Your doctor gave you the green light to exercise—why are your sneakers still sitting in the hall closet? Is it lack of time, lack of energy, or just that you don't want to be in a small exercise studio with 20 other preggos and only one bathroom? Whatever's holding you back, here's some real-mom perspective—and a few expert tips—for getting it all worked out.
Mom-to-be Patricia Crowley from Rye, New York, is well aware of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy (helping with everything from fatigue to backache). There's just one problem: She can't stand aerobics. "Everyone I know says, do prenatal aerobics, you'll love it. But since I loathe regular aerobics, why am I suddenly going to love pregnancy aerobics?"
These days, she doesn't have to. Alongside the usual standbys of aerobics, water aerobics, and yoga are a number of new generation prenatal workout classes that take into account the varied exercise preferences of today's moms. As a recent New York Times article on prenatal exercise highlights, everything from ballet to Zumba has been given a prenatal-friendly makeover.
"Ballet? Now that might be worth an hour of my time," admits Crowley.
But what about women who don't exercise because they worry that exercise—despite everything we know to the contrary—may do more harm than good during pregnancy? According to a recent study, as many as half of women who exercise before pregnancy stop working out when they find out they're expecting, with many citing safety concerns as the primary reason they give up exercise.
"I tried the brisk walk after dinner thing, but I worried the whole time: What if I trip? What if I need help and my cell phone doesn't work? What if my doctor is wrong and I really need to be on bed rest?" says Jennifer Woodman, a 24-year-old mom from Pensacola, Florida. "I know this sounds completely crazy, but that's really what was going through my mind! No wonder I ended up gaining 50 pounds."
So where's the middle ground for moms like Crowley and Woodman? How do you work in exercise that's fun—and safe—during pregnancy, especially if things like prenatal Zumba classes are still an unknown quantity in many parts of the US? The Times interviewed Erica Ziel, a California-based personal trainer and the creator of Knocked-Up Fitness DVDs for her suggestions—and we liked them so much, we're passing them along to you!
Go With What You Know: As a general rule, any exercise you engaged in before you became pregnant is probably fine to keep doing, as long it feels good for you—with some exceptions. Ziel says to avoid things like tennis, skiing, basketball, and kickboxing, and other physical activities that require quick, jarring movements involved or the risk of being hit.
The Talk Test: Many prenatal fitness experts now say it's a myth that pregnant women shouldn't raise their heart rates above 140 beats per minute. Rather than a number, Zeil says moms-to-be are better off using the "talk test" to determine the intensity of their workout. "You should be able to say a few words without gasping for air, but your heart should be pumping," advises Ziel. If you can't catch your breath or can't speak easily, take your workout down a notch.
Mind Your Core: Crunches, sit ups, and other forms of "core work" are usually "fine until you can start seeing your belly pop out, which can happen anywhere from the 8th to the 20th week of pregnancy," says Ziel. After this point, overworking abs may put moms-to-be more at risk for developing hernias.
Joining the Masses: As long as the instructor is trained and up-to-date on how to help pregnant women exercise safely, and feels comfortable having a mom-to-be in on the workout, think about signing up for group classes that are not specifically prenatal exercise classes, says Zeil. Zumba, step aerobics, or spinning? Just let the instructor knows you are pregnant before signing up and you should be good to go.