Strength training during pregnancy – what you have to know as a trainer
Pregnant women and new mums are a constantly growing target group in the fitness segment and it’s good that way – for you, for the baby, for the mother! However, women cannot necessary continue working out as before. Two experts share some tips you should know and take into account.
Body sensation – to be respected!
There are many general work-out recommendations for pregnant women such as stopping the motions as soon as there they feel a pulling (pain) in the abdomen. But maybe it is just the round broad ligaments expanding. “In this case there is no telling the difference between a normal process and a warning signal. If something does not feel right women should never say ‘oh, it’s OK’ and just carry on,” recommends Marion Sulprizio. As her trainer you know best how the customer feels.
If she feels unwell or dizzy, if she develops a headache, feels a stitch or if her heart starts racing, you have to take a break immediately and/or stop the training altogether for the day. If there is any bleeding or amniotic fluids the only option is to go and see a doctor immediately! The Sports and Pregnancy Working Party recommends obtaining approval from the woman’s gynaecologist or midwife for training in the event that the mothers-to-be have a shortened uterine cervix, experience premature labour or have experienced a preterm delivery or miscarriage, or if the placenta is in the wrong place or the woman suffers from high blood pressure and/or retains water in the tissue. There are more factors to being pregnant than just the baby in the womb that require consultation. Sort out all of this with your client beforehand!
Weights – to be adjusted!
A popular guideline for the first weeks of pregnancy reads: you can continue working out as usual. This recommendation, however, does not work for weight lifting. “I felt immediately that my muscles are less capable of contracting due to the hormones and I felt low on energy faster,” remembers Elli Hachmann. This is why the cross-fit specialist reduced her weights by about 20% and progressively reduced her training over the course of her pregnancy. “As long as you can lift barbells normally there is no reason for not doing it,” confirms Marion Sulprizio. She recommends women who did not train for competitions before to reduce weights by 25% and introduce more repetitions to convert their training into a strength endurance exercise.
Breathing – to be controlled!
Extremely important: pregnant women have to exhale under load! “When my belly contains air under load this air additionally pushes down and weakens the pelvic floor,” explains Elli Hachmann and adds that incontinence can be one of the consequences. This is why pregnant customers should always exhale deliberately when stress increases. They should consciously flex the pelvic floor, i.e. pull it upwards.
Movement range – to be limited!
Pregnancy hormones such as Relaxin soften the tendons and ligaments of mums-to-be. The mobility gained in this way is a good preparation for giving birth but can cause injuries at the same time. “All of a sudden, you can do substantially lower squats than before,” says the experienced weight lifter; but this good feeling is treacherous because the remaining body is not prepared for it and a pulled muscle or muscle stiffness often the result. This is why Elli Hachmann recommends limiting the movement range by ten percent as a precaution.
Pulse – to be kept in view!
Needless to say – in weight lifting sportspeople are exposed to short but extremely high peak loads. However, endurance training can also feature in work-out schedules for pregnant women. To avoid an acidification of the body and, hence, deficiencies in the baby, the following rules should be followed:
For pregnant women up to the age of 29 the optimal training range/ heart rate is between 135 and 155 beats per minute.
Pregnant women aged 30 to 39 should ideally have 130 to 145 beats per minute on their heart rate monitor.
Pregnant women from the age of 40 should be between 125 and 140 beats.
Marion Sulprizio knows from her everyday coaching routine: “These staggered values provide a good orientation and yet we receive plenty of enquiries where women do not even reach these values or exceed them too quickly – in such a case a more personalised approach is called for.”
Fit family – there is nothing wrong with accustoming babies to training routines early on.
Ambition – to be scaled back!
Marion Sulprizio and Elli Hachmann agree: pregnancy is not the time of life for new training records let alone competitions. Women do not have to prove anything to anybody – let alone to you. “Today, it is so important to show others that you are fit during pregnancy. Many women are afraid of being seen as lazy if they do not complete an extensive fitness programme,” says Elli Hachmann shaking her head. This, however, is not the point of exercising and you as a trainer should make this perfectly clear. The optimal goal instead reads: retain a good body feeling, stay fit and prevent typical problems like back pain. High-intensity training is definitely a taboo in the 40 weeks of pregnancy. They put the pelvic floor under high loads and bring your customer’s body to an anaerobic condition (see above). A study conducted by the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen even showed that training of too high an intensity in the early stages of pregnancy can even increase the risk of a miscarriage. “Even though it sounds silly: moderate training is the secret,” stresses Marion Sulprizio.
