By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Many fit women enjoy extreme workouts to stay healthy and challenge themselves, whether it’s long-distance running, weight lifting, training for “warrior” events, hitting the gym hard or competitive fitness. When they become pregnant, many can continue to work out with a few tweaks to their regimen.
“I literally worked out circuit training the day I gave birth,” said Kristen Szitar, personal trainer and fitness instructor at Method 360 in East Syracuse.
She said that with a few exceptions, she thinks that healthy, athletic women may continue to participate in sports and activities as long as they’re comfortable and their OB-GYN approves.
“During the pregnancy, it helped me keep my sanity,” Szitar said. “I can’t just stay on the couch. A lot of pregnant women think they should stop working out, but recovery is harder if you aren’t active for nine months. I started working out two weeks after I gave birth. It gave me energy to keep moving. I wasn’t doing crunches and core work, but moving helped my core.”
Szitar also stayed within her OB-GYN’s recommended weight gain by eating right and exercising.
She said that women who aren’t fit but become pregnant should stick with low-impact exercise like walking or yoga.
“Do what makes you happy so you can stay stress-free,” she said. “If you’re doing something that makes you happy, that’s the most important thing.”
She said that after 20 weeks, pregnant women should avoid lying flat on their backs since the baby’s weight can press against a blood vessel called the vena cava, which can restrict the blood flow to the baby and cause dizziness to mom.
Pregnant athletes should take a few precautions.
Ashlea Youngs, personal trainer at Metro Fitness Club in Syracuse, said that since the pregnant body releases relaxin, a hormone that loosens ligaments for delivery, women should take care to not sprain a joint. Injuries can prove harder to treat during pregnancy. Many types of pain medication aren’t safe for babies. Supportive sport wraps may provide additional stability to joints.
Youngs added that fit mamas should also modify their activities to avoid direct contact and falling. This could include inline skating, horseback riding, skiing, martial arts sparring, boxing, football and soccer.
Women who lift weights should isolate their movements so they don’t strain their abdomens. They should also be careful to not allow free weights to strike their abdomen. As always, using a spotter can help improve safety.
Pregnant women should avoid working out in very warm environments, such as hot yoga or running outside on a hot day, since that can harm the baby.
Szitar also advises pregnant women to stay hydrated while working out and to adjust their diet to ensure they get enough healthful calories. Before engaging in exercise, pregnant women of any fitness level should discuss their health and any concerns with their OB-GYN. They should also carefully explain the details of their activity to ensure it is safe for themselves and baby.
Anytime an activity feels like it’s “too much”, a pregnant woman should listen to her body and reduce her activity level.
“Always check with your doctor first,” Youngs said. “Every pregnancy is different and carries different circumstances that need to be taken into consideration.”
Overall, pregnancy isn’t a time to make great fitness gains, but to maintain health and nurture both the mother’s and baby’s bodies.