You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Prenatal Fitness’ category.

This is the last entry in BUMP Life’s 4 part series on prenatal fitness.  If you have missed any of our past posts on the most frequently asked prenatal fitness questions, check them out here:

4 Top Prenatal Fitness Questions

  1.  Can I get my heart rate over 140bpm
  2.  Can I do ab work while I am pregnant?
  3.  I woke up last night on my back, should I be worried?

And on to our last frequently asked question:

My joints feel loosey-goosey, should I avoid working out?

Ahhh, Relaxin, you are the culprit.

There is a laundry list of symptoms and sensations you may experience while you are pregnant; nausea, unstable joints, swelling, light headedness, back pain and many more and most can be traced right back to the effects of the hormone, Relaxin.

This topic is near and dear to my heart.  When I became fascinated with prenatal fitness many, many years ago, it was Relaxin that fascinated me the most.

Relaxin does exactly what it says it does- it relaxes.   

Its main job is to relax the connective tissue in the rib cage so your ribs can expand to accommodate the growing baby.  It also relaxes the pelvic joints to allow for delivery.  It does not, however, limit its self to just these joints.  It relaxes the ankle joint and the pinky finger joint and the joints in the spinal column.  It also relaxes muscle fibers and various sphincters in the body.

SO relaxin is responsible, in part, to everything from morning sickness, to heartburn, to that increased chance you’ll twist your ankle stepping off the curb.

So what does this mean for working out?


Relaxin effects working out in 3 main ways.  But in short– working out will help mitigate the less desirable effects of relaxin. SO KEEP WORKING OUT!


Injury Prevention-

Strong muscles will help prevent injuries during pregnancy

Relaxin cause the connective tissue around the joints to be a little looser.  This makes sense, so the rib cage can expand the pelvic bones can separate.  But it also makes you a little more susceptible to spraining an ankle or experiencing wrist pain.

Take care not to over-tax weak joints.  Moves with quick direction changes or lots of lateral movement (think fast paced tennis match) are more likely to cause an injury.

In your daily life, slow down a bit and take more caution on unstable surfaces where tripping hazards (rocks, curbs, kids toys) may cause you to loose your footing or balance.

Strong muscles will help support less stable joints. Going into your pregnancy strong is ideal, but weight training during pregnancy will insure the muscles surrounding your joints are strong and able to support your body, even when your joints are not.

Underfil Issues and Dizziness


Exercise improves circulation, which may decrease nausea

In the first trimester, relaxin shows its effects by relaxing the muscle fibers.  When the muscles do not provide as tight a ‘casing’ for the blood vessels that pass through them, the blood vessels also expand.  With larger blood vessels, there is now not enough blood to fill up the increase space, leading to an underfill issue.  Gravity causes the blood to pool in the lower extremities (hello swollen ankles) and makes it harder on your body to pump blood quickly all the way up to your head, therefore leading to feelings of dizziness, lightheadness and nausea.

The good news is, your body gets to work quickly producing more blood.  By the end of your first trimester, your blood volume has increased by 30-50 percent!  Once the blood volume has a chance to catch up, many of the dizzy spells subside.

During the first trimester, take caution when standing up quickly and especially when going from a head down position like downward dog or blow-drying your hair.  And try a gentle walk even if you feel nauseous, exercise improves circulation and getting some blood to your brain might help the symptoms of morning sickness.

Postural Concerns

 It is never to early in your pregnancy to start practicing proper posture, even though it really becomes a concern in later trimesters when increase weight adds to compromised joints.  Increased size of your belly has a tendency to pull your body forward, causing an excessive curve in your lower back (and increase back pain).  Weakened spinal joints and increase weight of your breast can cause your shoulders to round forward (leading to more back pain).

Start as early as you can practicing proper posture.  Don’t slouch.  Keep your shoulders pulled back and engage your abs, think about hugging your baby closer to your body.  This will help improve your posture, prevent back and neck pain and actually make you look smaller.

Check out these pregnant pictures of a friend of mine.  How far along does she look in each photo?


Did you guess 36 weeks….in BOTH??  The first photo shows good posture and the second photo shows bad posture.  Enough said.

Thank you so much for tuning in to this series on Prenatal Fitness.

