Friday, April 24, 2015

Prenatal Fitness: What I've Learned, Part 2

In case you missed part 1 of what I've learned for prenatal fitness, here's the link: Prenatal Fitness, Part 1

You'd be surprised how hard it was to find a picture of a pregnant woman with proper form!

Continuing from part 1, part 2 is going to be talking about the trials and errors of what movements/exercises have been working or not working for me, and how I've been feeling so far during my pregnancy. I'll also include some science (it can't be avoided) and hopefully learn something new (or have refreshed your memory). 

As of today, I'm just over 21 weeks and I'm noticing some changes from how I've been the past couple months. As my baby's growing and developing at a rapid rate, my body is still hard at work to grow my child. It's normal for my balance and posture to start to weaken due to the changes in my center of gravity and that my baby is growing larger, resulting in more weight on my front, for my food cravings to change, and to change my exercise routines to fit what I can do without being uncomfortable. What I mean by this is having to modify positions to be more comfortable for my body or change something entirely because it's become too difficult to keep up, but still be able to get an effective workout in. 

I'm going to break my experiences into sections: cardio, strength, and flexibility. Again, this is what I have been experiencing over the past bunch of weeks and is based on no one else's input. Fitness can be a lot of trial and error to figure out what works for someone, and what works for me may not work for someone else, or if it does, modification may be needed to fit what that person can or can't do. But the beauty of it is that no matter where your fitness level is, everything can be modified to fit you and your abilities. Getting outside of your comfort zone can be a good thing and who knows, you may end up loving to hate burpees, but do them anyway because of the many benefits doing them can offer. I love to hate burpees and yes, I still do them, but modified how I do them to fit what I can do without injuring myself.

Cardiovascular is referring to the heart and blood vessels, so when discussing cardiovascular endurance, cardio for short, it means working on your body's ability to continue exertion while getting energy from your body's aerobic system. In non-science speak, it's the ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles while they're working, by strengthening your heart and lungs to make them more efficient. 
There's quite a number of exercises that fall in the category of cardio: walking, jogging, swimming, biking, using an elliptical, Zumba, dancing, burpees, jumping get the idea. Prior to finding out I was pregnant, I was running, biking, walking, and participating in TRX and CrossFit classes, and was doing at least one if not more of these a day. While TRX and CrossFit fall under strength as well, there is a cardio component to them. They were 20-45 minutes in length and considered high intensity training (HIT). Beginners did come to those classes and everyone is instructed to go at their own pace and listen to their body, and were given guidance and encouragement throughout the class (I would know, I was one of those instructors for those classes). The best reward: the more I worked at it, the easier those activities became, the stronger I became, and I had more energy and felt great. Although it's becoming more difficult to breathe due to baby growing in my abdominal cavity, I'm signed up for a 5K (3.11 miles) on May 2nd and while I've had to put running on hold, I am active at least 5-6 days a week. I still walk at least a mile 3-4 times a week (and I sometimes have to schedule it in, especially if the weather's bad), will go for 40-60 minute walks with my dog on the nicer days, and will ride a stationary bike while reading a book.

Strength refers to your muscles and how strong they are. Muscular endurance refers to the ability to sustain an activity for a long period of time (think light to moderate weight, higher reps) while muscular strength refers to the ability to produce maximal force for a short period of time (think heavy weight, few reps) in terms of lifting, or as a runner, a marathoner (endurance) versus a sprinter (strength). I don't necessarily lift for power anymore, but every now and then I do go until I hit momentary muscle failure (the ability to continue the movement with correct form until I can't do any more reps). But the second my form falls apart, I stop. I probably do this every few months with certain exercises, not not everything.
As I said in my cardio bit, my strength training regiment is probably 90% body weight exercises, mostly with my TRX Suspension Trainer. I still work in some of the CrossFit moves I used to do, but not to the same intensity because it's not necessarily healthy to exhaust myself completely while pregnant (and most doctors would highly recommend not working out to that point either). I still use kettlebells, medicine balls, and dumbbells as well, as I am now at the point where laying on my back isn't an option and still need to maintain strength in my lower back. Now, for beginners who haven't been consistently working out, I would highly recommend working with a trainer who specifically knows the do's and don'ts for pregnant women or starting with some pregnancy DVD's since they are specifically made for the mom-to-be.

