Here’s the golden nugget about pregnancy exercise, everything you do, or don’t do, affects your core and pelvic floor, so let’s be smart.
With pregnancy comes the burden of letting go of the ego, the ideas of what your body should be, the attachment to all the hard work you’ve put in to get here, and surrender into your body’s innate wisdom of growing a human. This doesn’t mean you take a back seat and do nothing. It means you now make choices for the best interest of you AND baby, for the long term.
There’s no need to beat the clock or push the heaviest weight. Now is the time you listen to your body and do what feels good rather than push it beyond. The safety precautions you take are to simply keep you and fetus safe in the moment to reduce risk of harm or death. Yes, death. This isn’t to scare you or be a downer; it’s simply the truth we face as coaches and athletes in any life stage. Let’s be great and empowered and educated to make THE BEST health decisions we can.
I want to make clear that suggestions are made based on evidence and experience, not because women can’t physically do it. Many women can do a lot of movements during pregnancy but I questions some exercises and so should you:
- What are the repercussions of it?
- What are the risks vs. the rewards?
- What are the long term consequences of performing those movements?
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Women and coaches have expressed their insecurities with going heavy or intense during pregnancy for fear of injury or lack of oxygen to the fetus. Firstly, we all need to understand that a woman’s body is INCREDIBLE. (Can I get a ‘woo woo’!) Her physical pregnancy adaptations allow her to continue appropriate strenuous work without the fetus being deprived of oxygen and nutrients. I say appropriate because a pregnant woman should not be exercising in hot, humid conditions. She should also be varying her program intelligently to ensure adequate amounts of recovery. Every training day should not be FRAN, sprinting, and 3 RM deadlifts. A kickass program will include active recovery days, off days, strength days, high intensity days, skill days, and power days. It has variety, and it is adaptable to her needs that day. Because let’s face it, a pregnant woman can feel great one day and not the next. Programming has to flow as she does.
During exercise, a woman can engage her pelvic floor (stopping the flow of urine) at the end of the exhale with an engaged core or in between sets during rest (ex. 10 contractions or Kegels then get back to it!). It’s not a matter of IF you can engage, it’s the practice of contracting and FULLY relaxing that makes the difference in labor and postpartum. The repetition of practice will also build better control and strength, just like any other set of muscles in your body! There is also evidence that full range of motion squats or “popping a squat” builds pelvic floor strength and integrity. Squatting this low should be supervised by a professional to support the best movement patterns, keeping your risk of injury low.
Speaking of movement patterns, modifications made to cleans and snatches with a belly bump are to keep risk of injury low AND it’s to ensure your quality patterns are not f!#$ed up with a bar path arching around your belly. The technique of performing these lifts ARE affected when ANYONE has a protruding belly (pregnancy or beer gut) and the result is increased stress on spine. We don’t want to put more stress on the pregnancy spine. The core muscles are already tugging on it as is. Our job is to decrease stress, increase stability, and perfect movement patterns through double or single dumbbell or kettlebell implement substitutions.
We can stabilize the core with:
- single^/double kettlebell or dumbbell replacement for barbell lifts
- farmer or suitcase carries
- overhead carries
- Pallof presses
- band chops
- mini band adductor/abductor work
- side planks and solid planks (must posterior pelvic tilt and engage core).
Pregnant women and moms should NOT be performing:
- GHD sit ups
- Ab-mat sit ups
- Toes to bar
- Knees to chest
- Sitting up in bed/on couch
- Planks without PROPER posterior pelvic tilt and core engagement
Substitute with the ones above to ensure core integrity and decrease risk of diastasis recti from occurring or getting worse.
If you’re unsure of how to modify/substitute any movements or routines, please contact me. I teach a CEU coach seminar on Pregnancy and Postpartum Strength Training, created a downloadable PDF guide, offer remote programming for women, and support professionals in a variety of ways on how to keep clients moving safely! If you or a client is suffering from a core or pelvic floor issue, please encourage them to see a women’s health physical therapist to get the proper care they need to heal their issues. If left untreated, they have the potential of negatively affecting the woman’s exercise routine as well as increase her risk of surgery. With proper treatment, most issues can heal with consistent effort and time. But we don’t want any of this to happen! We want women to stay smart and safe through pregnancy and postpartum to have a healthy body and the amazing return to exercise she deserves filled confidence, power and support!
Colleen Flaherty is a strength and conditioning badass who empowers women through their motherhood journey (www.fit2prokreate.com). Colleen and her boyfriend Adam Cristantello, ATC, CF-L2 created the first Crossfit & NSCA CEU Pregnancy and Postpartum Strength Seminar and eBook for coaches and women (www.prokreate.co). They taught around the world last year educating over 40 coaches and professionals. She owned a studio in Rochester, NY for 3 years before recently moving to San Diego to be in sun and sand with new friends on new adventures!