'I'm a prenatal fitness expert and I want to cancel these 5 misconceptions about pregnancy exercise.'

Pregnancy exercise can be such a confusing topic. 

On one end, we're given general health guidelines that recommend activities like "brisk walking" and "light resistance activities" during pregnancy. 

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we're watching incredible athletes defy our previous ideas of what pregnancy exercise looks like, by doing weighted sled pushes and barbell squats (we're looking at you, Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr!). 

With such a wide range of approaches, how can we work out what's right for our individual needs?

To help us take the guesswork out of pregnancy exercise, we've enlisted the help of Brooke Turner, an exercise professional, pre- and postnatal expert, and mum of three. 

Here, Brooke breaks down a few pregnancy exercise misconceptions, so that you can feel empowered on your prenatal fitness journey.

Side note: Whether you're navigating sleep routines or you want to know which baby products you actually need, we've designed the Baby Brain mailing list to be your go-to source for everything you need to know. Sign up here.

Watch Emily Skye's pregnancy safe exercises. Post continues below.

Video via Emily Skye.

Bur first: why exercise during pregnancy?

"Regular exercise during pregnancy is beneficial to both mother and baby, physically and mentally," says Brooke.

In fact, if you and your baby are healthy (this is a very important factor before even considering exercise), the Australian Government recommends 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, OR, 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity each week, OR an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.

Within that mix, the guidelines recommend doing muscle strengthening activities at least twice per week, such as light resistance training or bodyweight exercises.

Other than helping improve your mental health (the government also recommends exercise as a way of lowering the risk of postnatal depression) and maintaining your fitness and strength, Brooke says regular exercise can also help prevent potential pregnancy related problems, such as uncontrolled hypertension and gestational diabetes. 

Brooke adds, "Regular exercise may also assist in labour preparation and promote postnatal recovery."

Now that we've covered that, let's talk about those pregnancy exercise misconceptions.

Misconception #1: You need to completely stop your fave fitness class or gym session.

Good news: In most cases, you can carry on with your favourite workouts, whether it be Pilates, yoga, boxing (this was me!), lifting weights or even CrossFit. 

"But as there's a wide range of physiological changes occurring in your body as your pregnancy progresses, it's a matter of adapting your sessions so that you can exercise in a way that is safe and suitable for your unique pregnancy journey," explains Brooke.


According to Brooke, those changes include "hormonal changes, increased load on the pelvic floor and abdominal wall, changes to your posture and to your centre of gravity, metabolism, cardiac output, and respiratory rate ... to name a few!" 

"There are also many contraindications to exercise, and not all pregnancies are considered low risk, so seeking advice from your health care team in addition to working with a certified trainer is an absolute must," she says.

Once you get the okay from your health team to exercise, here are a few ways Brooke says your trainer/instructor might adapt your workout:

  • Monitor your intensity: using a heart rate monitor or via the ‘talk test’, particularly in the first trimester.

  • Reduce the load: even if that load feels ‘light’ for you.

  • Increase the volume: this can help to keep the intensity higher.

  • Avoid moves that create excess pressure through the abdominals: for example sit-ups, pullups, and heavy overhead loads.

  • Drop the impact and contact sports from the second trimester, or earlier if you wish. 

  • Take adequate rest periods.

  • Don’t chase personal bests and drop the ‘go hard, or go home’ attitude. 

Misconception #2: It’s normal to ‘leak a bit’ – but you can worry about it once you’ve had the baby. 

"Pregnancy and postpartum carry risk factors for pelvic floor dysfunction, such as stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse," says Brooke. So while it's very common to "leak a bit" during pregnancy, Brooke reiterates that it's not normal. 

This is why Booke says we need to prioritise our pelvic health during pregnancy. "The more informed and educated you are, the more empowered you will be during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience," she says.

If you are experiencing incontinence, Brooke recommends booking an appointment with a women’s health physiotherapist. "They'll check your strength, activation, and endurance of your pelvic floor, and prescribe pelvic floor strengthening exercises," Brooke says. 

