This post is part of our ongoing “Five Questions With” series, in which we interview a pregnancy health and wellness expert on their particular area of focus. Is there an individual or topic you’d like to see featured in “Five Questions With”? Send us an e-mail.
This month we’re focusing on exercise during pregnancy. Today, we’re chatting with Prenatal & Postnatal Fitness Coach Jessie Mundell about her perspective on exercise throughout pregnancy. Jessie is a personal trainer, author, and mother. She is also a coach with Strongest You Coaching, where she helps women heal their relationship with food and their body, and eat and exercise in a way that they enjoy so they can sustain it forever.
Five Questions With: Jessie Mundell
What types of workouts are safe through every trimester of pregnancy?
Physical activity in pregnancy is beneficial on many levels, for mamas and babies. It’s absolutely possible, if no contraindications are present and if you’re feeling well enough, to exercise throughout your entire pregnancy. That being said, there certainly are some modes of exercise that are more comfortable than others and that will train the body best throughout a period of time when the body is already under stress.
The types of exercise I recommend to all my pregnant clients are:
- Regular strength training: 2-4 days per week
- Leisurely walking: daily, if possible
- Gentle stretching and/or mobility exercises: 2+ days per week
Of course, there are many other excellent forms of exercise that can be done in pregnancy, but strength training, walking, and stretching tend to cover all the bases and are often the most convenient to fit into one’s lifestyle. Exercise always made me feel better in pregnancy, even throughout the all-day nausea and intense food aversions. I felt well enough to exercise throughout my entire pregnancy, which was 42 weeks long.
You have probably heard a lot about how walking is the best form of exercise in pregnancy, and I fully agree that it is a fantastic one. But for me, strength training was far and beyond the most comfortable form of exercise throughout the last month of my pregnancy. I decreased the length of my walks quite a bit, but was able to strength-train 3 days per week without increasing any aches and pains I was feeling.
My main point? Do what feels best for your body. Pay close attention to how you’re feeling and adjust when needed.
Is CrossFit safe to continue through pregnancy?
I love strength training for every pregnant woman who is able to exercise. The modifications are endless, we can easily adapt specific exercises to the changing body, and it helps tremendously to keep aches and pains at bay. So, yes, it is safe to continue CrossFit throughout pregnancy. Here’s my disclaimer, though:
- How you are working out in the first trimester should not be how you are working out in the second trimester.
- And, how you are working out in the second trimester should not be how you are working out in the third trimester.
As your pregnancy progresses, your workouts will look differently. There should be differences in the exercises programmed, the weight you’re lifting, the length of your workouts, etc. For me, the conversation of the ‘pregnant crossfitter’ has skewed thinking. Let me explain.
You might see videos on the Internet of a pregnant woman who is deadlifting a heavy barbell, overhead pressing considerable weight, or running sprints. In the comments section of videos such as these, the woman is often attacked and told she is harming her baby.
When we focus on the safety of the baby, we’re missing the point! Of course, we want pregnant women to put the safety of their baby first, but the fact is that athletic, well-trained women are able to exercise at quite high heart rate levels during pregnancy and baby will respond just fine to this activity.
Instead, I think the focus of this conversation needs to be about ensuring that a pregnant woman is preventing any undue damage to her core and pelvic floor during pregnancy. We must be concerned about the mother’s body, and the long term function of it. Your workouts should be scaled as you progress through pregnancy and you should not be trying to workout in the same manner from beginning to due date.
For more advice on CrossFit workouts during pregnancy, read this article on my personal blog.
I’ve heard of diastasis recti. What exercises should I avoid in pregnancy so I don’t increase the severity of an abdominal separation?
As your baby grows larger toward the later stages of pregnancy, your belly needs to expand outwards further. This expansion is possible thanks to the linea alba—a line of connective tissue that runs from under your sternum to your pubic bone, and connects the two sides of your “six pack” muscles, or rectus abdominis muscles.
The linea alba stretches and becomes lax, allowing your baby to have more room than it would otherwise. This is a wonderful function of the body, to help carry a baby to full term. However, this increased laxity in the linea alba can cause a separation between the left and right rectus abdominus muscle bellies (the muscles that create a ‘6-pack’ appearance).
This common separation is termed diastasis recti abdominis (DRA). We want to prevent the severity of the separation in pregnancy, so the core, pelvis, pelvic floor, and lower back stay well supported. To do so, I recommend avoiding exercises such as:
• Traditional forward or sideways crunches or sit-ups
• Bicycle abs
• Double straight leg raises, from your back
As well, often in mid-to-late pregnancy you’ll want to avoid or modify these exercises to an incline: pushups, front planks, or crawling type exercises. Basically, be aware of any exercise that creates a doming like bulge in the mid-line of your belly!
What about cardio? Can I continue to run throughout pregnancy? What about interval training?
Cardio and interval training can be done throughout pregnancy. Again, we want to choose activities that help to support the body, are comfortable, and do not cause undue stress to the core and pelvic floor. Examples, depending on your preference or availability:
• Walking on flat ground, or hills
• Walking on a treadmill, flat or inclined
• Bicycling or stationary/spin bike
• Rowing machine
• Running (in the earlier months of pregnancy)
Another great way to do cardio or interval type workouts is to use strength training exercises, and keep the pace and repetitions higher. This can be a nice way to support the body through the changes of pregnancy as you can use different variation of exercises, instead of being stuck in a very specific pattern of movement, say on the rowing machine. Click here to see more examples of interval training workouts in pregnancy.
What’s one thing you want all women to know about exercise during pregnancy?
The most important thing to remember is that exercise should always make you feel better, not worse. In pregnancy it can be difficult to be motivated to exercise when you are feeling nauseous and sick (all day, everyday!). Simply try your best. See if you can just start your warm-up, or get through one set of your workout. It might be a welcome relief of distraction from the nausea, even if it is temporary.
Finally, check your ego at the gym door. Remember, that there is no pregnancy exercise “badge of honor.” Exercise in pregnancy is about maintaining strength and fitness, preparing for labor and birth, and ultimately, preparing for the physicality of motherhood. Challenge yourself, but be aware of how your body feels during and after workouts!
Are you interested in taking a deeper dive on this topic with Stephanie Greunke? Join our Whole Mamas Pregnancy program today to get access to our exclusive webinar on exercise during pregnancy. Click here for more info on our program.
Jessie Mundell (BPHE, MHK) is the owner of JMG Fitness Consulting, a company dedicated to coaching women to improved health. Jessie teaches women how to exercise safely and strongly in pregnancy, and how to regain their core, confidence, and fitness as moms.
Jessie has worked with hundreds of women during and after their pregnancies and is extremely passionate about giving them the care they need. She is focused on effective exercise during pregnancy, rehabilitation of the core and pelvic floor for moms, teaching women how to create exercise effortlessly, and having women feel incredible in their bodies.
She aims to steer the conversation away from the “pre and post-baby body” madness and into a place where women feel supported, encouraged, strong, and confident. For prenatal and postnatal fitness coaching, visit her website. To connect with Jessie, follow her on Instagram and Facebook.