Although most pregnant women can do a majority of exercises and movements that a non-pregnant woman can, there are a few contraindications that will need to be addressed depending on where the woman is in their pregnancy. For example, laying on your back or your stomach will probably be okay to do during your first trimester (up to 13 weeks) as long as it's not causing discomfort to the mother. In the second trimester (13 to 26 weeks), laying on the stomach is not going to be possible, but being in a prone position on hands and knees is an alternative. Laying on your back is still doable till about 18-20 weeks unless the mother is feeling uncomfortable prior to this stage of her pregnancy, at which point moving to an inclined surface would be best. This is because there are two major blood vessels that are on the back wall of the abdominal cavity (inferior vena cava and aorta) that move blood to and from your heart that when compressed by baby can disrupt or restrict blood flow. During the third trimester (27 to 40 weeks), more modifications will be needed, but I still have a while to go before I can give my experiences on this stage. Does this mean that all strength training has to stop? No, it doesn't, but it does mean that you need to make adjustments to your program to fit your abilities. 

Flexibility (limberness) is referring to the range of motion in a joint or multiple joints, and the length of muscles in your body that allow you to bend and move. Yoga is great for increasing this as well as strength (trust me, I was pretty sore when I started with yoga years ago), and while pregnant, prenatal yoga is an option, either by joining a local studio that offers them or DVD or videos that you've found online or on tv.

Everyone hears or has heard that stretching post workout is good for you. 10 to 15 minutes to stretch out after your workout helps increase the blood flow to the muscles you just worked, which can help reduce how sore you are when DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) sets in. While it's probably best to stretch after your body's warmed up and loose, there are people out there who insist on stretching while "cold", or before you've warmed up. There's mixed opinions on this, but I look at it and explain the concept to my clients this way: think of your muscles as an elastic band. Now, if the elastic band was put in the freezer for a few hours and taken out when you're ready to use it, chances are that it will break at a certain point. If the elastic band was left in the sun for a few hours and removed when you are ready to use it, chances are it will stretch a lot further before it breaks when compared to the frozen elastic band.

Why is stretching and flexibility important? The obvious answer being that having a better range of motion may improve your performance as well as decrease your risk of injury. A lack of flexibility can lead to a lack of mobility, which can affect our posture and decrease our effectiveness with performing certain movements, and maintaining good posture throughout pregnancy is important for many reasons including reduced lower back pain.

Here's what I've learned about myself by stretching regularly. My regular amount of stretching is done about 2-3 times a week for major parts of my body, and other areas of my body, such as my hips, hip flexors, and calves, almost every day. Prior to becoming pregnant, I usually stretched after a long run and after my strength workouts. During my first trimester, I didn't stretch a whole lot as I spent a good part of those 13 weeks sleeping more than usual, force myself to take my dog for a 20 minute walk, and virtually had no energy to hit the gym. As a result, my flexibility suffered quite a bit.

Around the 13 week mark, my energy started to come back and I was able to add 1-2 days of working out into my week, and boy was I ever sore the day after. I started to notice that my hips and hip flexors were more sore than usual, my chest and back felt much tighter, and my lower back pain was starting to creep up the pain scale again. It took some effort on my part, but after a few weeks of adding in 5-10 minutes of stretching after my walks, I started feeling better. My range of motion was coming back and I couldn't have been happier! The pains that I was feeling were going away and I was able to increase my range of motion during my strength days.

On the days that I spend a lot of time sitting, I swapped out my chair for a stability ball, which has been great. Being that it's unstable, it forces me to use my core muscles to work so that I don't fall off the ball, and I can challenge myself further by crossing one leg over the other (making sure to alternate which leg's on top) and balance on one foot instead of two. It was a bit difficult at first, but now I can rock it like a pro. What I love most is that sitting on the ball allows me to roll around while sitting on it, which helps open up my hips and shift my pelvis around, reducing any lower back pain (big time win for me). Plus, bouncing is just straight up fun.

Being 21 weeks into my pregnancy is giving me more challenges to deal with: difficulty sitting up without having to rollover or push myself upright, tying my shoes and putting socks on is getting harder, and most importantly, my balance is starting to fall apart faster. I'll give myself more modifications and possibly change up my routines some more, but I will not sit back and let myself go. I can't afford to and I've still got quite a ways to go before I get to meet our newest addition. Moving forward!

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