In 2015 (reaffirmed 2019) ACOG released new guidelines were released on Exercise during Pregnancy and Postpartum, these are the most up-to-date pregnancy and postpartum exercise guidelines. So just what is safe? Hot Yoga? Crossfit? High Intensity Training?
Every pregnancy, as well as every active mama-to-be, is different. After working with Dr. Hopkins (co-author of the ACOG Guidelines), I have listed some facts about intense exercise below. Take a read through them to help you decide what is too much for you and your growing baby. We cover all of these topics and more in our comprehensive Prenatal & Postnatal Starter Pack.
Overall, exercise should not exceed pre-pregnancy levels. So pregnancy is not the best time to start something new. Stick to what you were doing or start out slowly (read more about that here). ACSM suggests that moderate to hard is quite safe for a woman who is accustomed to this level of exercise.
Depending which trimester you are in, your RPE will gauge differently. If you are in your first trimester and spend most of your day fatigued, tired and nauseous, your exertion range will be achieved by very little. If you are in your third trimester and was up five times overnight using the bathroom your perceived exertion range will be achieved by very little. But, if you are in your second trimester and feeling “normal” and energetic your range will only be achieved by doing more. So gauge appropriately.
Safe aerobic exercise during pregnancy includes: walking, swimming, stationary cycling, low-impact aerobics, racquet sports, running or jogging. Unless you were running or playing racquet sports prior to getting pregnant, these should not be initiated during pregnancy.
Safe strength-training exercise includes: Pilates, Yoga, body weight exercises and strength training with free weights (avoiding the abdomen).
If you refer to the ACOG CO650, it cites the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation that pregnant women who engage in consistent vigorous intensity aerobic capacity (e.g. running) can continue to do so as long as this type of exercise is discussed with a healthcare provider and adjusted over time.
High demands in strength training can induce the Valsalva maneuver (holding your breath during the exertion phase) and can cause intra-abdominal pressure. Also, fast or increased strength training can pose a danger to the belly with fast-moving weights. It is better to use higher repetitions than heavier weights.
Upper limits (how intense exercise can be) have not been tested. And, currently, there is no research that shows the upper limits of prenatal exercise. This could be due to a lack of participants, safety and/or the fact that it’s hard to test differing upper limits.
Athletes can attempt to push their limits of pain and intensity. For example, a pregnant woman feels a Rate of Perceived Exertion of 8 (on a 10 point scale) while doing intense exercise. But, maybe as an athlete she has “turned off” her guide, as she is used to pushing through fatigue or finishing the repetitions. Read more about your fit pregnancy.
Hot Yoga and Hot Pilates are not recommended by ACOG.
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