My bottom line points about exercising during your pregnancy are;

  1. Do it, it is good for you and good for your baby
  2. Be reasonable, find exercises that you like and feels good.  Don’t feel like you have to keep up with your old routine or what some celebrity is doing if it doesn’t feel right to you.
  3. Be smart, fitness during pregnancy is safe and important, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know what you are doing.  Find someone who can help you put a safe, effective, appropriate routine together to avoid injury and make sure you can stick with it.  (check out BUMP life for more suggestions)

Stay tune for more articles on specific exercises to do during pregnancy and afterwards.

Supine Hypotensive What?!?!

That sounds like a really scary condition that you don’t want to get, right?  Well, actually it’s really a scary sounding name for a much less complicated issue during pregnancy.

As the size of the growing baby increases, the baby may have enough weight to compress the vena cava (the vein that returns blood to the heart) when the mother is lying on her back.  This usually starts sometime between 20-25 weeks  and most women will describe the symptoms as dizzy  and lightheadedness or ‘pins and needles’ in the legs.

As is true in many prenatal situations, maternal symptoms always precede fetal distress.  This basically means that the pregnant woman is going to feel the pins and needles and know it is time to change positions.

So, Should I not exercise flat on my back?The ACOG recommends limiting time pregnant women spend on their back to 2 minutes.  So, that’s enough time to get in one set of ab work, or chest stretches.  But remember 2 things;

  1. Try side-lying exercises as an alternative to flat on your back

    Supine Hypostensive Syndrome does not affect all pregnant women– some women never feel these symptoms and therefore are probably safe to continuing exercising (or sleeping) on their backs

  2. There are MANY alternative ways to do any exercise that is traditionally done on your back– By elevating your body to about a 30-degree angle, you can avoid any complications.  Doing your abdominal work on a stability ball or on all fours, completely alleviates any blood supply concerns (remember this video).  Try a seated chest press machine instead of a bench press or do the Pilates leg series side lying instead of flat.

I woke up on my back last night, should I be concerned?

Women’s bodies are designed to protect the growing baby.  If, in the middle of the night, you found you had been sleeping on your back, waking up was probably your body’s way of telling you it was time to change positions.  If you are a dedicated back sleeper, try putting one of your baby-to-be’s blankets to use early.  Fold it, and place it under one hip so you can lay on your back, but with your body slightly angled to one side, this is usually enough to keep the direct pressure off your vena cava.

Of course, if any symptoms during pregnancy are concerning to you or seem abnormal, always trust your gut (that’s your mother’s intuition starting!) and call you doctor.

This is part 3 in our series on Prenatal Fitness Questions Answered! If you missed part 1 or 2 click the question below to read the answers. And stay tuned for our final installment in this series on my favorite prenatal fitness topic- Relaxin!

In my many years of working with pregnant woman as a personal trainer and prenatal fitness expert, 4 questions come up over and over again.

4 Top Prenatal Fitness Questions

  1. Can I get my heart rate over 140bpm
  2. Can I do ab work while I am pregnant?
  3. I woke up last night on my back, should I be worried?
  4. My joints feel loosey-goosey, should I avoid working out?- COMING SOON

Welcome back to part 2 of your prenatal fitness questions answered! If you missed part 1 post about heart rate, check it out here.  

In my many years of working with pregnant woman as a personal trainer and prenatal fitness expert, 4 questions come up over and over again.

4 Top Prenatal Fitness Questions

  1. Can I get my heart rate over 140bpm
  2. Can I do ab work while I am pregnant?
  3. I woke up last night on my back, should I be worried?
  4. My joints feel loosey-goosey, should I avoid working out?

Today, we’re talking about abdominal work and is it safe during pregnancy.

This is probably the number one question I am asked.  Can I do ab work during my pregnancy, and is it safe for my baby.  In a word….YES!!  Strong abdominal muscles help support the weight of the growing baby, help improve posture and help prevent back pain.  Also, fit, strong abs will recover faster post-pregnancy.

It is imperative that you are focusing on your transverse muscles (the deep stabilizers) not your rectus muscles (think 6 pack). Strong transverse muscles are what are going to really help you during your pregnancy, delivery and post partum. Strong transverse muscle act like a support belt for the growing weight of your baby.  Strong abdominals hug your baby closer to your body and take pressure off the low back.  In fact, weak transverse muscles are probably the biggest contributor to back pain I see in my clients, both pregnant and post partum.

So how do you train these transverse muscles?  Think about drawing your belly button in towards your spine.   Try this simple exercise;

Ab Pulls:   It helps to place your hands on your stomach so you can feel the engagement.  Inhale, filling your belly, then exhale pulling your abs in.  Repeat 10 times then finish with 5 “pulses’ where you draw in further after your last exhale 5 times.  Don’t hold your breath, the whole time you should be able to breath and talk normally.

