If you are a triathlete or a runner it’s highly likely that you will want to continue your triathlon training during pregnancy. It is completely normal to maintain exercise during pregnancy and beyond. However, there are some special considerations regarding exercise for women during pregnancy and in the early stages postpartum. You will want to ensure that you and your baby are kept safe whilst you exercise.
Sports Medicine Australia has recently published guidelines as to what is safe exercise during pregnancy. The guidelines state that “All women without contraindications should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy. Reasonable goals of aerobic conditioning in pregnancy should be to maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness”. You can access the generic exercise guidelines here.
Provided you have not been advised of any medical reason why you should cease exercising during your pregnancy you will be safe to continue with some precautions.
How often should you exercise during pregnancy?
There are currently no known adverse risks to a pregnant woman that are linked with meeting the recommended guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity per week.
- At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week; or
- At least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week; or
- An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity
What is a safe Intensity to exercise at during pregnancy?
- Moderate vigorous intensity should be firstly guided by the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion or the ‘Talk Test’ or alternatively heart rate zones
- Importantly, no research to date has identified a ‘safe’ upper-limit to exercise intensity
- Ultimately, listen to your body. Be aware of signs and symptoms to cease physical activity immediately and consult your doctor
As the “talk test” implies, you should be able to maintain a conversation during exercise; if you are unable to , you should reduce the exercise intensity. If you prefer to use the Borg scale, you should aim to exercise at level of 12 to 14 or a level that feels ‘somewhat hard’
What type of exercise can you enjoy during pregnancy?
If you are a runner or a triathlete, you will already be used to exercising. Whist it is not recommended that you take up running when you are pregnant, it is perfectly okay to continue whilst you are pregnant. It is important that you understand that there are many changes to your body that occur during pregnancy. The increasing weight of your baby, and changing hormones can have a major affect on your pelvic floor. If you experience any pelvic pain, heaviness, dragging sensation in the vagina, low back pain or incontinence while you run – your body is telling you that it is too much! Listen to your body. You don’t want to cause any damage that will affect your ability to train or perform later down the track. The most important thing right now is your health and the health of your baby. You can return to running later. If you do experience any of these symptoms whilst running, I recommend that you seek assessment and guidance from a Womens Health Physiotherapist.
Swimming should not cause you discomfort during pregnancy, and is generally an excellent exercise to continue with right into the later stages of your pregnancy. Some women will experience pelvic girdle pain with breast stroke. If you do, try to stick to freestyle and backstroke if it is still comfortable.
Cycling on a road bike is generally discouraged, particularly after the 12 week mark due to the risk of injuring you or your baby if you were to fall from your bike. You can continue to ride on a stationary bike or a wind trainer if you feel comfortable.
When to STOP exercising during pregnancy
If you have any signs of pain or discomfort it is recommended that you stop exercising and reassess the activity you are doing. Perhaps it is too intense for your body at this point in time.
If you have any of the following signs or symptoms you should stop exercising altogether and seek assistance from your healthcare practitioner: abdominal pain, any “gush” of fluid from the vagina, calf pain or swelling, chest pain, decreased foetal movement, dizziness or presyncope, breathlessness before exertion, excessive fatigue/tiredness, headache, pelvic pain, excessive shortness of breath, painful uterine contractions and vaginal bleeding.
Keeping your core strong during pregnancy
‘Core’ strengthening exercises are often considered a staple to any strength and conditioning routine. As a triathlete, you will want to keep strong during your pregnancy. However during pregnancy, some core strengthening exercises may be uncomfortable, or could potentially put you at risk of feeling dizzy, nauseous or faint. It is recommended that after 16 weeks you no longer continue exercises laying on your back. If you still want to complete a ‘core’ workout, you can modifying your core workout accordingly. This will allow you to maintain your core strength, whilst still being safe and comfortable. Remember that it is important not complete or continue any core exercise that causes pain. Also, If you are unable to complete the exercise with good technique, do not sacrifice your form. Compensatory movements may cause pain or lead to injury and ultimately do not improve your strength. Some ways to continue strength and conditioning are:
Get your core workout done in the Pool
Swimming in general us excellent for your core. Step it up a notch and focus on your core with a pair of flippers and a kick board. Dolphin kick on your back, front and each side gives you a safe and focused core workout. Keep your knees and ankles together and kick ‘like a dolphin’. You can also use the edge of the pool to do exercises such as leg lifts and knee tucks t o your chest.
