Preventing Injury While Exercising During Pregnancy

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fitness-injuryWith the growing knowledge that exercise is recommended for pregnant women, we can only hope the trend of positive effects continues. Recent studies suggest strength and conditioning gains during pregnancy may actually prevent the typical aches and pains associated with pregnancy. Unfortunately, changes that your body undergoes can place you at a higher risk for possible injury as well.

Injuries can happen to anyone regardless of what shape they are in. However many are preventable through proper instruction and use of exercise equipment.

As stated by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), you should NOT exercise if you have any of the following complications:

  •     Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  •     Ruptured membranes
  •     Persistent bleeding after 12 weeks
  •     Incompetent cervix
  •     Poor fetal growth
  •     Multiple birth pregnancy
  •     Placental disease
  •     A history of three or more miscarriages
  •     Premature labor

If none of these apply to you, and your doctor gives you the “OK,” then the ACOG suggests aiming for 30 minutes of moderate exercise 2-3 times a week.

To prevent injuries that pregnant women are vulnerable to, be sure to include a proper warm up, a cool down with stretching, strength training, and cardiovascular work.

Warm-up
The primary focus of a proper warm up is to prepare the body for exercise. You should first walk or bike to get your blood flowing, and then begin a light range of motion routine. Start with your head, and work toward your feet to gradually loosen all of the joints:

  •     First do head rolls, then backward shoulder rolls, followed by backward arm circles
  •     Then, rotate your trunk and bend side to side, tilt your pelvis backward and forward, and do a few kegel contractions.
  •     Last, swing each leg from front to back and side to side, and finally lift your leg and make a circle with your foot.

Cool Down & Stretching
A proper cool down is essentail to return the heart rate to resting level, prevent muscle soreness, and reduce injury. This is also the most effective time to stretch, because the muscles are warm and pliable. Stretches should be held for 15-20 seconds and each can be repeated 2-3 times.

Due to the changes the body undergoes with pregnancy there are certain muscles that deserve extra focus, especially those that tighten as the body changes: calves, hamstrings (back of thigh), quadriceps (front of thigh), hip flexors, low back, pectorals (chest), shoulder, and neck. Injury and aches can be prevented if proper postural alignment is maintained.

Strength Training
A weight-lifting routine will improve muscular strength and fitness, provide higher energy levels, reduce back pain, aid in labor and recovery, and control weight gain. If a weightlifting program was performed prior to pregnancy, then it is safe to continue your same routine until after the 1st trimester when exercises in the supine position, on your back, are not recommended.

If you are beginning to lift for the first time, then it is a good idea to make use of machines instead of free weights to ensure safety. If you are going to be using free weights, be sure to bend knees to lift and lower weights to avoid strain on the back.

Lifting low weight with high reps is best. Focus on good form and proper breathing. Do not lift weights for the same muscles on consecutive days. For example, if you lift upper body on Monday, rest one or two days before lifting upper body again. You could also combine your leg and arm workout into one session as long as you do not repeat the same exercises the next day.

Avoid holding your breath, and concentrate on always exhaling on exertion. Due to the increased laxity in the joints, be careful not to overextend during exercise. The strength gains from weight lifting provide support to the joints, which assists in preventing injuries that occur due to increase in hormonal laxity.