Fitness for 2

Posted on March 27, 2013


UntitledWritten for and published in Aquarius – Mar 2013

Look around when getting your own fitness fix and there’s never a shortage of women in various stages of their pregnancies, looking fit, fabulous and glowing. It’s clear that women today are staying super fit throughout and going into childbirth and motherhood with enviable levels of fitness and muscle tone.

Forget the old wives tales suggesting women should put their feet up for nine months and eat for two. The benefits of exercising throughout your pregnancy are extensive and not just for mums either. Evidence shows that fit mums give birth to leaner, stronger, healthier and even smarter babies. Babies born to fit mums are also fit … they’re tougher, more resilient and less stressed from the birth.

But what activities are best to do and what should you avoid?  What are the benefits and the risks involved? This month, we’ve gone straight to Dubai’s experts to discover just what you should be doing to stay bump fit yourself.

An important consideration from the outset is getting the all clear from your health care professional. In addition, Paul Watson, pre and postnatal exercise specialist at says, ‘Remember that you’re only looking to maintain fitness levels, not improve them. Consider whether you were training in the lead up to your pregnancy and what stage of pregnancy you’re in now.’ Emily Brown, prenatal specialist at Zen Yoga agrees. She stresses the importance of ‘working sensitively around your changing body.’ ‘During the first trimester,’ she says, ‘the pregnancy is still establishing itself so training should be gentle. By the second trimester, generally you will have more energy.’

As for what activities are best for pregnancy? The general consensus seems to be focusing on lower impact activities where you can work hard yet at your own pace and without much risk of injury. Paul says, ‘Yoga, Pilates and FlyBarre are great as are cardio style classes that incorporate strength and core work.’ Paul feels women can safely continue with the classes they went to pre-pregnancy provided they reduce the intensity. Amy Saunders, pre and postnatal specialist at Urban Energy agrees. She says, ‘If you’re a regular class go-er, you may continue but listen to your body, make sure the instructor is aware that you’re pregnant and make modifications as necessary.’

Amy also advises women do pelvic floor exercises to reduce pregnancy discomfort and facilitate a smoother, less complicated labour. Emily is of the same opinion. A particular proponent of yoga for pregnant women, she says, ‘Gentle strength training and stretching is used to help maintain optimal fitness levels and relieve many of the physical discomforts of pregnancy. Hip openers encourage an easier birth and pelvic floor exercises can help prevent various complications after delivery.’

Aqua aerobics is also often cited as a great class for pregnancy fitness although I know from first hand experience that they’re certainly not a lightweight, easy option! Aqua instructor at Dubai Ladies Club, Christina Jackson says, ‘Water aerobics provides the same workout for your heart and body as traditional classes without the risks of injuries. The buoyancy alleviates stress on joints and muscles, eliminates constriction of oxygen to mother and baby and even prevents spider veins on legs.  Working out in the water also keeps the body cool which minimises the risk of overheating and potentially harming the unborn baby.’

All our experts stressed the importance of strength training too. Amy says, ‘A strong body will assist you in carrying the added weight of pregnancy, improve your stability and balance, increase your energy levels and improve your sense of wellbeing.’ Paul recommends the use of a heart rate monitor when strength training. He says, ‘At a maximum, we would want to keep your heart rate below 70/75% of your maximum.  A rough estimation for your max heart rate is your age minus 220.’ Strength training also helps with the actual delivery and post labour, when you’re trying to lose your pregnancy weight and reduce stretch marks and varicose veins.

Training options to avoid include the likes of anything too high impact, cross-fit or circuits, unless of course, you’ve been very used to them pre-pregnancy. Emily says, ‘Your body is already working hard to support a new life so the emphasis should be on working sensitively around that and not stressing the body.’ Amy stresses the importance of avoiding high impact and high intensity training. She says, ‘There is some evidence that high intensity exercise reduces the blood supply to the placenta.’ She advises women keep a close eye on their body temperature so not to over-heat. During pregnancy, the body also releases a hormone called relaxin, which loosens your joints and may result in additional risk of injury. For this same reason, during her pre-natal yoga classes, Emily takes extra caution to ensure women don’t over-stretch.

Post delivery, general opinion is to start but to start carefully! Again, you should get the all clear from your doctor and those who have had a c-section should certainly be extra cautious and wait the recommended six weeks before re-introducing exercise. According to Emily, ‘Yoga and Pilates are a women’s best friend post birth as they both work sensitively around a women’s recovering body.’ Paul advises that women resume training ‘as if they were in their second trimester, focusing on balance, core strength and medium intensity cardio.’

There are concerns about keeping fit when breast-feeding. According to Amy, ‘There is a myth that exercise causes milk reduction but there is no evidence that this is true.’ High intensity exercise should also be avoided because the build up of lactic acid can change the flavour of the breast milk and put your baby off. Amy also stresses the importance of staying well hydrated to avoid a reduction in milk supply.

From talking to those in the know as well as plenty of mums themselves, there lies no doubt in my mind that staying fit and toned throughout your pregnancy needn’t be difficult and there are only benefits to be had. It seems also that whilst some activities should be avoided and others embraced, provided you take precautions and listen to your body, few activities are completely out of bounds. In fact, to quote a Dubai friend just a few weeks ago, “I continued with Bodypump right up to 35 weeks with this last baby. Just getting the support from the instructors and knowing what is safe means it’s a great class to continue.” Said friend has since given birth to her second baby boy and both are looking and doing brilliantly.

In a nutshell:

The key benefits of pregnancy fitness:

  • Increases energy levels
  • Improves hormone balance
  • Improves balance and core strength
  • Improves calcium absorption and prevents future osteoporosis
  • Relieves tension, stress and possible depression
  • Increases strength and reduces strain and pressure on your back
  • Minimises weight gain and assists in returning to pre-pregnancy weight
  • Improves endurance, fitness and muscle control for an easier labour
  • Alleviate aches and pains, constipation and swelling

Do’s & don’ts for pregnancy fitness:

  • Do get maximum benefit by exercising for 40 minutes 5 times per week
  • Do continue to exercise throughout your pregnancy. Stop halfway and both you and your baby lose the short and long-term benefits of maternal exercise
  • Do stay well hydrated. Drink lots of water before, during and after workouts
  • Do eat a well-balanced diet. Eat healthy snacks prior and post exercise
  • Do consider the exercise environment. If it is warm, humid or poorly ventilated, alter the session by decreasing the intensity or duration
  • Do wear comfortable kit that allows for air circulation, heat expression and adequate support
  • Do not exercise if injured, in pain or bleeding
  • Do not exercise to the point of fatigue
  • Do not engage in activities that could involve changes in air pressure such as scuba diving or anything involving altitude
  • Do not engage in activities where risk of abdominal injury is increased such as skating or skiing

Key contacts:

Top Tips from the experts:

  • Amy Saunders – Urban Energy ‘Speak to a pre-natal expert to design an individual programme specific to your needs. Be consistent – irregular workouts can do more harm than good – and listen to your body.’
  • Emily Brown – Zen Yoga ‘During my prenatal classes, the main focus is on creating a safe and nurturing space for mother and child. Pregnancy is as magical as it is physically and mentally challenging so it’s important to support that through breathing, centering and meditation.’
  • Paul Watson – Look good for ‘Providing you take the right steps when it comes to pregnancy fitness then the risks are low. With the right guidance and direction, the pros far outweigh the cons.’



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