Keeping fit during and after pregnancy
World Duathlon Champion, Claire Steels who runs Steels Fitness based in Stamford and Majorca, talks about pre and post-pregnancy fitness.
During exercise in pregnancy it is important to regulate your temperature so make sure you stay well hydrated, wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid high heat and humidity to protect against heat stress, particularly during the first trimester. Remember, even if you weren’t active before pregnancy that doesn’t mean that you can’t be active in your pregnancy but don’t suddenly take up a strenuous exercise programme or regime. The NHS guidelines suggest aerobic exercise can be introduced but for no longer than 15 minutes, three times a week. This can gradually be increased to 30-minute sessions. The most distinct changes during pregnancy obviously include increased weight gain and a shift in centre of gravity which can result in progressive lordosis (arching of the lower back). Strengthening your core and lower back can help with this. Regardless of health or stage of pregnancy, there are a few exercises/activities that should be avoided including contact sports such as hockey or football, activities with a high risk of falling such as surfing or horseback riding, scuba diving and also ‘hot yoga/hot pilates’ (Yoga performed under hot and humid conditions). As with pre-natal training, post-natal training is very dependent on the type of birth you have. If you have a caesarean it might take longer to recover and be ready for full exercise. Your level of activity during your pregnancy can also have an impact on how quickly you can exercise again. Those mums who were active during pregnancy are normally able to start exercising again faster than those who weren’t. Pelvic floor exercises are the first exercises that you can, and should, be doing after birth since pelvic floor muscles are under great strain during pregnancy and birth. Practice your pelvic floor exercises by drawing in your back passage and squeezing as if you’re stopping a wee. Hold for a second and then relax. Over time you can build this up to 10 seconds. If you are feeling able to go for walks and move around a few days after birth then do so, just listen to your body although it is wise to wait until your 6-week post-natal health check-up before returning to a full, high-intensity training programme. If you are in any doubt speak to your healthcare provider. If you start exercises and experience any of the following symptoms then stop and speak to your healthcare provider; unusual vaginal bleeding, regular painful contractions, calf pain or swelling, headaches, chest pain, dizziness. Something to be mindful of when you start exercising again is that your ligaments and joints are much more supple in the months after giving birth because your body will have produced a hormone called relaxin to make the ligaments in your body more elastic. The problem with this is it can lead to injuries by overstretching or twisting or turning too vigorously. An increase in postnatal bleeding or a change of colour might also indicate that you are doing too much too soon. To summarise - regular gentle activity and exercise will benefit you both physically and mentally, which is a great thing for you and your baby so if you feel ok then go for it! Just listen to your body and keep an eye out for any warning signs. Find out about Claire Steel’s Fitness retreats, personal training her 12-week training programme or to enroll on her Majorcan Cycling Retreat go to