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The Exercise "Special"ist (Or Two)

It has been a week since my last blog so I know you're all extremely excited and ready for another post. In Part One of this series, I introduced a group of "special" individuals. This time we will be meeting another part of the population with which most (if not all) of you are familiar. You see them grocery stores...on your daily walk to the work...home...or maybe even the gym. There is no escaping their presence. Who are these people? The title should provide a "little" hint, but if not I am talking about pregnant women.

While these special ladies don't have "deformities" that limit their capacity to exercise, their bellies, in later stages, can act as a hindrance when trying some movement patterns and put restrictions on their fitness routine. So what happens now?

Well...I have good news! Exercise during pregnancy has its benefits. Keeping as fit as possible can lead to lower incidences of Cesarean sections, gaining too much weight causing gestational diabetes, lower weight babies, preeclampsia, and preterm births. Maintaining the best possible health throughout all three trimesters gives both mother and child the best chance of success during and after delivery. Additionally, regular activity while pregnant can decrease swelling in the lower extremities, ease constipation, manage symptoms of anxiety, reduce low back pain from an expanding belly, relieve stress leading to better sleep, and improve postpartum recovery. Two and one-half hours of aerobic activity per week can help maintain optimal health so unless a doctor determines it's not feasible, there really isn't an excuse to refrain from keeping active.

Just as a pregnancy is divided into trimesters, what they are allowed to do is as well. This article will discuss what is appropriate and what to avoid in each one. To address the question posed first. Many times it takes several weeks or more for a woman to learn she is carrying a baby. By then, she could be well into the first portion without having made any specific modifications to her gym time. Fortunately, this is still a "safe" period so unless something unfortunate happened at conception, there is no harm being done to the fetus by continuing normal workouts.

However, once a woman finds out she is having a child, it is best to consult her obstetrician and/or physician who can advise her on what exercise (if any) is best for her situation. It is at this point that modifications, sometimes minor while others more significant, occur. Should clearance be given to proceed, consultations with personal trainers specializing in prenatal movement patterns are advised.

Like with most workout routines, and, being that every pregnancy is different, please understand that there is not a one size fits all so what I am sharing are general guidelines to help everyone involved know what to expect in the months ahead.

Now that a woman has reached her thirteenth week, high impact exercises should be limited. Because of their low impact nature, elliptical machines, indoor cycling, swimming and walking can be done throughout the entire pregnancy. As long as you have one foot on the ground during the exercise, it is most likely an acceptable choice. Getting on a stationary bike is safer to execute than a road or trail ride because the risk of falling off is greatly reduced. Oftentimes the water helps relieve joints of any extra weight put on by the developing fetus. A brisk trip around the block or to your neighborhood park keeps previous fitness levels as close as possible to their pre-pregnancy state and can be very therapeutic as well. Prenatal yoga classes can be beneficial as they avoid backbends, balancing or inverted poses, Bikram format, and any stretches done laying on the back. Most strength training workouts can still be completed as usual but avoid heavy lift days as many individuals do not execute these with proper form. Keep the spine in a neutral position to avoid any excess compression on the vertebral discs.

Once the pregnancy is in its final trimester, further modifications may have to be taken to ensure the safety of all involved parties. At this point, some additional activities should be removed from workouts. Crunches, deep knee bends, full situps, pushups, and wide squats work larger muscles and require more fuel and oxygen, thus taking it and other vital nutrients away from the growing baby. Isometric exercises such as planks and wall sits consisting of a static hold need to be eliminated as they create long contractions of several muscle groups simultaneously and place undue stress on the pelvic floor. Strength training may continue with light dumbbells just remember to not hold your breath while performing activity.

Lastly, if a particular activity doesn't feel right or is exceptionally challenging to perform, it is probably best to not push yourself. As mentioned in my Why "Not" Exercise blog a few months back, there are times when it's necessary to take a step back or completely away from working out. A few signs to be aware of during pregnancy that signal an immediate stoppage are: chest pain or breathing difficulties, feeling dizzy, headache, muscle weakness, painful contractions, vaginal bleeding, or the baby stops moving. Don't be embarrassed if you can't finish an exercise session. Listening to your body and using common sense goes a long way toward guaranteeing a complication free childbirth process.

While it may seem that exercise for this special group is highly restrictive in the latter stages, it is imperative for the health of mom and baby to find a way to get up, get out, and get moving. Remember that even if swimming and/or walking are the only thing(s) the doctor allows, you CAN do something. Go do it! You and your baby deserve it!

That's all I have for now. Come back next week to meet more "special"ists. See you then. Happy reading!

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