Turn your plank on its side!
Planking in the early stages of your pregnancy should not give you any concerns at all. In the later stages though, excess abdominal pressure caused by planking and similar exercises may start to feel quite uncomfortable. Traditional planks can force a tonne of pressure through the pelvic floor and can lead to all sorts of issuers. Instead, try planking on your side. Focus on contracting your pelvic floor muscles as well as lifting your hips and core towards the ceiling. Be sure not to tilt forwards or backwards. Not only will you be strengthening your core your glutes will get an excellent workout too!
Avoid core exercises that require you to lie on your back
As mentioned earlier, the weight of your baby can start to put excess pressure on important arteries if you lie on your back for prolonged periods of time. Modify these exercises by doing them in side lie or in a sitting position.
The traditional ‘sit up’ can be easily reversed. Sitting on the floor with your knees bent, place your hands on your knees and lean back slowly until your arms are straight. Maintaining good alignment in your spine, pull your belly button towards your spine. ** Be sure that there is no doming of your abdomen** as this can increase the pressure of the lines alba in the presence of a diastasis of Rectus Abdominal muscles. Lift your arms slowly above your head. Play with the position of your arms. Bring them up to the roof, out to the side and alternating one arm up and and one arm down. In this same seated position you can rest your hands on the ground, you can do toe taps or single leg extensions.
Try your exercises in 4 point kneeling
Its easy to forget some traditional 4 point kneeling exercises. These are very safe and usually very comfortable. Try
- Kneeling on all fours
- Lifting opposite arm to leg
- Take your extended arm and leg out to the side slightly, without moving your core.
Pelvic Floor Exercises are important too!
Your pelvic floor is the floor to your core. It helps make up the corset that supports your trunk. They are also the muscles responsible for maintaining continence (so you don’t lose urine when you cough / sneeze / laugh etc). Continuing your pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and beyond will improve core strength and maintain / rehabilitate continence postpartum. There are so many triathletes and runners out there that recognise that their pelvic floor is ‘not what it used to be’ and wish that they had taken better care of their pelvic floor and core during pregnancy. If you want to return to running and triathlon postpartum, I recommend that you consider using a guided program such as Heresphere to help keep you strong during pregnancy. (More on that below!)
Marika Heart the founding owner of Heresphere is a postgraduate trained physiotherapist, pilates instructor and mother-of two. Marika is super passionate and talented when it comes to helping women feel fit, strong and healthy during pregnancy and beyond. Marika has developed an online program that brings you curated exercise videos, education sessions, and a dynamic community of mums-to-be so you can have the most fulfilling and healthy pregnancy, ever.
The premiere physiotherapist-designed program ensures that you stay strong and safe during your pregnancy.
Perks of The Pregnancy Club:
- Marika pays *real* attention to your changing body. The Heresphere time-tested exercises focus on your strength, flexibility, core work and aerobic system. As your body changes over the course of your pregnancy, you receive a variety of exercises, so you work from top to tail and you won’t get bored!
- The exercises and content are adjusted as your pregnancy progresses. Your body is totally different at 3 months than at 8 months, so why would you be doing the same exercises throughout? You are given appropriate exercises through each phase of your journey.
