1. Can women start and exercise regime after finding out she is pregnant?
For a healthy pregnant women that is already involved in an exercise program prior to getting pregnant, there is typically no restriction to continuing her program throughout the first and second trimester with a decrease in intensity and duration in the last trimester. For a non-exerciser, it is not typically recommended to start a new program during the first trimester because of hormonal changes that cause lethargy and nausea. Both symptoms will be aggravated by starting a fitness program. However, very light walking, Kegel exercises, or an easy flexibility program is not harmful if done in moderation.
2. What types of basic exercises should a pregnant woman do on a weekly basis?
This is a difficult question to answer, because there are a variety of levels of pregnant women. Runners and athletes will not have to make major adjustments to their current routines; however, they should lessen the intensity and duration of their workouts in the first trimester to allow for changes in energy.
For a healthy, non-athletic woman that is used to some physical activity, the following activities are helpful:
• Exercise walking
• Pelvic floor and core strengthening exercises
• Aquatic exercise (aerobics or deep water fitness)
• Floor or step aerobics
• Yoga (Avoid Bikram and Ashtanga styles in the later trimesters)
3. Is there a type of yoga that is better for pregnant women?
In the second and third trimesters, pregnant women need to be careful of particular positions. Inversions (head below the heart) and lying flat on the back should be avoided as they affect the blood flow through the body and to the growing fetus. Lying flat on the stomach is also dangerous to baby and uncomfortable to Mom. Gentle and therapeutic styles like Gentle Hatha, Anusara, and Kundalini Yoga are good options. Some facilities and studios offer Prenatal Yoga classes, which consider the special needs and limitations of pregnant women.
4. After a woman is cleared by her doctor, what exercises do you suggest a woman start out with?
(I’m answer this as though after the birth of the child)
Whatever exercise or fitness routine a woman was doing regularly prior to the birth of her baby, she can start on the LOWEST possible intensity level after clearance to exercise from her Ob/Gyn. Even if she feels strong during the first few sessions, caution should be taken not to overdo it with a full-length session. Half the time should be given to the program. An example would be a woman who used to take a 1-hour step aerobic class with two riser beneath her bench. Upon returning to the class for the first time, she should use the bench without any risers, keep her moves low impact and stop periodically throughout the routine. If the class is a full hour, she may want to stop after about 30 minutes and allow herself to cool down by walking slowly for about 5 minutes and then stretching for another 5 minutes. After 2-3 weeks, she’ll feel up to doing the whole class and eventually increasing her intensity to normal levels. Listening to the signals our body gives is always key to knowing how much to do.
5. If a woman has a diastasis, what types of exercises should she NOT do when trying to get back into shape?
Because the back muscles are already working harder than normal to compensate for weaker abdominal muscles, caution should be taken with exercises that work the lower and mid back through hyperextensions. Good exercises to help improve diastasis include mat-based series 1 Pilates exercises, Kegel/pelvic floor exercises, and traditional crunches and reverse crunches.
6. Are there exercises that you can do while holding the baby?
There are many great exercises that can be done with the baby in your hands. Holding the baby with both hands while standing, women can work their biceps with curls, and the front of the shoulders with straight arm raises. Lying flat on the back with baby in both hands, women can strengthen their chest, shoulders and triceps by pushing the baby straight up at chest level and slowly returning the baby to rest lightly on the chest. In this same position, the long muscles of the latissimus dorsi (wings in the back) and the front of the shoulder can be strengthened by lifting the baby from resting on the pelvis into the air above the chest, and then slowly returning the baby to the pelvis. Moms can strengthen their thighs, legs and buttocks by hugging Baby to their chest and completing walking lunges across the room.
7. For moms that "wear" their baby. Are there some fitness tips that you can provide?
I loved fitness walking, nature hiking, and doing the elliptical machine with my baby strapped to my back. He looked around, played with my hair, and I got stronger. When Baby is small, it’s okay to strap her/him to the chest, but it is best to move them to the back when they get heavier to redistribute their weight over your hips and legs instead of straining the lower back and knees.
8. What are the benefits of working out before and after pregnancy?
There are SO many benefits to exercise before, during and after pregnancy. Feel-good endorphins are flowing through the body during exercise putting you in a great mood. More oxygenated blood is flowing through to the baby during a cardiovascular routine when pregnant. Strong pelvic floor muscles and control over them helps with vaginal deliveries and quick recovery after birth. Yoga and meditative classes help with breathing and mental control during delivery. Most exercise programs assist with core strength and recovery after birth. Looking and feeling strong and fit also boost our confidence and self-esteem.
Althea Lawton-Thompson is the owner of Aerobics, Yoga & More Fitness Studios in Atlanta, GA and the Founder of the Association of Diverse Fitness Professionals Inc (a 501c3 agency). For almost 15 years, Althea has worked with various hospitals and wellness centers creating fitness programs for special populations like prenatal women, obese youth and those suffering from debilitating diseases. She created a post-natal program for Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, a youth obesity fitness program for Johns Hopkins Hospital, and a variety of wellness programs for Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta. She has spent years working with clients suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Fibromyalgia. Her company provides health education classes for clients including AT&T and GA State and County Government. As a faculty member of the American Council on Exercise, she traveled throughout the US and Caribbean offering continuing education courses to fitness professionals, and her humorous and light-hearted approach on issues of health, wellness and life make her a favorite speaker. Her internationally popular fitness video series, