How to safely exercise while Pregnant

As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, all you can think of is a big belly, eating all you want, and then holding that baby in your arms and taking him/her home for the first time. But there’s a long way to go before all that happens. It is very important to take care of your body during this time.

For the next 9 months (or 8 or even 7), your baby will be completely dependent on your body for being safe and developing appropriately. Although some things might be out of your control, nourishing yourself healthfully, exercising purposefully, and taking appropriate rest are all things you can control and learn to do for your future child.

In my previous pregnancy (I’m about 8 months away from having baby number 2, yay!) I exercised throughout my pregnancy, and I researched about the ways we should or should not exercise. In this article I’ll be covering some of the most common exercises that are safe for pregnant women to do, and how to do them.

I ranked them in order of what I thought was convenient + safe +no previous experience required.

#1. WALKING.

Walking is ranked #1 for convenience (all you need is to put one foot in front of the other, anywhere), it is very safe for about every one, and if you were not a walker before, it is now the time to start. Walking is a great cardiovascular exercise, meaning that you are working your heart and helping it be more efficient transporting blood and oxygen to your organs -and to your little one-. You will be able to burn off a few calories, and recover better postpartum.3111014204804

Where?   Walking outdoors is always recommended. The exception would be extremely hot weather, where the risk of overheating and dehydrating increases. In that case, if you don’t have a gym membership, head to the mall and get a good walk done in there. (Better yet, buy some baby goodies while you’re at it!).

Now, walking on a treadmill is a great workout, but be careful about losing your balance, or misstepping. Remember that we may become dizzy easier than before, and that we also become a bit clumsy. So, on the treadmill, never exceed a controllable speed or incline.

When? If walking is the only exercise you’re doing for the moment, you can aim to walk at least 4 or 5 days of the week (or 6, but always rest one day), for at least 30-45 minutes. If you can walk for an hour at an easy or moderate pace, wonderful. Just make sure you start short and slow and that you build up.

If you are alternating between walking and some other form of exercise, then 45 minutes 2-3 times a week should be enough.

NOTE: make sure you’re always able to speak in complete sentences while exercising.

#2. Swimming.

Swimming is a wonderful exercise for pregnant women. No previous experience required -except for making sure you won’t drown, of course-, and it is very safe, efficient, and brings wonderful cardiovascular benefits and swelling reduction. The only problem is that you need a bathing suit, a pool, and plenty of time to swim and then take a shower right after.

Where? I’m super afraid of ocean, lake, or river creatures, so I’ll be recommending swimming in a pool. The length is not really that important, if you really want to log 30 minutes of swimming, you’ll be able to do them anywhere. Inside or outside is not really an issue, just remember not to get into a hot tub.

When? Swimming burns a bit more calories than walking, so swimming 3-4 times a week is enough for a good 45 min-1 hour workout. I had not gone swimming for years before I took it up when I was 5-months pregnant with my girl, and 1 hour of swimming was a good time, just as long as you start slow, rest in between laps, and hydrate ALL the time.

 

#3 Strength training

What?! Strength training while pregnant? Yes. This is easy and necessary. We are not talking weight lifting body-builder-style, but using machines at the gym or dumbbells and a chair at home, or even your own body weight.

Healthy pregnancy.Why? Some muscles require strengthening to avoid certain pains during this time when you’ll be carrying around some extra pounds on your system. Your back, abs, legs, and specially your pelvic muscles will benefit so you can hold that pee in, and pop that baby out with more ease.

Where? The gym or at home.

When? Two or three times a week will do the trick. Now, if we talk kegels…. every day.

Here’s a great strength workout for you to try.

 

#4 Cardio machines at the gym (including steppers, ellipticals, stationary bikes, and stairs)

staying-active-during-pregnancyAll of these are fine during pregnancy. They are great for burning those extra brownies and they are wonderful for those days when you feel super fatigued, because you can jump on one for 10-15 min and when you get bored just try another one for an extra 10-15 min. No previous experience is required, but make sure that you start short and slow and that you always feel very comfortable with each exercise. Do not dismiss any aches or pains, as small as they might feel.

Where? The obvious problem is you need the gym. Or your own equipment.

When? Alternate with walking. Exercise with any of these machines 2-3 days a week for 30 min-1 hour and walk or swim the other 2-3 days for the same duration.

 

#5 Dancing

Dancing, whether at the gym or at home, is a great workout. You’ll burn some calories while enjoying yourself. If you are new to dancing, make sure you are not bouncing around too much, specially at the beginning and towards the end of your pregnancy. Also, be careful about your balance and falling. Other than that, enjoy!

Where?  Wherever!

When? Whenever! As long as you’re able to speak in full sentences and do not feel out of breath.

 

#6 Yoga & Pilates

 

exercise_364x200_138594956Better yet, Prenatal Yoga or Pilates. Specially if you are not regularly practicing these disciplines. These classes will help you with your posture, your ligaments, labor and recovery. Any prenatal class offered will be appropriate for you. These classes, when offered, generally tell you for which stage of pregnancy they are meant for. The instructor will be able to let you know how often you can do them. They generally last for 1 hour.

 

#7 Running -NOT for beginners-

Running is a wonderful calorie burner. But it could also take a toll on your joints, so taking it up while pregnant is NOT an option. Running during pregnancy is only recommended for regular runners who have been cleared by their practitioners to do so, and until their bodies can comfortably handle the bounce.

pregnant-runnerSo, if you were a regular runner before becoming pregnant, and your physician allows you to, please continue to run. What should change? Your speed, your intensity, your frequency. All these will need to decrease. A good rule is to measure by minutes instead of miles. For example, running for an hour pre-pregnancy might have let you log 7 miles. At the start of your pregnancy, 1 hour= maybe 6-6.5 miles. In the middle, 1 hour= maybe 5.5-6 miles. Near the end, and if your body allows it, 1 hour= 4.5-5 miles.

