I know for me, when I first got pregnant with Piper, I had ZERO idea on how I should/shouldn't exercise during pregnancy. AND I was a certified personal trainer, working as a health and wellness coach at the time. I was very much in the field of Health/Fitness, if you will, and the ONLY thing I knew was that you shouldn't be on your back at some point during pregnancy.
I went along on my merry way during pregnancy, doing my normal exercises (when body felt up to it, of course) and didn't think about much more. When I was about 22-ish weeks pregnant (around the time my belly "popped"), I was doing some ab work, and as I finished a crunch, I noticed my stomach was coning. I touched my belly because I'd never seen this before, and noticed that my ab muscles were not together, and there was a little gap between them. I googled "ab separation during pregnancy" and that's the first time I really learned about diastasis recti.
I did not develop diastasis recti, and a little ab separation during pregnancy is completely normal, BUT it got me more and more curious about what causes it, and what steps should be taken to prevent it, protect the pelvic floor (something I didn't know I even had), and avoid diastasis recti. This is what led me to immediately get certified as a Women's Fitness Specialist (through NASM) and Pre/Post Natal (through ACE).
From my certifications, and lots of studying and research, I created a PREGNANCY WORKOUT GUIDE (buy HERE!) to guide women through each trimester and give lots of different, and safe, workouts to follow.
I learned all I could, and still am, so I could have a healthy, fit pregnancy, and by sharing this, I hope other women will be able to too! Here are the basics of what EVERY pregnant (or soon-to-be pregnant) women needs to know.
#1 - Not Every "Fitness Enthusiast" or Professional Is Qualified To Give Pregnancy Exercise Advice
I don't mean this in a rude way, or to degrade other people by ANY means, but really be careful who you turn to for advice on pregnancy exercise. Even certified personal trainers can be a great resource for a LOT of other things, but specifically for pregnancy, unless they have specialized in that area, they usually don't know enough about the pelvic floor, and what happens to it during pregnancy.
I feel dumb writing this, because trust me, I am no expert, and I still have more to learn, but I can't tell you how many pregnancy workouts I see on Instagram (from very fit and healthy people, and who have a lot of awesome qualifications), that are inappropriate and unsafe for the pelvic floor. Obviously no one is intentionally trying to provide unhelpful workouts - most of the time it just comes from a lack of proper knowledge on this particular area. Trust me, I KNOW! Like I said, I was a trainer and health coach before and while I was pregnant with Piper, and I didn't know jack at first.
Again, I don't mean this to sound like I know everything and no one else does haha. There are a lot of great people to follow (email me if you'd like suggestions) who provide awesome content, but there are a lot MORE people who maybe look healthy during pregnancy, or who have a lot of followers, or who are sharing pregnancy workouts, but that doesn't always mean that they are providing correct, and appropriate information.
#2 - What To Know
Okay, phew. Now I got that out of the way, I want to share a few basic things every woman should know going into pregnancy.
- When to start changing your workouts: This varies woman to woman, but the standard rule is from the 2nd trimester on. This is because the uterus moves up and gets much larger, so certain exercises put additional stress on the core.
- What is the pelvic floor: Like I said, I had no idea what the heck a pelvic floor was before getting certified. Simply put, it consists of all the muscles responsible for the pelvic organs (think bladder, intestines, and uterus). The pelvic floor muscles are weakened during pregnancy (from the added weight of the baby), and then stretched during childbirth. The core is also part of the pelvic floor, and correctly strengthening those muscles can keep your pelvic floor strong, and prevent incontinence, ab separation, lower back pain, and diastasis recti.
- What is diastasis recti: Some ab separation is normal and very common, but when the separation is wider than 2 finger widths apart, that is considered diastasis recti (HERE is a video that shows how you can easily test) . There are a lot of issues that can come with this, but the main complaints are not being able to hold in pee (when you jump, cough, sneeze, etc.), pelvic floor pain, and the baby pooch that won't go away.
- Lying on your back during pregnancy: This one is pretty common knowledge, but the baby and uterus put too much pressure on the vena cava vein later in pregnancy when you're on your back, and prevents blood getting to where it needs to be. Your body will let you know when it's time to get off your back! Trust me haha. My doctor said it's different for everyone, and how we carry, but you'll start feeling dizzy and lightheaded.
#3 - Exercises To Avoid
Hopefully that information isn't too overwhelming. I remember first reading more about the pelvic floor and diastasis recti and it almost scaring me out of exercising all together. But I got over that in 10 seconds because EXERCISE IS SO BENEFICIAL for mum and baby! Plus, proper exercise actually strengthens the pelvic floor and prevents diastasis recti. To be brief (this post is getting verrrrrry long haha), here are the basic exercises you absolutely want to avoid from the 2nd trimester on:
- push ups
- twisting exercises (like russian twists and ab bicycles)
- exercises where both legs are off the ground (like leg lifts, reverse crunches, etc.)
- any exercise that causes your stomach to cone (look HERE if you're not sure what this is).
#4 - Replacement Exercises
I recently posted a video HERE of what exercises to do instead of the ones I just listed above. My goal is to have every woman feel confident and comfortable about the exercises they are performing during pregnancy, and not feel confused. I've had SO many women reach out to me and say how they wish they'd know more about these things before they got pregnant (or while they were pregnant) because they have been struggling with pelvic floor issues as a result. I hope by not only knowing what you shouldn't do, but also what you SHOULD do brings a little peace of mind during this already stressful time. Here are some AWESOME exercises to do during pregnancy that are effective, safe, and protect the pelvic floor:
- reverse plank (SO much harder than it looks!)
- hip thrusts
- donkey kicks/kickbacks
- stability ball wall push ups (the stability ball is so awesome for targeting those inner abdominals during pregnancy which helps hold everything together, prevents lower back pain, and is super beneficial for labor)
- stability ball wall sits
- stability ball marching
- side plank
- single leg hip thrusts (try using stability ball)
- stability ball leg curls
5 - Listen To YOUR Body
The hormone, relaxin, loosens up your joints and ligaments throughout pregnancy to help your body accommodate the baby. Make sure you don't over-do it and injure yourself while exercising. Of course, if you ever feel light-headed, dizzy, any kind of pain at all, stop what you're doing. I totally understand the frustration of mentally wanting to push yourself and get in an awesome workout, but physically, your body just can't. That's okay though! These babies are SO worth everything!!