"A women's health physiotherapist can also assist with pelvic, back, wrist or musculoskeletal pain, and talk through any concerns or underlying pelvic risk factors, which will go a long way to ensure the longevity of your exercise for life in motherhood." 


Listen to this Hello Bump episode on making sure you're looking after yourself. Post continues below.

Misconception #3: "Listen to your body" is the best advice when it comes to pregnancy exercise.

"It is not enough to ‘listen to your body’ and base your exercise selection and intensity on this," Brooke warns. 

"While your body may still feel okay, modifications need to be made to your exercise as pregnancy progresses, due to the many physiological changes taking place. 

"Yes, we want to be in tune with our bodies. Our bodies are forever sending us signals, that if we ignore, can become red flags in terms of our health. But if listening to your body is the only thing guiding you through your prenatal fitness journey, it can have short- and long-term implications."

Brooke uses the first trimester as an example. "One of the key considerations for the first trimester is a woman’s core body temperature, her intensity levels, the baby's organ development, and the associated higher risk of miscarriage. 

"For women experiencing morning sickness, they will naturally dial down their training," she says. While women who feel great during this period are less likely to pull back the intensity of their training. This is where a good fitness instructor comes in. 

"Combine tuning into your body with education or training from a reputable coach or facility," says Brooke.


Misconception #4: If you can push it, you should.

Pregnancy isn't the time to be chasing personal bests, says Brooke. As your pregnancy progresses, the intensity of your exercise should naturally regress. 

"It can be a difficult mindset shift. Whether you love your training, pushing your mind and body, are from a competitive background, used to lifting the heaviest, or finishing first, it’s time to drop the ego and accept a modified movement or training program," says Brooke. 

"It’s not forever, it’s just for now."

Don't forget, Brooke has been in your shoes too. "Having navigated three pregnancies, I get it. You may feel good, strong or can still do push-ups on your toes, for example. Yet, this movement creates pressure through your abdominals, which is already compromised," she says. 

"There are no gold medals at the end of pregnancy if you are still doing push-ups on your toes or high-impact activities at 39 weeks. Instead, you are more likely to contribute to abdominal separation and/or pelvic floor dysfunction, which can set you back in your postpartum return to exercise journey," says Brooke.

"The same goes for comparing your journey to others," she reminds us. "Only take advice from pregnancy and postpartum certified trainers, women’s health physiotherapists, and in conjunction with your healthcare provider, not from what you see on social media."

Misconception #5: It's too late to start exercising when you're pregnant.

As long as you and your baby are healthy, Brooke says, "It’s never too late to start moving more, or eating better, regardless of whether you are 13 weeks or 33 weeks pregnant." 


She says pregnancy is a great time to try different forms of training – as long as they're approproiate for you (remember to speak to your health team first). 

"Maybe you’re an avid runner and avoid the pool? How about giving water running, swimming or kick boarding a go. Do you normally like to throw weights around? Why not try a physio led or prenatal specific Pilates mat or reformer class? 

"Never followed a structured training program? Seek out a qualified pre- and postnatal trainer and get moving for your mental health," Brooke says.

The caveat? If you've never tried CrossFit before, don't sign up while pregnant and expect to then be squatting like six-time Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair. That's not realistic... or safe. 

"If you are feeling unsure about where to start, or you're completely new to training, it wouldn’t be wise to sign up to a CrossFit class," Brooke emphasises. "However, something as simple as a walk or a 15-minute prenatal home workout can do wonders."

Brooke is the founder of Balance Fitness and Nutrition and creator of internationally recognised course, Functional Fitness for Pregnancy & Postpartum. With over 14+ years experience in the health and fitness industry, Brooke is dedicated to educating and empowering women and exercise professionals working with women on safe, effective, and enjoyable exercise for pregnancy and motherhood.

Feature image: Supplied.

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