Fitness in pregnancy: good workouts for you and your bump

Physiolates, yoga and Pilates are great ways to keep fit, but there are exercises you should avoid

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Pregnancy Pilates

Pilates strengthens intrinsic muscles to support your posture. The goal in pregnancy is to work on specific areas, says Lisa Wilkinson, founder of the Elbowroom, a wellbeing centre in Stoneybatter, Dublin.

Areas worked on include the stomach, to help prevent or minimise the separation of abdominal muscles. The exercises should also reduce back pain, by addressing postural problems caused by the extra weight, strengthen the pelvic floor and increase mind-body connection.

“Being aware of where your pelvic floor is can be really useful when you’re getting to the pushing stage.” Post-pregnancy recovery, she adds, is quicker in women who have done pre-natal Pilates.

Pregnancy yoga

While generally pregnant women are advised not to take up a new exercise, this adapted form of yoga is an exception. A range of safe movement and postures is aimed at building strength and stamina.

What Wilkinson regards as both exercise and relaxation has become increasingly popular in recent years and classes are widely available. They are also a great way to meet other expectant mothers.

“There is more of an emphasis on the connection and the deep relaxation that is required if you want to focus on the labour,” Wilkinson says. “The movement through poses and the breath control are very specific to what’s ahead.”

Having had between 6,000 and 7,000 pregnant women through the doors of the Elbowroom since it was established 13 years ago, “the thing that most predominantly comes back to us, is that it was the yoga, it was the breath [control] that got us through the birth.”

Physiolates

Physiotherapist Deborah Fernandes describes the “physiolates” programme she has created as “a combination of ante-natal classes, pregnancy physiotherapy and pregnancy Pilates”. She runs the six-week course at Physiofit Woman, of which she is clinical director, in Sandyford, Dublin. Women are recommended to start it during their second trimester.

The majority of women who take these classes are already coming for pregnancy physio, she explains, for conditions such as lower back pain, sciatica pain and pelvic girdle pain.

“All the exercises will be catered to strengthen the body from inside out so they don’t need to wear any pelvic belt – they are working on their own inner belt,” Fernandes says. “They are strengthening the core, the back, the thighs, the arms, everything, in one course.” There are also specific stretches that they need to do at home.

Swimming

Exercising in water is an excellent way to main fitness because the extra weight is supported. However, the general advice of not over-heating, not letting your heart rate go over 140bp and keeping hydrated still applies.

In a tailored ante-natal aqua programme, such as the one run in the hydrotherapy pool of Cork’s Mardyke Arena, women can enjoy water exercise combined with physical preparation for birth. The benefits of the classes, which are open to women at 20 weeks onwards, are said to include improved core stability and reduced fluid retention and back pain.

Walking

The simplest and most accessible form of exercise that can be done right up to (and beyond) the start of contractions.

DON’T DO

Pregnant women are advised to avoid all contact sports, as well as exercise that could result in a fall such as horse-riding, skiing and cycling. The change in your centre of gravity increases the risk of a tumble. Scuba diving is out for the entire pregnancy and exercising at altitude should be avoided unless fully acclimatised.

Contra-indications to continuing exercise include dizziness, headache, weak muscles, chest pains, difficulty getting breath and pain or swelling in the legs.

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