Should You Exercise When You’re Pregnant?

May 15, 2018
Ashley Ann Lawrie

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate all the mother’s and women in our lives. It is not an easy job raising the next generation of athletes, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and entrepreneurs. One of the things personal trainers often hear from our female clients was that ‘they once were fit but then they had children.’ Being pregnant and then caring for a child and switching your focus from yourself to a little one can definitely be a time where pounds just seem to sneak on. So is there anything we can do to make pregnancy an amazing experience that doesn’t mean sacrificing our pre-mommy fitness? The easy answer – absolutely!

The Public Health Agency of Canada lists these as the main benefits of exercising while pregnant:

  • improve your mood and self-image
  • help ensure appropriate weight gain
  • help you relax and reduce stress
  • promote better sleep
  • increase your muscle tone, strength and endurance
  • help build your stamina for labour and delivery
  • speed up your recovery after labour and delivery
  • help increase your energy levels

All of the amazing benefits you get from exercising when you are not pregnant are still valid when you are pregnant. Except it isn’t only benefiting you, now it is benefiting the baby too! In fact, there are some new theories suggesting that early pregnancy can have similar effects as some performance enhancing techniques. These theories are actually not that new, though, as there are some who say that during the Cold War, the Russian’s would get their female athletes pregnant and terminate the pregnancy once their athlete’s performance had benefited from it. This is still unproven, so let’s just look at the facts of pregnancy against how athletes have tried to enhance their performance.

Higher Blood Volume & Stronger Heart

Some athletes use tools like hyperbaric chambers, or go old school and train at altitudes to increase the number of red blood cells in their body so that they increase their oxygen carrying capacity. Muscles require oxygen for energy, so having more blood and therefore more oxygen means the muscles can worker harder than they could have before. When pregnant,  a woman’s blood volume increases so there is enough to support herself and the growing baby. A pregnant woman’s heart also increases in size in order to support the demand for blood. Tie these together with a less vascular resistance and you get superhero-like oxygen carrying capacity. So, theoretically, a pregnant woman has the effects of altitude training without having to put herself through altitude training.

Hormonal Changes

Everyone is well aware that while women are pregnant they experience major changes to their hormones. What is great about this is the increase in oestrogen and progesterone could potentially alter the woman’s metabolism in a way that is favourable for training. The change would mean that she uses more of her fat stores for energy (fat provides more energy per gram than any other fuel source), leaving her carbohydrate stores to be used at a later time. How does this affect the athletic performance of women? Well imagine you are working out and before the workout you ate a high carbohydrate meal to give you enough energy for the workout. Where most people would burn through their carbohydrate stores and feel fatigued early on, a pregnant woman could theoretically prolong her workout with high levels of energy before using a significant amount of carbohydrates.

These are potential theories as to how pregnancy basically makes you superhuman, but most of us aren’t looking for that edge, so how can we use exercise to make pregnancy and post-pregnancy easy? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology have created a very thorough document outlining why women should exercise pre-,during, and post-pregnancy. If you would like more information you can find it here.

  1. Talk to your doctor first. Some pregnancies can be more complicated based on a woman’s predisposition to conditions and complications, so special guidelines should be set by the doctor
  2. If you have been working out, then just keep doing what you’re doing! As the pregnancy progresses certain changes will have to be made to respect the physiological changes of the mother and child, but your overall training does not need to change much. Tess Franklin, one of our newest team members and mommy of 3, said she was doing pull-ups the night before she delivered one of her children!

  3. If you have not been exercising, you can still begin a training program. Expect the training intensity to be low, and the progression to be slow. Exercise is technically a stressor on the body, so adding it to your life while you are also adapting to the changes of pregnancy can be overwhelming if you try to do too much too soon.

Becoming a mother does not mean you have to give up the fit lifestyle you once had. It can be a great opportunity to improve your own health while also creating a healthy environment for your child to grow! To all of the great mom’s and mom’s-to-be, Happy Mother’s Day!


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