When I found out I was pregnant, one of the first things I started reading about was pregnancy and exercise. I hadn’t really been exposed to this information before, though I had certainly picked up some preconceived notions about the topic through friends, family, and the media. If you check out Web MD and the Mayo Clinic website, you’ll see they’re in agreement that regular exercise during pregnancy can:
- relieve pregnancy-associated back pain
- help prevent the development of gestational diabetes
- improve energy levels
But what constitutes “regular exercise”? Neither website really gets into specifics – basically, several times per week, a pregnant woman should walk, swim, or perform low-impact aerobics for at least 30 minutes per session, without allowing her heartbeat to exceed 140 beats per minute. What I wanted to know was, are pregnant women really that fragile? Can I work out more than several times per week? Is it really dangerous to exceed 140 beats per minute? Now, I can see the wisdom in avoiding say, horseback riding, or mountain biking. But what about strength training? What about sprinting? For those of you familiar with Mark’s Daily Apple, you’ll probably recall that there are 3 tiers to Primal Blueprint fitness:
- moving frequently at a slow pace (2-5 hours per week)
- lifting heavy things (2 short, intense sessions per week)
- sprinting (give it your all once every 7-10 days for less than 10 minutes per session)
Looks like even according to conventional wisdom, a pregnant woman has the go-ahead to walk even to the upper limit of what Mark prescribes (as long as she’s feeling well and isn’t losing weight). So far, so good. And with the low-level intensity both Mark and the medical community suggest, exceeding 140 heartbeats per minute sounds like a non-issue.
A quick Google search for “pregnancy weight lifting” revealed zero hits from the big names in medical advice. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of articles with advice on how to safely strength train while pregnant. It’s just that this advice is pretty much exclusively anecdotal. Kinda dubious stuff for someone concerned about not harming her fetus. (Though to be honest, isn’t all fitness and medical advice – even, and maybe especially, when backed by the medical community – dubious to primal and paleo types?)
I’ll summarize some of the advice I found:
- listen to your body (that’s certainly primal advice)
- don’t perform exercises from flat on your back (for most pregnant women past their 1st trimester, flat on your back for anything just feels plain wrong)
- emphasize proper form over resistance level (makes sense – if you have the wrong form, chances are you’re not benefiting fully from the exercise anyway)
All of this sounds sensible, and apart from some modifications to accommodate a pregnant belly, fairly in-line with what MDA has to say. My two cents on pull ups though? If you haven’t managed one pre-pregnancy, don’t fight for it to happen during pregnancy. That’s an awful lot of stretching and pulling on abdominal muscles, and with that notorious yet undeniably necessary hormone, relaxin, flowing through your body, it’s probably a recipe for a pulled muscle or ligament (unless you’re already super-fit, of course).
I’m going to leave the topic of sprinting for next time. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s uncharted territory, but the information I’ve found is mostly for or written by competitive athletes. Some of it is pretty amazing. Anyway, I think an activity as beneficial as sprinting deserves its own post. I’ll also get into the question of whether it’s safe to exceed 140 beats per minute during exercise. (Here’s a somewhat related question: if sex is still safe during pregnancy, as my midwife and many websites have assured me, can someone explain how that jives with the 140 bpm rule? I’m sure I have – pardon the term – blown past 140 bpm on many occasions.)
So, anyway, thanks for reading. Feel free to share your pregnancy fitness stories, primal or otherwise, in the comment section.