Canadians are fortunate in that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP) have created joint guidelines for exercising during pregnancy. These guidelines are created by a committee and are research-based. CSEP then used this information to create the PARmed-X for Pregnancy form. This is a medical clearance form that contains helpful information about prenatal fitness guidelines.
Pregnant women are encouraged to do cardiovascular exercise for up to 30 minutes up to 4 days a week. Beginners should start with 15 minutes and gradually work towards 30 minutes. These times to not include warm-up or cool-down. For intensity, the PARmed-X for Pregnancy recommends a combination of 2 of the following methods: talk test, rate of perceived exertion and heart rate check.
Choose activities that you enjoy, are comfortable and do not put you in danger of falling, colliding with others, projectiles, high altitudes or decompression (I.E. scuba diving). If you are used to high impact activities like running, and it still feels good, you can continue to run up to 30 minutes up to 4 days a week. If you are not, stick to low impact cardiovascular activities such as power walking, low impact aerobics and stationary cycling.
The SOGC and CSEP recommend strength training for all healthy pregnant women with normal pregnancies. The focus should be on muscular endurance. In other words, choose a resistance that allows you to do 2-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions with good form. Aim to strength train 3 days a week and choose exercises that you enjoy and are comfortable. After 4 months (16 weeks) of pregnancy, avoid exercising flat on your back. If you have an abdominal separation, or are not sure if you have one, please read this important article. Certain exercises can actually make it worse.
Pregnant women need strong core muscles in order to prevent pain, injury and to maintain good posture and function. The core includes deep muscles such as the pelvic floor (Kegel muscles) and transversus abdmoninals (corset muscles) as well as the more superficial muscles like the rectus abdominals (6 pack), obliques (waist) and erector spinae (back). Aim to do deep core exercises most days of the week and superficial core exercises 3-4 days a week.
After 4 months (16 weeks) of pregnancy, avoid exercising flat on your back. If you have Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation), or are not sure if you have one, please read this important article. Certain core exercises can actually make it worse.
Maintaining healthy flexibility and mobility can prevent pain and injury during pregnancy. Pregnant women should stretch after each workout. Stretches for the chest and front of the shoulders can help with preventing and correcting excessive kyphosis (rounding forward of the back and forward position of the chin), a common complaint of pregnancy. Stretches for the low back, hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings can help with preventing excessive lordosis (pelvis tipping forward creating a very large inward curve at the low back area). Since low back pain is the number one complaint of pregnancy, this is important information.
It is postulated that one of the hormones of pregnancy, relaxin, may make pregnant women more vulnerable to overstretching. For this reason many healthcare providers recommend gentle stretching.
To view the full joint CSPE-SOGC guidelines click here.