Going to the gym may take an extra dose of courage – and energy – when you’re expecting, but the benefits are huge. For mums-to-be, it’s essential to appreciate the positive changes and advantages that keeping fit will bring to your pregnancy. And once the baby comes, a bit of exercise, and the endorphins that accompany it, can help with recovery and recuperation as you adjust to the round-the-clock care that a newborn requires.
But before you hit the weight room or hiking trail, let’s take a look at the recommended and not-so-recommended types of exercise – both for mum’s and baby’s health.
Pascale Maitre, a registered midwife at a private practice in Central, affirms that, “It is crucial to know beforehand if your doctor considers exercise possible; if you don’t have any medical contraindications. If you have placenta praevia, for example, it is best to stay away from any fitness-related activities. But if your doctor approves and you have no conditions to consider, it is possible to exercise throughout your whole pregnancy.”
As you may know already, during your first trimester in particular, it's preferable to choose “soft” or low-impact activities. Remind yourself that you’re exercising to stay healthy, maintain muscle mass and, most importantly, feel mentally fit during the whole of your pregnancy. Your aim is not to lose weight.
Early in the second trimester, and with an all-clear from your doctor, you and your baby are in the best position for moderate activities provided you don’t get too tired or overheated. As your pregnancy progresses, however, balance, blood pressure and loose ligaments can all become issues. Lower-risk activities are the answer – basically for the whole of your pregnancy – and the items on the following list should be avoided.
Exercises to lose weight
A typical pregnancy is going to entail 25-35 pounds of weight gain. Let’s face it, those extra pounds can be hard to take. But the focus on weight should begin only after giving birth; there’s a lot more to pay attention to during these nine months! Patience is key.
High-impact sports, such as football or basketball, should be avoided to prevent trauma to the abdomen.
Activities requiring balance
Sports and other activities that require sudden changes in direction or could cause a fall are not recommended. For instance, skiing or horseback-riding.
Bouncing or jarring activities
As your joints get looser during pregnancy, your risk of injury increases. For this reason, heavy weights should also be avoided.
'Bikram' or 'Hot Yoga'
It is absolutely essential to keep fit in cool, air-conditioned places or during cooler, drier months. Overheating, and possible dehydration, can seriously affect your pregnancy. Luckily, here in Hong Kong, there are plenty of indoor options for exercise and sport.
While the ‘No-Go’ list might seem long, there are many sports that are highly recommended for pregnant women who want to stay fit. With such a wide range of possibilities, it is feasible for any woman to find exercises that will best fit her needs.
Swimming improves circulation, increases muscle tone, eases discomfort such as back pain, and even helps with sleeping troubles. You'll feel the lightest you’ve felt since you became pregnant! 2. Yoga
Yoga strengthens your core muscles, eases back pain and most of all helps you relax. The increased strength and flexibility gained through specific poses can also help with delivery and recovery. There are many prenatal and postnatal classes available for moms-to-be. Prenatal classes are typically gentler and tailored for women in their first trimester.
3. Indoor cycling
Indoor cycling boosts your heart rate without stressing your joints – which is good news, as ligaments get looser during pregnancy. Keep the pace moderate and, if you want to join a spin class, don’t overdo it.
4. Low impact aerobics
Low impact aerobics will keep both your heart and lungs stronger than ever. One class can also provide a good burst of endorphins, which is quite necessary for any pregnant woman out there.
Stretching loosens the muscles around and inside your pelvis, easing pressure and helping you to relax. There are two effective ways to stretch:
The first one is the “tailor sit”. Sit with your knees bent and ankles crossed. Lean forward a little and make sure you keep your back straight.
The second one is the “tailor press”. Sit with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together. Place your hands under your knees, press the knees down against your hands and your hands up against the knees. Hold for just a few seconds. Remember to take it easy!
No matter what exercise you choose, it’s very important to always listen to your body. If at any given time you feel discomfort, dizziness or breathlessness, you must stop what you’re doing immediately.
All of these recommended activities will boost your energy levels, help you sleep better, lower risks for certain pregnancy-related complications, and reduce your overall discomfort. Most importantly – as for non-pregnant people too – exercise has the amazing ability to reduce stress and lift spirits.
When it comes to post-natal fitness, no exercise whatsoever should be done in the first six weeks after delivery. It can be frustrating to stop or slow down, but your body needs time to recover.
One option to consider before returning to exercise is “pelvic floor rehabilitation,” especially if you’ve experienced a difficult birth. The procedure utilises a combination of manual or electro-stimulation and bio feedback by means of a vaginal probe. Completely painless, it uses special sensors and a computer monitor to display information about your muscle activity. After ten post-partum sessions with accompanying exercises, you should be able to gain complete control over your pelvic floor muscle function. In the case of a C-section, five sessions should suffice.
The treatment was invented to assist women and men with incontinence, leaking and pelvic pain, and to help with the general rehabilitation of lower abdominal muscles post-trauma or post-surgery. It is a beneficial process to go through before returning to working out. Refined in France, pelvic floor rehabilitation is available in Hong Kong. It is recommended to start rehabilitation five to six weeks postpartum.
Kegel exercises are commonly undertaken over the course of pregnancy, but these should be done just during post-partum. Kegel exercises can be very effective, but only if they are done correctly. It’s important to understand that Kegels should not be done using abdominal muscles as the exercise is supposed to contract only the pelvic floor. Engaging the abdominal muscles carries a risk of negative effects. The pelvic floor needs to be strengthened but not pushed on (by the abs). And never try kegels during miction / menstruation as there is a high risk of urinary tract infection.
Not so long ago, women were expected to accept many of the bothersome after-effects of pregnancy: weaker muscles, leaking bladders, and other long-term discomforts. But as times have changed, so have attitudes to pre- and post-partum exercise, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. While it’s still always best to take your time – to be honest, give yourself a good two months after your baby’s birth before focusing on your fitness – there are now many options available to help your body prepare for and recover from childbirth. Before you head back to the gym, however, check with your doctor, and take the appropriate time necessary to rest and to repair. Also remember that whilst you’re breast-feeding, do not focus on your weight or engage in any bouncing activities. One thing at a time.
Exercising during pregnancy is certainly important, but remember you don’t want to overdo it. Labour is going to require plenty of time, courage and patience, so during the last couple of weeks of your pregnancy, you may want to slow down. You need to save up plenty of energy for the big day!
Fitness classes for pregnancy
Fortunately, as a pregnant woman in Hong Kong, you’re in luck. There are many classes and options available for you – all very different from one another. Whether you’re expecting or wanting to reclaim your pre-natal shape, take a closer look at these possibilities!
Flex specialises in pre- and post-natal yoga and Pilates and offers two locations on Hong Kong island. Classes are tailored for each trimester of your pregnancy.“We strongly believe in the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle by undertaking safe and appropriate exercise before, during and after pregnancy. Our varied sessions ensure you get the most benefits according to your pregnancy stage.”
If you’re looking for a little more individualised attention, Inspire Yoga brings the yoga studio straight to your home and offers customised pre- and post-natal sessions. Nothing better than having a relaxing experience in the comfort of home.
Have you heard of Yogilates? At pure, you can find classes that combine yoga and Pilates, for both pre-natal and post-natal mums. Before joining a session, consider reading Jonathan Urla’s book, “Yogilates”, which explains the workout’s history and provides pictures and descriptions of moves.
H-Kore’s Lagree Fitness classes might just be the thing for you. The method is a combination of resistance and cardiovascular training, which is both low impact and high intensity. It’s perfect for any given stage of pregnancy and post-pregnancy.
This article appeared in Playtimes Winter Issue 2018/19.