As a fitness professional, it is likely that women represent a considerable percentage of your training population. And, chances are,…
Preparing your body for pregnancy, prior to, or while trying to conceive (TTC), will be extremely beneficial for not only you, but your future babe, as well. Developing healthy habits before you conceive can help to:
In terms of exercise specifically, there are a few things I prescribe to my gals who are TTC to help them along in the process. The first thing we need to understand is what we are actually preparing for. I always think of pregnancy as the “short term” goal, even though it’s a considerable amount of time, and postpartum recovery as the “long term” goal.
In this article, we’ll stick to how we want to prepare the body for pregnancy.
Although there can be many factors at play, we’re setting the body up for a pregnancy that has few aches and pains, that will carry the baby safely and comfortably to term, that will allow baby to get in good pelvic position, and that will help keep the mama feeling supported, strong, and energized (…as much as possible!).
Restorative work anytime is incredibly important for managing stress, fostering creativity, allowing our bodies to heal from more strenuous exercise, etc. While you’re TTC, it is essential. Stress intimately affects hormonal balance, and hormonal balance affects menstrual cycles. If they’re not balanced, wonky things with our schedules can happen – and I say this from personal experience!
We want to find the right mix of restorative activities that will help to balance stress hormones with our more intense exercise pursuits, such as strength training.
I typically walk about 45 to 60 minutes per day. It’s leisurely, it’s relaxed. Sometimes, it’s to run errands, and other times there’s no agenda other than to just stroll and think. I would recommend trying for 30 minutes of leisurely walking, three or more days per week.
Or, find something else you enjoy like stretching, restorative yoga, massage, foam rolling/soft tissue release work, etc.
It’s worth noting that if your exercise program is currently quite intense and your TTC is proving difficult, you could find success in decreasing the intense exercise and increasing the restorative activities.
For example, if you’re currently strength training 3 days per week, doing 2 days of high intensity cardiovascular activities, and another day of moderate steady state cardio, perhaps your body needs a bit of a break. You might be better off with keeping the strength training and 1 day of higher intensity cardio, and replacing the other 2 sessions with 60 minute leisurely walks.
You might have been told or have heard that kegels are your go-to pelvic floor exercise.
In Kegels 1.0 we’re taught to find the pelvic floor muscles by “stopping your stream of pee.” Using that technique to find the pelvic floor muscles is fine, but doing it regularly may actually mess with your bladder function! And it probably doesn’t carry over well to our functional activities such as running, jumping, and deadlifting either.
Enter Kegels 2.0 and it’s connection with your breath. Breathing can help us to learn how to properly engage the abdominals and pelvic floor, which I refer as core + floor.
The old adages of “hug your baby” or “pull your belly to your spine” just aren’t going to cut it in pregnancy for developing normal tone through the core + floor. We need to learn how to use the core as a unit.
On the inhale breath, you want the diaphragm to descend and have the belly and pelvic floor muscles gently relax and expand. On the exhale breath, you want the the diaphragm to return back up and to feel gentle tension through the pelvic floor and the abdominals.
Note: see your friendly neighborhood pelvic floor physical therapist to ensure you should even be practicing a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
This is referred to as the “core breath” and I highly recommend watching this video to get the full explanation. You’ll want to practice 2 sets a day of 10 breaths. This is truly about quality of the movement, not quantity of reps.
This is your Kegel 2.0.
The next three exercises are largely geared for developing body strength in order to support the developments through pregnancy. Another major focus is to start practicing good body alignment or having a “neutral spine”, which is really important for baby’s position in the pelvis, decreasing the severity of an abdominal separation, reducing back/pelvic pain, and more.
Squatting is a fantastic exercise for the core + floor, for developing lower body strength, and for developing that good alignment, especially in daily tasks (squatting down to pick something up off the floor, picking your baby up, go to the bathroom, sitting to and stand ing from a chair).
Again, looking further down the road to labour and delivery, have you ever heard a woman say they literally, “squatted their baby out”. Oh, yes.
A squat position can be a really effective laboring and birth position. Whether this is squatting on a birthing ball/the toilet, or squatting deeply and holding onto something in front of you, the pelvic floor is able to open and relax, and the force of gravity is working in your favor. All signs point to helping baby make their way down (and out).
Practice mastering your squat technique while TTC in these variations:
Note: all of these could be free-standing or to a box directly behind you.
Pulling exercises are those that primarily focus on strengthening the back. This helps to promote great alignment as we can often be in positions that have us rounding forward in our daily life, especially so through the later stages of pregnancy and when caring for a newborn. Best to really focus in on this now.
Pulling variations I frequently use in workout programming are:
Hinging exercises are those that start by us moving from the hips, instead of initiating the movement from the knees, as we would in a squat.
These patterns teach great body awareness and really help with understanding neutral spine, especially at the pelvis.
Hinging exercises that will be really useful are:
If you’re trying to conceive, put your attention to balancing your intense exercise with restorative activities, learning how to properly engage your core and floor, and to squat, pull, and hinge.
Note from GGS: For most women, 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps on these exercises will work well. The newer you are to strength training, the more you should focus on nailing the form and sticking in the 10-12 rep range to get as much “practice” with each exercise as possible.
Once you’ve mastered the movement patterns, you can add weight and start working your way down to lower rep ranges and heavier weights.
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