There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy. Staying active can help reduce muscle aches and pain, lower blood pressure, minimize bloating and swelling, keep weight gain to a healthy range, and even help lower the odds of complications during labor. There are mental benefits, too – exercise during pregnancy will not only fight fatigue by keeping your energy up, but can also help with your mood. The benefits don’t end when your pregnancy is over. If you’ve stayed active during pregnancy, you might even find your labor and recovery are more manageable.
Before you pull on your (high-waisted) yoga pants and lace up your (slightly larger) sneakers, you’ll want to get the green light from your doctor. Given all the awesome benefits, most doctors will happily give their approval. If you were active before pregnancy, you can likely go about your normal exercise routine without making drastic changes. As a Pilates and barre instructor, I’ve coached many expectant clients and personally exercised until the day I delivered my twins at 38 weeks.
Not every exercise is safe for you and baby, though. Many of the exercises to avoid are common sense – stay away from contact sports, excessive heat, and activities where falling is likely. You’ll also want to stay away from any exercise that has you laying on your stomach (because, how?) or back (similar to the recommendation not to sleep on your back due to the weight of your uterus on your vena cava).
Many other exercises aren’t as obviously dangerous, so many women don’t even know the risk factors. Pelvic floor health and the importance of engaging your TVA (or transverse abdominals) is something that’s being talked about in some circles, but most doctors still don’t include these tips as part of their prenatal education for patients. Therefore, many women are doing the following exercises throughout pregnancy without knowing the potential harm they could cause.
These exercises also tend to be extremely common in group fitness classes, so you’ll want to come to class with a plan on how you might modify.
Are you pregnant and commonly doing any of the following exercises? Don’t freak out. Just start your modifications now and seek the assessment of a licensed physical therapist postpartum (or during pregnancy if you’d like to get a head start). You’ll want to look for one that specializes in diastasis recti or women’s pelvic floor health. Most of the injuries associated with the following exercises can be healed with a bit of time and the proper strengthening movements after baby is snug in your arms.
Here are five exercises you should absolutely stay away from while pregnant and why:
Planks put a tremendous amount of pressure on the abdominal wall. This pressure is the leading cause of diastasis recti, or a separation of the abs that can be hard to repair post-pregnancy. The growing uterus already puts pressure on the abdominal wall, and thus, diastasis recti can be unavoidable, but planks can really exacerbate the situation.
Keep planks out of your workout routine during pregnancy, and maybe even for a few months after pregnancy to allow those muscles to reconnect and strengthen. What can you do instead? Consider a modified plank where your knees take the place of your toes or an all-fours position to reduce pressure.
Many women think the best way to avoid the mom “pooch” or a bulging belly post-pregnancy is to work the core with crunches while they’re pregnant. Not only is this unsafe, but it can actually make that protruding shape in the belly worse. Similar to planks, crunching places too much pressure on the abdominal wall. You’ll also want to avoid exercises that put you on your back for prolonged periods. There are tons of everyday movements that mimic a crunch – so be careful when you’re doing things like getting out of bed and up from a seated position. Do these movements slowly or practice rolling to one side first until it becomes second nature!
Push-ups are hard to do correctly without placing a ton of additional pressure on the abdominal wall, as well. Fortunately, push-ups are a really easy exercise to mimic in much safer ways. Try an inclined chest press or chest fly using light to moderate weights instead. You’ll work your chest muscles and keep your core safe from lasting injury.
Pull-ups can be a risky exercise for pregnant women, especially if they start to compromise form (which is easy to do, given your new, awkward body shape). Similar to the other exercises on this list, quite a bit of pressure is applied to the abdominal wall to aid the movement, and that can make a condition like diastasis recti much worse. You can modify this popular gym exercise by using a pulley or resistance band to reduce your body weight and therefore, the chance of injury.
5. Twists and Contortions
If you’re a big yogi, then you’re probably familiar with several poses that can be considered deep twists or contortions. Deep backbends, bow pose, upward dog, as well as forward fold are all not recommended. Let your instructor know you’re pregnant before class and ask for some modifications so you’re prepared to find your zen safely. Final savasana is highly encouraged but should be taken on your side.