Keeping up with the current pregnancy exercise guidelines can be a little challenging. The guidelines differ slightly between countries and there’s always the challenge of myth vs fiction. Beginning or maintaining fitness during pregnancy has many health benefits for mum and her unborn baby. From reducing the risk of gestational diabetes, reducing aches and pains to lowering the risk of delivery complications ( there are so many more benefits, but that’s for another post!).
It can however, be confusing as to what exercise and how much exercise is considered safe during this time. There are many myths surrounding pregnancy and exercise and the guidelines have changed and evolved over time to reflect what we know now as the most current and up to date recommendations.
Sports Medicine Australia recommends the following pregnancy exercise guidelines –
For Women who were not active prior to pregnancy – 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes per day commencing at low intensity and working towards a moderate intensity on most days of the week. This might include activates like walking ,cycling, swimming or strength training.
For women who were previously active prior to pregnancy and are experiencing an uncomplicated pregnancy physical activity 150- 300 minutes per week and 30-60 minutes per of moderate to vigorous activity day most days of the week. Exercise is encouraged to be continued until it becomes uncomfortable to do so or unless advised by your healthcare practitioner.
You might be thinking well what exactly is moderate intensity?
This will vary for the individual but, a good way to measure and monitor intensity is to use the Borg scale Rate of perceived exertion scale (RPE). The scale allows individuals to subjectively rate their level of exertion during exercise or exercise testing. An appropriate scale would be working at around 12-14 which means the exercise is somewhat hard, but you are still able to maintain talking throughout. To view the whole chart and gain further understanding of how exertion is measured please see the following link ( https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/exertion.htm)
Muscle strengthening exercises play an important role for women throughout their lifetime. Strength training helps to increase muscle function, bone density ( which helps prevent osteoporosis), improves tendon, ligament and joint functions and improves posture and alignment. During pregnancy strength training can help to reduce lower back, neck and shoulder pain and prepare your body for labour and delivery.
I love strength training! It makes me feel strong, regulates my mood and always helps to set the day ahead for me particularly when I train in the mornings.
The current guidelines for strength training during pregnancy recommended by sports medicine Australia are:
Frequency: min 2 sessions per week.
Intensity: Sub-maximal intensity using own body weight, light weights and/or resistance bands (exhale on effort).
Type: Work all large muscle groups
Programming: 1 set of 12-15 repetitions of up to 8-10 exercises.
You might have read this and thought, these guidelines recommend to only lift light weight! Remember these are generalised guidelines. What I consider light may be heavy to you or vice versa. It also mentions submaximal intensity. Submaximal means less than maximum effort or around 85% of your maximum effort . If you can safely lift weight and you feel strong, capable, comfortable and don’t experience any symptoms associated with lifting then there should be no reason to avoid lifting the weight. Some symptoms to watch out for may include low back pain, downward pressure on the pelvic floor, pain in the abdominal or pelvic region, urinary incontinence or the feeling of bulging or something falling out of the vagina. If you experience any of these please stop and seek assessment from a women’s health physiotherapist.
When exercising during pregnancy it’s important women pay attention to the physical and physiological changes that occur to their body and as their pregnancy progresses exercises are modified to suit individual needs this is best done under the guidance of a pre and postnatal fitness coach. There are of course circumstances where women may have pregnancy related medical conditions such as preeclampsia or lower back injury where she may have been advised to certain types of exercise. Women should consult with their healthcare providers (GP, obstetricians, midwife, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist) regarding physical activity and exercise during and after pregnancy as your medical team are the ones that know you best and therefore will provide you with the best care and advice for YOU and your unborn baby.