandyford, Dublin, and there are also ones in Cork and Galway. Recently she launched an online programme for women who can’t get to classes.
“Once a GP has cleared you for exercise and there are no complications, there is still a lot you can do in the gym,” she says.
However, generally she finds gym staff either err on the side of caution and advise avoiding everything or are too gung-ho and tell pregnant women they are okay to do everything, which is dangerous, she warns.
High-intense cardio is out for a start, as is getting overheated.
“You need to keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute.”
While some people might think lying on your back doing abdominal exercises would keep your core muscles strong, you could cause a split in the abdominal sheath known as diastasis recti.
Pregnant women should also avoid lifting weights overhead because of low blood pressure – you could get dizzy and faint.
“Squats with a weight is fine as long as it’s not too heavy and you’re comfortable,” she says but swinging kettle bells is not advisable because that could damage your hips, as ligaments in the pelvis are being loosened by the hormone relaxin.
The TRX suspension trainer is quite tough on your stomach, she says, so should be avoided too.
The bottom line is listen to your body. “If you are doing something and it doesn’t feel comfortable, stop straight away.”
She recalls how at 35 weeks pregnant she did the leg press machine with 110 kg “and I felt something crack – what was I thinking? That was stupid.”
Personal trainer Jessica Cooke can vouch for the benefits of continuing exercise through pregnancy as she did, before the births of her two-year-old and nine-month-old children.
Cooke, who works only with women at her Inspire Fitness studio in Galway, says she was wary about training with weights and avoided lifting anything over her shoulders.
“Some women don’t listen to that and go ahead, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
Press-ups, squats and lunges were the three exercises she stuck to, and they are the three she now recommends to pregnant clients.
“They just work the whole body, especially if you have weights on your shoulders. You will stay in fantastic shape right up to the birth, if you can keep it going,” says Cooke.