Are you looking for the best tips to keep your pregnant body in great shape and reduce aches, pains and niggles? Do you want to feel fit so that pregnancy can actually be a healthy time of your life? Vicky Warr, pregnancy and postnatal fitness specialist gives her five top tips you can easily take on board to be fit and healthy during pregnancy and set yourself and your baby up for the best start.
1. Get the right kind of exercise It is now common knowledge that exercise during pregnancy is very beneficial. Walking is the new ‘super food of fitness’ as it’s a natural movement our bodies were designed to do. During pregnancy, walk at a good pace in the fresh air to keep your muscles balanced and to stimulate your core muscles too. Wear good fitting trainers, take some water and keep your pace so you can hold a conversation (just) and feel warm; it’s OK to slightly sweat, but avoid over-heating. Strengthening your abdominals and core muscles, including your pelvic floor, during pregnancy is the most important type of exercise. A stronger core will help reduce backache, the risk of pelvic floor issues and stress incontinence and may help with delivery of your baby. You’ll want reassurance that you are doing the right kind of exercises that are safe for your baby and appropriate for the physical and hormonal changes your body is now experiencing. Check out pregnancy fitness classes or an antenatal personal trainer where the focus is on pregnancy strength training. That’s exercise using hand weights or body weight plus pregnancy core exercises.
2. Strengthen Your Back Back strengthening exercises that are appropriate for pregnancy can do wonders for backache. The large fitness or Swiss ball is one of my favourite pregnancy fitness tools to improve your core and the muscles in your back. The ball is an unstable ‘wobbly’ surface, and when you sit on it, your body has to draw on the deeper, inner muscles of your core, technically known as the transversus abdominis, to remain stable. Simply sitting on the ball means these muscles engage. By then performing exercises whilst on the ball or incorporating the ball, your body calls more on your core than if you were just on a more stable surface such as the floor. Therefore you strengthen your deeper muscles more effectively, which in turn strengthens your back. A simple exercise to relieve backache: – Kneel upright with your ball in front of you and your hands resting on top of the ball. – Breathe in and breathe out whilst rolling the ball away about half a metre and bringing your back down to a flat position forming a right angle with your legs. Your arms are now outstretched and your hands are still on the ball. Breath in and feel the stretch, you should feel your upper back flattening. – Breathe out and curl your lower back upwards, drawing your belly button (navel) up and tucking your bottom under, hold this for 23 seconds continuing to breathe. Relax and then roll the ball back to the start position.
3. Self Correct Your Posture During pregnancy your posture changes. Typically, your shoulders ‘round’, and your lower back can change shape and appearance by either slightly flattening or progressively arching. Your pelvis usually tilts forwards although in some women it may tilt backwards, in both cases this causes muscles to be misaligned and imbalanced which leads to tightness and achiness in your back and hamstrings (backs of your thighs). Taking just 5 minutes a day to correct your posture gets you a fitter body that moves better and is in less pain, which is why it is one of my ‘fit tips’. Posture correction during pregnancy realigns the position of your pelvis to counteract the hormonal effects and the excess weight you are carrying out in front. How to correct your posture: a. Straighten your feet so your toes are in line with your heels. b. Keep your knees straight and shift your weight back into your heels so your toes feel light. c. Draw your belly button in towards the parallel point of your lower back and relax your ribs. Keep your ribs over your hips. d. Squeeze your shoulder blades and lift your chin so your eyes are looking straight forward.
4. Mind the Gap Or rather; watch out for abdominal separation, which usually occurs during the last half of the second trimester! Technically known as Diastasis Recti this is a spreading of the right and left ‘rectus abdominus’ muscles (known as the ‘six pack’) at the midline. This midline is the Linea Alba, where you see a brown line developing. It is covered by connective tissue. The uterus pushing against the abdominal wall causes the separation and the pregnancy hormones softening the connective tissue, causing it to stretch, become thinner and weaken. If your gap is wider than 2.5 fingers or 2cm and if it is not addressed with the right exercises and nutrition, the separation causes lower back pain, hip pain and a weaker pelvic floor which doesn’t do it’s job. Ask a women’s health physiotherapist or pregnancy fitness specialist to check your muscles and perform standing pelvic tilts and good postural habits to help minimize the separation.
5. Use it, don’t lose it! We’re talking the pelvic floor here. Your growing foetus puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles that support your uterus and bowel. When coughing or sneezing you may experience embarrassing little ‘leaks’. Pelvic floor exercises can stop this happening. Here’s how to do a basic ‘Kegel’ to start: – Tighten the muscles you would use if you were trying to stop urinary flow or draw up the muscles between the legs. Keep your bottom muscles relaxed. – Hold for the count of 5, relax for another count of 5. Repeat this 20 times daily. You can perform these standing, seated or lying on your back with your knees bent (during trimester one and two, avoid lying on your back after trimester three). Once you have mastered these it’s important to move on to more dynamic movement based pelvic floor exercises such as squats and lunges where your body very effectively engages the pelvic floor muscle and your core. Vicky Warr, pregnancy and postnatal fitness specialist is founder of online postnatal fit club, TheBeezKneez Hive.
Preview her specific postnatal short videos you can do anytime, anywhere here.