Pregnant women often face the problem of not knowing whether they should be exercising or not and especially not knowing what kind of exercise/movements they should and shouldn’t be performing.
In 2003, the British Journal of Sports Medicine (one of the most reliable scientific resources) published an article based around the guidelines from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. The good thing about this article is that it is solely based on scientific research (74 different studies to be exact) and is, therefore, a lot more reliable than recommendations from many other sources.
The general message is that after medical consultation, women with ‘uncomplicated’ pregnancies should be ‘encouraged to continue and engage in physical activities’ as exercising whilst pregnant has ‘minimal risks and confirmed benefits for most women’ and that many of the risks are hypothetical.
Here are some of the articles main points for prescribing exercise to a pregnant woman;
Type of exercise
- Exercise should contain the same elements as usual- ‘aerobic’ and ‘resistive’ exercise.
- Aerobic exercise can consist of ANY activities that use large muscle groups in a continuous rhythmic manner (no data to suggest they should be avoided).
- Several activities pose an increased risk such as scuba diving and exertion in the supine position, although swimming is not associated with adverse effects.
- Activities with an increased risk of falling (skiing) or excessive joint stress (jogging, tennis etc) should be evaluated on an individual basis with consideration for ability levels.
- ‘Relatively low weights with multiple repetitions lifted through a dynamic range of motion appear to be a safe and effective type of resistance exercise during pregnancy’.
- Although there is limited data, It would be prudent to avoid heavy weightlifting due to it increases blood pressure.
- Flexibility training should be limited due to the increased relaxation of ligaments but the maintenance of a normal joint range of motion will be fine.
- This is the hardest regimen to prescribe pregnant women.
- Normal recommendations for health (at least moderate intensity exercise) are maintained.
- For developing and maintaining physical fitness- a higher intensity (60-90% of maximum heart rate) is normally recommended and this is ok for pregnant women but is recommended that the lower end (60-70%) is more appropriate if you are new to exercise. A study found that exercising at 81% of maximum heart rate had no adverse effects.
- Due to their variability during pregnancy, heart rates should not be used to determine exercise intensity.
- Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), a scale of 6-20 should be used instead. Moderate exercise should be 12-14 on the scale, and no number has been established for the upper level of safe intensity but pregnant women who were active before should be able to engage in high-intensity exercise programmes.