Guest post by Calia Zappala, an all-star women's fitness trainer who helps women gain strength, prepare for childbirth, and transition back after giving birth. Learn more at her website.
How does fitness differ for the prenatal population?
Prenatal fitness and the preconception anxieties:
- I should just keep up with my normal fitness routine since that’s what I’m used to, right?
- Will I still be able to run? And if so, for how long?
- I’ll just stop working out when I get pregnant, I don’t want my abs to separate.
- Nothing will ever be or feel the same again.
These are just some of the many comments & questions I get from women who are just thinking about starting a family, but terrified of the inevitable changes that occur in the body.
And to start us off, no - you won’t be or feel the same after having a child.
But that’s the point! If growing another human inside your body does not change you in any way, then I’d be concerned. We are meant to grow from this experience as we make that major shift into motherhood. However, the physical changes vary from person to person and that is where I step in as a pre and postnatal exercise specialist, to help educate and empower women.
I find that a lot of the fears and concerns come from a lack of information and lack of conversations and knowledge sharing on this topic. But the good news is that this is changing. Women are more curious about how their bodies work. Holistic approaches to our cycles and fertility are becoming more popular.
In 2020 we have more to consider than ever before. Many women are career focused, perhaps having children later in life. Many of us are dedicated to personal fitness goals whether that is running, spinning, or just sticking to consistent workouts. Generally, we want to be healthy both mentally and physically. Many women have demanding jobs in cities and use public transportation up until the day before they deliver. There are SO many aspects of pregnancy these days.
Maybe you see where I am headed here...maintaining your strength and fitness routines during pregnancy becomes more important than EVER given the demands on new moms.
Why building strength around pregnancy is beneficial:
- SUPPORT YOUR CHANGING BODY - Your baby continues to grow, your belly continues to expand, and it is your responsibility to support the development of your baby. This includes taking care of physical and nutritional needs, for both you and baby!
- LOVE AND NURTURE YOUR FAMILY - If you are not a first time mom, you may also be caring for a toddler. So now think about point #1 and then add another 30lb love bug onto your hip. Strength is key!
- PREPARE FOR CHILDBIRTH - There are many studies that compare childbirth to running a marathon. You probably wouldn’t show up to run a marathon for the first time without training. The same mentality should apply for childbirth.
- BEING A MOM IS A FULL-TIME CONTACT SPORT - You will be so glad to have upper body strength when you finally get to meet your little one and all you want to do is hold and care for him/her!
So how am I supposed to workout safely and effectively during this time?
I teach all my clients the Fit For Birth Core Breathing Belly Pump™, which is a breathing technique that helps pregnant women learn to use their inner core unit in a safe way. The inner core unit consists of deep core muscles - the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor. Yes, using your core is absolutely necessary throughout pregnancy (gasp!) and can be learned through proper diaphragmatic breathing. A common myth you may hear is, ‘don’t do ab exercise during pregnancy’. This usually comes from fear of Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation). However, the truth is you must use your abdominals during pregnancy, with proper engagement.
You cannot turn off certain muscles and expect the body to feel balanced. Instead, let’s learn how to use our muscles in ways that serve us.
As soon as you learn how to use your core properly during pregnancy, the fitness world becomes a whole lot less scary.
To try this breathing technique, lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
First, slow down your breathing and take a few really deep breaths. Notice where the breath is and which body parts are moving. Chest? Ribs? Belly? Next, place your hands over your belly - pinkies on top two hip points and thumbs on bottom two ribs. Can you redirect your breath so that your belly moves into your hands on your inhale and then falls back on your exhale? Practice this a few times until you can actually start to feel your abs turn on with the exhale. PRO TIP: Push the air out (slowly) and feel your hands move towards one another - ribs knit together and right and left hip points drawing towards one another. And then inhale to release...AHA!
Once this lightbulb goes on, the possibilities are endless:
- This technique can be used throughout daily movements to address the common aches and pains that pregnant women tend to feel - lower back pain, hip pain, shoulder/neck tension.
- A pregnant mom feels deeply connected to her baby - imagine the feeling of an exhale where your core can hug your baby in closer.
- Labor training also becomes simple and fun.
- Postpartum recovery is much easier (and also can be fun!)
Bonus fact - this works for ANYONE and everyone! My dad was my first non-female test case. He had chronic back pain, constantly ‘throwing his back out’, and experienced many days not able to leave the house. One weekend when visiting, I saw what was going on and gave it a shot. I taught him to belly breathe and properly engage his core. I gave him a few exercises that he now practices daily - he remains pain-free.
I truly believe that we are our own best teachers. And as a fitness professional, I provide tools, guidance, and proper queuing which allows for women to have the “aha” moments within their own body and continue the practice when I am not by their side to guide them through these mindful moments.
So where do I take this from here?
If you are concerned about your fitness routine during pregnancy, first check in with your provider and make sure you have medical clearance. Second, look to work with someone who is trained and certified in working with pre/postnatal women! If 1:1 is not in your budget, there are many group classes offered. I promise, you will not regret it. Knowledge is power and just like anything, becoming in tune with your body takes time, practice, and patience. With this approach, I witness women feeling more empowered to make decisions based on what’s right for them [and their baby]. What more could we ask for?
We need to continue to guide women back to being their own best advocate and the fitness industry is no exception. So the next time you google your way into a long list of do’s and don’ts, my friend, be skeptical and don’t settle for fear. Seek to learn!
In the end, the solutions to prenatal fitness anxieties are, unfortunately, not black and white. My best recommendation is to learn how to properly use your core sooner than later. When used correctly, the inner core unit allows you to breathe deeper, relieve stress, and find calmness in a chaotic world. This core connection allows you to feel balanced within your own body, move functionally and pain-free, and will protect your tiny human when pregnant.
Listen and trust your body. Do research and ask for help when needed - the kind of help that empowers you to become smarter within your own body.