This is just an estimate. All bodies are different, and some women who frequently ran before pregnancy can barely run for 4-5 months, while others even run a marathon while pregnant.

Where? Outdoors on the track, or a park. The street is fine, but take extra precautions around cars. Indoors, the treadmill is fine as well, as long as incline is set to a maximum of 1-2, and you are careful about maintaining your balance and not tripping.

When? 3-4 times a week for 30 min-1 hour is enough to get good cardiovascular benefits for the week.

 

No matter what type of workout you choose, make sure you can speak in full sentences so you don’t exert yourself too much. Take care of your body, it’s the only one you’ve got. And have a safe and active pregnancy!

When to buy your first running shoes

I still remember what I felt the first time I tried on my first pair of running shoes. White and gold Asics. My feet felt so free and so light. The toe box felt AMAZING and I felt like I was flying. Of course I was not used to wearing shoes that were a size larger than my regular shoes, so I felt like I was going to trip every time I climbed the stairs. But I got used to that pretty quickly.

This pair of running shoes I did not buy before I started to run. I did not buy them before my first or second race.

I started walking-running 2 weeks before my first 10k using a pair of Nikes that used to be my brother’s. A couple of years before. But because I did not know how important running shoes were and because I thought this 10k race would be a once-and-done deal, I did not even think about buying running shoes. Or a running bra. Or running shorts. Or a good watch.

With absolutely no idea what I was doing or what I needed, I embarked on this running journey. I ran for a year and a half, about 3-4 times a week, 3-5 miles each day, and about 5 10k races, using those shoes. Blisters were part of my life, but because Dr. Google said that it was completely normal for runners -especially new runners- to get blisters, I thought I was ok.  runn-shoes

Even though this might have been a terrible mistake -and I ended up with more blisters in a year than I’ve had over the next 10 years altogether,- I don’t regret waiting to get my real running shoes. I made sure I would be pursuing running long-term before committing to buying shoes, outfits, books, magazine subscriptions, etc. I waited exactly until I accepted a friend’s challenge to run my first half-marathon.

I know a lot of people who decide they want to pursue an activity/hobby. They go and buy absolutely every article and gadget specific for it, they tell everybody their plans to take this up, only to end up trying it once or twice. What about everything they bought? It is left in a corner in the garage gathering dust. A very good example of this is my husband. A friend of his was selling a road bike. These things are super expensive, but he was selling it for $600, which my husband said was a bargain. He wanted to take up cycling, so he bought a million little gadgets, cycling shorts, shirts, helmet, shoes, and gloves. He bought the bike, tried it once… and a year later he sold it to another friend (after it had been sitting on our basement for 364 days, unused).

I watched a very nice TED talk about ‘Keeping your goals to yourself.’ It perfectly illustrated this practice. When we tell everyone our goal -running for instance- we release a hormone that satisfies our need to work towards it, and we feel much closer to our goal without even getting out the door. I teach English to adults and I hear my students telling each other  about their plans to start exercising or to take up yoga… they never get them done. I am convinced (through my own experience and others I know) that heading out to buy everything available for runners will NOT make you a runner. First become a runner, and then go get the expensive shoes…

 

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My First ‘Run’

Eleven years ago I wouldn’t have dreamt of running a 5k, a 10k, or anything else. Little would I know that eleven years later, a week without running would be non-existent in my life.  Let me tell you how the story begins.

I was 23 and I had heard people talking about 10k races and about marathons -which I thought were the same thing-. I was born and raised in Venezuela and this running era had just started down there. Maybe 3-5 races per year were all we had. I heard about these people I knew who ran for 10 kilometers: ‘they must be super human!’

Then one day my brother was selling tickets for a 10k. The money would go to a wonderful charity that gave food to poor families. Always in favor of helping, I decided to buy one from him. Then he said: ‘why don’t you run the 10k? You could always walk if you get tired.’ And the more I thought about it, the less frightening it seemed. What was the worst thing that could happen? I would have to walk. The only problem was that the 10k was 15 days away.

Logging walking miles -or kms- was not a problem for me. Now, running was completely new and unknown. I searched the internet and found a ‘Couch to 5k’ plan, which had a run-walk format. The plan required 1min running, 2 min walking x5 for a week on alternating days, then 2min running, 1min W for week2, then 3min R, 1min W for week3, and so on. But with 15 days to go, I ran-walked every day and instead for weekly cycles I had to do 3-day cycles.

Come race day, I was prepared to run 5 min, walk 2 min until I could and then walk the rest. I had a very good companion by my side who pushed me from the start. I started jogging and after 5 min I was prepared to stick to my schedule and take a walk break, but he told me to push. Alright, I’ll walk after min 10. Minutes 12, 14, 20 went by and I was still running.

New plan… I will walk at the half-way mark. I was ready to stop. I was tired and a side stitch at km 6 was the perfect excuse. ‘Come on, you don’t need to stop, you’re almost there.’ I think that the moment I really believe I could do it was after km 7 (mile 4.5). After Km 7 I knew there was no point in stopping, so I just trusted and kept the pace (which I now know is called ‘pace’).

My first finish line was fantastic. Crossing it made me realize that I had discovered a new world. A new world in which people actually do something productive on Sundays before the rest of the world has woken up…