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Exercise in Pregnancy: Myths Debunked!

By Renee Bullis, PT, DPT

Exercise in Pregnancy: Myths Debunked!

As a women’s health physical therapist, one of my favorite parts of my job is empowering women during pregnancy.

One of the ways I do that is through exercise. I completely understand that exercise can be the last thing you want to do during pregnancy, but there are many benefits!

Let’s debunk some of the common myths regarding exercise in pregnancy. (As always, please consult your healthcare provider before initiating, changing, or continuing any exercise during your pregnancy!)

Myth #1: Exercise in pregnancy increases risks of miscarriage and premature delivery.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) states that there is no evidence that regular physical activity during pregnancy causes miscarriage, poor fetal growth, musculoskeletal injury, or premature delivery for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. In fact, they state that there are many benefits to exercise in pregnancy, including potentially decreasing postpartum recovery time, improving energy and mood, improving sleep, decreasing musculoskeletal pain, preventing excess weight gain, and decreasing the risk of developing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

Myth #2: You should stay at or below a certain heart rate during exercise in pregnancy.

ACOG recommends moderate-intensity exercise during pregnancy. Due to some of the cardiovascular changes in pregnancy, tracking heart rate may not be the most accurate way to measure the intensity of exercise. It is recommended to use the Borg RPE scale, and to aim for 13-14 on the scale, which is “somewhat hard.” If this seems difficult to judge, another option is to stick with the “talk test,” which is the ability to hold a conversation while working out.

Myth #3: You can’t continue high-intensity interval training in pregnancy.

Like I mentioned above, ACOG recommends moderate-intensity exercise during pregnancy. But they do address high-intensity exercise, too. Their recommendation is that women who regularly perform a vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or who were physically active prior to becoming pregnant, can continue these activities.

A study was done that showed that fetal well-being was reassuring after short-duration strenuous exercise in active and inactive pregnant women (Szymanski, 2012). Just make sure to check with your healthcare provider that your individual pregnancy poses no contraindications to vigorous activity. Also, make sure to hydrate well, take breaks as you need, eat a snack before to avoid low blood sugar, and avoid high heat.

Myth #4: You shouldn’t run or jump during pregnancy.

As long as it’s comfortable, you received the OK from your healthcare provider, and you aren’t experiencing any pelvic floor symptoms, such as urinary leaking, heaviness or bulging in the vaginal area, or pain (low back, pelvis, lower abdomen, hips), it is most likely acceptable to keep running and jumping if you want!

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or have questions regarding safety for you specifically, I highly recommend seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. Pelvic floor symptoms in pregnancy are more likely to stick around in the postpartum phase, if not addressed.

Myth #5: You shouldn’t lift during pregnancy.

False! For all of you moms with a kiddo(s) already at home, you know that it’s literally impossible to not lift. We are pregnant, not weak or broken! Lifting weights can actually be very beneficial for you throughout your pregnancy and for the postpartum period. This is where listening to your body comes into play. You may need modifications for certain lifts or exercises. CrossFit is a popular exercise, even during pregnancy, and can be done safely!

Myth #6: You can’t strengthen your core.

In fact, it’s beneficial to strengthen our core. However, there are different core exercises that can be better than others. Our abdominal muscles lengthen significantly during pregnancy, as they should, and many women can experience a diastasis recti abdominis, a separation of the six-pack muscle and thinning of the connective tissue between the two muscle bellies. This makes it harder for the abdominal muscles to work properly.

However, it’s still important to train, as this can place extra stress on our spine and pelvic area. Having strong abdominal muscles can help with this! If you have questions on precautions with core strengthening and how to properly activate your core during pregnancy, please reach out to a pelvic floor physical therapist, a trainer, or a group fitness expert that is trained in this!

Myth #7: Exercise worsens low back pain.

Choosing the wrong type of exercise for you, overdoing it, or not using mechanics that work for you can all lead to back pain. But exercise can actually improve back pain! This is where seeing a physical therapist or trainer that’s comfortable working with pregnant women can help you figure out what exercises will be most beneficial for you and your back.

Which of these was the most surprising to you? If you exercised during pregnancy, what was your go-to exercise?

For more information, check out these articles!

https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2020/04/physical-activity-and-exercise-during-pregnancy-and-the-postpartum-period

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22314872/


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