Once you master this move you can do it any time, while your sitting in traffic or at your desk, out on a walk, even from your hospital bed after delivery  or during your normal crunches.

Normal Crunches??  Yes, it is fine to continue normal crunches during pregnancy provided you are focusing on drawing your abs IN during the move, not pushing them out.  Its is a good idea to do your ab work on an incline (like a stability ball) or on all fours to prevent Supine Hypotensive Syndrome (as scary sounding word for a very common, mild occurrence.  We’ll discuss Supine Hypostensive Syndrome more in the next post.)

If you’d like to see a video of more specific ab exercises, check out my friends over at Oh Baby! Fitness and this video where Senior Instructor, Kathleen Donahoe leads a client through some great core exercises.

If you have any questions about abdominal training or any other pre or postnatal fitness question, please let me know in the comment section below!

And stay tuned for Part 3 of our series where we’ll talk more about the truth about lying flat during pregnancy and why you don’t need to worry if you wake up at night on your back.

Exercise during your pregnancy is good for you and good for your baby

Research continues to mount suggesting the many benefits exercise provides to pregnant women and their developing babies.  In fact, recommendations have shifted in the recent years from exercise is “safe” during pregnancy, to exercises is “highly recommended” during pregnancy.   New guidelines encourage pregnant woman exercise on “most if not all” days of the week. (read all of ACOG’s guidelines here)

Fit women have;

  • Shorter, less complicated labors
  • Faster recoveries
  • Decrease need for medical intervention
  • Increase in pain tolerance

And the benefits do not stop with mom, babies born to these exercising women;

  • Have lower body fat
  • Are better self-soothers
  • Have higher general intelligence scores by age 5!

More and more women are continuing to exercise, but there are still many myths and concerns out there about what is safe and appropriate and what is not.

In my many years of working with pregnant woman as a personal trainer and prenatal fitness expert, 4 questions come up over and over again.

4 Top Prenatal Fitness Questions

  1.     Can I get my heart rate over 140bpm
  2.     Can I do ab work while I am pregnant?
  3.     I woke up last night on my back, should I be worried?
  4.     My joints feel loosey-goosey, should I avoid working out?

In this 4-part series on prenatal fitness, I’ll answer these questions.  Tune in each day for the next topic.  Have more questions?  Leave them in the comment section and I’ll answer those too!

Today’s Topic:

Can I get my heart rate over 140bpm?


Many people have heard 140 beats per minute is the upper heart rate level for pregnant woman. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (who sets the guidelines for exercise during pregnancy) removed the 140 limit from their recommendations in 1994!

The 140 bpm guideline is still commonly suggested to pregnant women; by family members, friends and even doctors.  (In fact a recent study reviled that although most doctors are now encouraging exercise, as many as 60% were not aware of the 1994 update to the heart rate guidelines!)

Research has realized that heart rates vary wildly from person to person and that no one number can be appropriate for everyone.  The new ACOG guidelines suggest a pregnant woman work out at a heart rate that is safe and appropriate for her.

A great option for monitoring intensity during exercise is to use the rate of perceived exertion scale.  On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is sitting still and 10 is all out exertion, pregnant women should find a comfortable intensity in the 5-8 range.

If you are a die-hard heart rate monitor fan, researcher Dr. Michelle Mottola dug a little deeper and suggests these guidelines for pregnant exercisers.

Fitness Level                        Age:20-29                        30-39

More Fit                        145-160bpm                        140-156bpm

Less Fit                         129-144bpm                        128-144bpm


**Heart rates vary from person to person and each exerciser should, of course, listen to their own bodies and only use the following table as a guideline for exercise.**


My personal recommendation to my clients is they should work at a level at which they can continue to talk, but not sing (if you can belt out show tunes, you can step up the intensity a bit!).

I also want my clients to be able to recover quickly.  If you stop your cardio work and it takes you more than a few minutes for your heart rate to slow down, then you may be overdoing it.

So get out there and exercise, its good for you, its good for your baby.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on another hot topic…abdominal training during pregnancy!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 26 other followers

Follow Me On

About Bump Life

Bump Life is a place to support moms and families across all aspects of our lives. A place for tips, expert advice, parenting resources and entertainment. A great place to come for information, support or just a break from our crazy lives. From fitness to finance, from diaper bags to diaper duty, for everything bump, babies and beyond, you'll find it all here at BUMP Life!