How to exercise safely during pregnancy
Published 28/07/2014 | 12:01
James Duigan, the Bodyism personal trainer who coached Lara Stone when she was carrying her first child, gives his advice on exercise, yoga and nutrition for a healthy pregnancy.
Change your routine
It's an understatement to say that being strong and fit comes in handy when you are going through pregnancy. Exercise increases stamina and muscle strength, which can make giving birth easier, and helps to prevent orthopaedic issues, such as back and knee pain. It can also reduce the risk of postpartum depression . You can continue exercising in a similar way to the way you did before pregnancy, but take it easy in the first trimester, when much of your baby's crucial development is taking place. Stop any high-intensity activities, such as road cycling, horse-riding or hiking at altitude.
If you rarely exercised beforehand, I encourage you to start doing so with gentle, strengthening activities such as walking, swimming or pregnancy-specific yoga . The best time to start is in the second trimester, when nausea and tiredness have eased. Do check with your doctor before you begin.
Increase stamina with circuits
Circuit training is a great way to work lots of muscles, which will improve your posture and stabilise your body as it grows. Choose strengthening exercises that target the shoulders, back, hamstrings and core tummy muscles. After the first trimester, avoid exercises that require you to lie on your back - the weight of your uterus interferes with the flow of blood from your lower body to your heart.
Squats, pelvic-floor exercises, hip abductions on all fours (lift your bent knee to the side and back again), and lying on your side (with your feet together and legs bent, raise your top knee to the ceiling and back again) will give you stable hips to help take the extra load from your back.
Arm circles (hold your arms out straight to the side, and make small circular movements at shoulder height. Repeat forward and backwards) increase endurance in your shoulder muscles, so that you will be able to hold your newborn for longer. Repeat two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of these, and take plenty of rest in between sets. Work out three times a week, for no longer than 45 minutes, and go for a light swim or a brisk walk on your rest days. You can continue exercising into your last trimester, but listen to your body and stop if you need to.
Support your body and mind
Remember that exercise is not all about looking good - it's about feeling healthy and great about yourself as your body changes. Yoga gives you the chance to connect with your growing body as well as strengthening your muscles. The breathing control involved can help to alleviate pregnancy ailments such as shortness of breath, sickness and heartburn. It's important to find a yoga instructor who comes highly recommended and is trained specifically in pregnancy yoga (Wenche Beard, at yogaeastbourne.com, designed a brilliant programme for my wife Christiane's pregnancy). Avoid deep back bends, belly twists, sharp movements and take care not to overstretch your muscles, particularly the abdominals.
Christiane and I weren't able to conceive straight away, and a lot of anxiety crept into our lives. If you are having fertility difficulties it's essential to get your mind and body into a good place. Stress is linked to infertility: the less the body is stressed, the easier it can be to become pregnant. Exercise can lower stress levels, and yoga helps to relieve both mental and physical fatigue. Deep breaths are a natural de-stressor, so make breathing the focus of any exercise routine.
Knee-raise (hip abduction): Place a Bodyism mini-band around both legs just above your knees. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle and stack them on top of each other. Keep your body in line and engage your core. Raise your top knee by pushing against the resistance of the mini-band. Take the knee up as far as you can without straining the lower back, keeping both feet together. Lower with control. Repeat 8-10 times on each side. This exercise strengthens your butt muscles, which need to be strong to help keep your lower back supported.(Photo: Sebastian Roos/Charlie Richards)
Goddess squat: Take a comfortable stance with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing outward, core engaged. Raise your arms to the side, level with your shoulders, and palms facing down. Inhale and bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat, aiming to bring your thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your arms extended out to the sides at shoulder height, with palms facing down. Exhale as you push through your heels to return to the start position. Repeat 8-10 times. (Photo: Sebastian Roos/Charlie Richards)
Arm circle: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold your arms out at shoulder height, parallel to the floor, keep your core engaged. Keeping the movement small, circle the arms forward 12-15 times, then repeat in the opposite direction. Without taking a break if you can. (Photo: Sebastian Roos/Charlie Richards)