Ego – to be put away!
False pride is out of place – not only with your customer but also with you. If as a Personal or Fitness Trainer you have never been confronted with pregnant women during your training you better recommend a colleague to your customer. “Just because you hold a trainer’s licence and were probably pregnant yourself this does not mean that you can coach pregnant women,” Elli Hachmann underscores. She joined forces with a pelvic floor therapist for her personal training. The result was rewarded with a high number of followers on Instagram. She received numerous enquiries for training schedules specifically geared to pregnant women. “First I thought of big business then I soon realised: no way! Without knowing and regularly seeing these women it is far too risky to issue a training plan,” admits the trainer. The team headed by Marion Sulprizio also refuses this type of enquiry. “We cannot even judge whether these women tell us the truth. Instead, we advise them to undergo individual performance diagnostics at a training institute. Then they will know exactly where their anaerobic threshold lies and how many repetitions are possible.” Not every pregnant woman will want to accept this effort. To allow you to work with pregnant women with a clear conscience Marion Sulprizio recommends: “There are good continuous education option for trainers now allowing them to be prepared for the needs of pregnant customers. The “BSA-Akademie” or the “Akademie des Deutschen Turner-Bunds”, for example, offer relevant further training for course instructors.
Training – to be shelved!
According to Marion Sulprizio’s experience as a coach most women give up strength training around the 28th week of pregnancy – the belly is in the way prompting women to complete some exercises only with a wrong technique. Elli Hachmann also opted for alternatives from week 32. She did extended walks on a treadmill with a slight slope. ”I found this movement very pleasant for buttocks and the back of the thigh. The big belly substantially pulled the front muscle chain anyway, so going uphill compensated for this,” the trainer explains. Alternatively, Marion Sulprizio, recommends shelving training altogether. “There are great aqua work-outs especially for pregnant women that these women can do until shortly before delivery.” Moving in the water has not one but several advantages: on the one hand, it reduces pressure on the joints, brings down the heart rate and reduces water retentions in feet and legs – a frequent problem encountered by mums-to-be. On the other hand, water still offers enough resistance to keep the body fit and give pregnant women the feeling they are working out. In other words: if you focus on future mums as a target group aqua training will set you apart from your competitors.
Resume training – don’t rush
If a customer asks for a new appointment practically right after delivery you have to refuse as a serious Personal Trainer: “Initial recovery after birth should be taken care of by a midwife,” explains Marion Sulprizio and goes on to say: “Resuming strength training can take three, six or even nine months.” The period after which you can make appointments with these customers again varies widely. Even half a year after giving birth Elli Hachmann is far from being back at former training levels. She currently works a lot with body-weight exercises and strength systems. In doing so she focuses – in view of the pelvic floor – on the lower back, buttocks and trunk. “As long as women are breastfeeding the hormonal environment must also be taken into consideration. Muscles, tendons and ligaments are still very soft,” says the physiotherapist. Marion Sulprizio delivers a warning: “Those resuming too early can impair healing processes. Beyond this, muscles and organs that were already back in the right place, can be displaced yet again.”
Holding a degree in psychology Marion Sulprizio heads the working party “Sports and Pregnancy” at the German Sports University Cologne. This activity includes answering questions related to the topics of fitness and exercise during and after pregnancy – by e-mail and free of charge. A network of midwives, physiotherapists, perinatal trainers, physicians, sports scientists and psychologists offer answers. For more information go to www.dshs-koeln.de/sport-und-schwangerschaft.
Elli Hachmann is a physiotherapist, personal coach for women, competition weightlifter and a mother of two. During both pregnancies the Düsseldorfer-by-choice regularly worked with barbells. Find out more about Elli at www.ellihachmann.com