- Herephere will keep you in your best form for triathlon / running. The exercises themselves will keep your core strong during pregnancy. However, Heresphere is so much more than just exercise. The program will equip you with knowledge about your body that will help you to understand how to transition back to triathlon once you have had your baby. You will learn so much more about your body and the effects of pregnancy than you could anticipate. The expert knowledge that Marika delivers in her webinars will help to make you feel supported by someone that understands how important it is to you that you continue exercising during your pregnancy.
- You can be successful anywhere. The exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home, with minimal equipment. Plus, the webinars, videos, and Facebook group are always at your fingertips when you have internet access. This means even dipping your toe into the support, guidance, and cheerleading inside the Pregnancy Club makes the cost of admission completely worth it.
To learn more about the program, or to sign to access the Heresphere program click here.
Support your bump when you exercise
As your baby bump grows you may find that you need some additional support around your waistline and pelvis. Tubigrip is a tubular compression bandage that is available in sizes large enough such that you can use them around your waist. Double over a size K or L bandage around your waist to give your bump and pelvis support. Having this additional support definitely allowed me to continue running much longer during my pregnancy than I would have without it. You can purchase whole boxes online, however you will not require much at all. The tubular bandage is washable. I recommend having 2 pieces cut to size. One that you can be washing and one that you can be wearing. Contact your women’s health physiotherapist and request some today.
Some online stores such as pregnancy.com.au sell tubigrip in 1 meter lengths at a very reasonable price. You can continue using this additional support once bub arrives, just until your core is feeling stronger and more comfortable. I would not recommend using it for longer than 4-6 weeks postpartum though. Your body may become ‘reliant’ on it, and it can start to have more negative effects than positive.
Find comfortable maternity and nursing activewear
Maternity wear can be very expensive, especially if it is of no particular use to you once you are no longer pregnant. Polka Dot Pop stocks a range of maternity and nursing active wear. Having trialed a number of these products and viewed the entire active wear range, I can confirm that this range is affordable, comfortable, of high quality.
Being breastfeeding friendly, the tops and bras in this range can be worn both during pregnancy and beyond making them excellent value for money. The sports bras in this range are particularly designed for moderate to high impact exercise, and offer the support necessary. The range caters for women from sizes xs = xl and cup sizes A-G size cups.
Please note you will need to email Polka Dot Pop directly for inquiry for xs sized apparel. You do not need to go out and buy new activewear though. Making sure that your breasts and abdomen are well supported is the main concern. You can do this by doubling layers if necessary. For example wearing 2 crop tops instead of 1.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is essential that you give yourself enough nutrients and water. Your body is using more nutrients than it would ordinarily to feed baby. Make sure you eat plenty of healthy food and drink plenty of water! If you would like more tips regarding exercising and breastfeeding please read my post Breastfeeding and Exercise : 8 Tips to give you the confidence you need to try it.
Listen to your body and let yourself rest!
This is the number one rule of exercising during pregnancy. If you feel comfortable, then your exercise is right. If you feel uncomfortable or strained in any way, then your chosen exercise is not suitable. Remember at this stage the most important consideration is your health and the health of your baby. Please don’t compromise on your health during pregnancy. Don’t push yourself! If you are feeling too tired to exercise, allow yourself to rest. Take a nap or simply just lie down. Whether you are growing a baby, or looking after children, it is essential to give yourself some time out to rest. Never feel guilty for doing so. If you have the opportunity to rest you should take it! We all know that the chance to take a nap does’t come around that often when your a mum!
A few points on postnatal recovery
Please be aware that your 6 week check with your doctor or midwife may not be extensive enough to ensure that you are ready to return to triathlon training. Usually this ‘check up’ is designed to ensure that there are no obvious signs of infection, retained placenta etc. What they are not designed to do (usually) is to ensure that you have adequate pelvic floor strength to participate in high intensity exercise. A Womens Health Physiotherapist can help to guide you back to training, especially if you have any concerns with your pelvic floor and core. I recommend seeking clearance from a Womens Health Physio before returning back to your training.
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