This blog was originally published on birthfit.com and appears here with permission.
At BIRTHFIT, we believe in training for birth, not just modifying what we are already doing or trying to hold onto every semblance of “pre-pregnancy” training to prove a point to yourself or others. We always come back to the “why” and the idea that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Our training should reflect our intentions, and sometimes this takes some creativity as well as specific knowledge regarding effective prenatal training. That’s where BIRTHFIT comes in!
To meet this need, BIRTHFIT created an amazing online Prenatal Training Program. This program can be utilized as a stand-alone program or even as a supplement to other movement practices like running or yoga. We recommend variation in your training that covers strength, endurance, range of motion, stamina, and balance. If you are doing the Prenatal Program, you are most definitely training for birth, but you might be training alone. Sometimes, that might be exactly what you need, but sometimes training alone can be very isolating.
Pregnancy is a great time to lean into your tribe and your training buddies; and just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to ditch all your gym friends. One great aspect of group fitness is, well, the group! BIRTHFIT is all about the importance of the tribe, and finding a community of people that support you is critical to your health and well-being! Sometimes, jumping into a class is exactly what you need!
If you jump into a group fitness class, it is important to walk a fine line of being part of the group and also remembering your intentions. It’s easy to get swept away in the excitement of class and think, “Well, I can probably do that!” Check out these strategies for making your group class workout effective for your birth training program:
Example 1: Managing Heavy Lifts (e.g. Finding a 1RM back squat (or any other lift))
It would be really cool to hit a new PR (personal record) while you’re pregnant, or match your pre-pregnancy PRs right?! Hold your horses, mama! Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, there are varying levels of relaxin circulating in your body. Relaxin is a hormone that helps relax ligaments in your body. It’s great for accomodating a growing baby, but it also means increased elasticity and potential instability in your joints which could result in an injury if you’re moving maximal loads. Remember, you are training for birth. You’re in-season; you can’t risk a musculoskeletal injury right now.
We recommended treating 75-80% as your new max. Have an idea of where you might end for the day, and if the weights start feeling heavy before that specific number, it’s all good. You could even work up to a “heavy” double or triple, ensuring the weights are even a little more manageable. Listen to your body. “Heavy” today is going to be different than “heavy” yesterday, or 6 months ago, or a year from now. Your goal is to end on a made lift, and leave feeling strong and empowered from your training session, not defeated from missed attempts.
Example 2: Making long, grueling workouts effective (e.g. 25 min+)
In the BIRTHFIT Prenatal programming, there are some days where we program long rows, walks or even long, slow and steady sled drags. We don’t want to shy away from long time domains, but when the workout for your class is something that you feel could potentially beat you into the ground, then it’s time to re-evaluate.
Depending on the movements for this workout and how you’re feeling, you could either:
Treat it as 25 minutes of continuous movement with your focus on maintaining a stable output: this means being able to tell anyone your name, address, and favorite movie at any point in the workout without labored speech. If any of the movements or loads in the workout would require you to exert above this point, find an appropriate substitute.
Set this workout up to be 3-4 rounds with 2 minutes rest in between. Change the stimulus to give you structured rest. During your rest: connect with baby, connect with your breath, throw in some hip circles, and get your heart rate back down.
Changing the time domain, creating intervals, or structured rest is a great tool in your toolbelt. Additionally, pay attention to times where you feel the need to rest, slow down, or even stop in any workout; whether it’s 2 minute intervals or 20 minutes of movement. Your intuition is strong and learning to trust yourself and your body is also a huge part of preparing for birth.
Example 3: Working with highly technical movements (muscle ups, handstand push ups, snatches, etc.)
Depending on your athleticism, you may have just laughed in disbelief at this example, or maybe you thought, “Yeah? What about them?” To address both sides of the spectrum, here are some great strategies for incorporating these in an effective way in your group classes:
Strict movement: We love “strictly strict” for our mamas, and in the gymnastics world, nothing is more impressive, right? Work on strict pull ups, push ups, and even muscle ups and handstand push-ups if you are comfortable and adept at those movements. (Be aware that strict movements are not always appropriate, either; if you notice any symptoms of core dysfunction such as coning of the abdomen, then these movements are no longer appropriate.)
Drills: Maybe you don’t have some of those higher skilled movements (yet!) or maybe you do, but you aren’t feeling so great about them anymore. Pregnancy is a great time to take it back to the basics and work on drills. Band assisted work, low-ring muscle up drills, elevated push-ups, and ring rows are all awesome ways to keep you moving safely, effectively, and feeling strong and confident. Plus you’re setting yourself up for success postpartum when you eventually return to the full movements!
Weightlifting: You have a huge opportunity here to work on the nuances of these movements (think: snatch balance, sots press, overhead squats, front squats, tempo work, etc.). You can even work with kettlebells and dumbbells to groove similar movement patterns and avoid creating a loopy bar path! What an opportunity!
Example 4: Addressing abdominal Flexion (toes-to-bar, sit ups, crunches, v-ups, hollow holds, hanging knee raises, etc.)
These are our “red flag” movements and really, it is best to stay away from these, even if you feel like you can do them just fine. Forward flexion of your trunk can exacerbate diastasis rectus abdominus, leading to core dysfunction and a potentially more difficult postpartum recovery. (And no, a hanging knee raise really isn’t a good sub for a toes-to-bar). Depending on the context, working on the Functional Progression and the transitions, or even bear crawling is a more effective way to train your core while everyone else is hanging from the bar. If you need a quick sub, think posterior chain (russian swings, glute bridges, etc). Booty work is always welcome!
The fact of the matter is that your intention changes as you train through pregnancy. You can add an intentional gymnastics drill in the middle of a timed conditioning piece, and you have to be okay with not getting as many rounds as the athlete next to you. You probably aren’t going to be “winning” workouts, but what’s our goal here, really? This is where mindset undergirds all of our other pillars. Allow your mindset around your training to shift to a new place. Focus on your preparation and your baby; extend grace to your body and where you are each day.
Your coaches, your classmates, and your friends will support you through this season, even if you aren’t crushing it like you used to. Believe me, they are super-impressed and so proud of you for continuing to move well and preparing to welcome your little one!