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Dismantling Myths around Pregnancy and Exercise

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

4 common myths about pregnancy and training that are STILL making the rounds, and the truth behind it all.

So many don’t do this, don’t do that out there for the pregnant woman – especially as it relates to exercising. I know I felt bombarded with restrictions that made me feel I might as well sit still in a protective bubble!

Many of these supposed restrictions are based on old research and recommendations.

The most recent ACOG (American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists) stance was brought forth in 2015 which in summary is highly encouraging of women to start or continue with exercise while pregnant. However, it is clear that many are not aware of the most recent committee opinion and a plethora of conflicting information out there remains.

This leaves many women confused about what they truly can and cannot do with their exercise, fitness and training regimes.

As a pregnancy and postpartum trainer, educator, and mentor, I’ll reveal the most common myths that I hear. Let’s learn the truth so you can continue or start exercising throughout your pregnancy and feel safe doing so!

Myth #1 - Pregnant women shouldn't raise their heart rate over 140 bpm

The ACOG introduced this idea in 1985 with the cause for concern being that too high a heart rate has to do with the muscles pulling all the oxygen and not enough going to the fetus. But, it was revised in 1994 and there appears to still be some catching up in the literature out there!

There is no current evidence to support that a heart rate higher than 140BPM is

unsafe in uncomplicated pregnancies; current recommendations do not set a specific heart beat limitation.

We now know the heart rate can be pushed higher without worry. Active and inactive women can tolerate moderate and even higher intensity exercise, in part due to increases in blood volume, heart rate, strokevolume and cardiac output, improving their ability to eliminate heat, and maintain blood flow during exercise for her and – contrary to the old recommendations - the baby.

“So, I can exercise till I can barely breath?”

Well no, not exactly. There is limited research that has examined strenuous efforts above 85% of your maximum capacity while pregnant, and so that upper level of ‘safe’ intensity has not been established.

The limited research is pointing towards those that were in the habit of strenuous exercise before exercise should be ok in healthy pregnancies. If you feel faint, dizzy, nauseous STOP!

For those that weren’t, check in with your intensity level with the ‘talk test”. If you’re breathing hard but can still have a conversation, that is considered moderate intensity whereas an activity that you can only say a few words but then need to pause for a breath is considered strenuous.

Myth #2 - Pregnant women should not lay on their backs during exercise

Concern for pregnant women to avoid laying on their backs is based on the risks of developing supine hypotensive syndrome, where on your back, the uterus and baby can compress the inferior vena cava, resulting in low blood pressure and low return of blood to the heart for reoxygenation.

The concern is that a woman’s oxygen levels will become low enough to cause fainting and/or deprive the baby of oxygen. Supine hypotensive syndrome is characterized by

dizziness, nausea, a pale complexion, sweating, and severe hypotension. It presents in only a small percentage of pregnancies and can be quickly relieved by a change in position, often times, happening reflexively.

Women are safe to exercise on their back as long as they are asymptomatic - if you feel dizzy, nauseous and/or short of breath, STOP!

"Up to 8% of women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy can be affected. Symptoms usually occur within 3–10 minutes after lying down . . these are transient symptoms which resolve with maternal position change" – Kim et al, National Library of Medicine, 2015.

Myth #3 - Don't work your abdominals during pregnancy

Although some exercises are not appropriate during pregnancy, many core movements are beneficial and help prepare you for a potentially easier delivery and faster postpartum recovery. Working on deep breathing exercises, incorporating exercises that target the transverse abdominus and including movements that target the pelvic floor can be greatly beneficial when done with proper form.

Myth #4 - Only do low impact exercise

If you are already accustomed to high impact exercise (think running, plyometrics, HIIT classes), then it is ok to keep in your fitness routine.

That said, as your body changes and the belly grows, the pelvic floor and core become a stressed system. So, strategy changes should revolve around protecting these areas.

Monitoring symptoms (such as feelings of heaviness in your pelvic floor, incontinence, pelvic pain, back pain) and learning strategies to protect and or modify are important. Short term fitness gains are not worth the potential long term consequences!

Exercise is ENCOURAGED during pregnancy!

There are many myths out there that tend to scare instead of inform, leading to many women creating unnecessary limitations upon themselves. However, pregnancy and exercise DO go beyond 'listening to your body'. There are strategies that us trainers who specialize in working with the pregnant population apply that prioritize long-term health and fitness function.

To learn more, reach out to discuss how to work together!

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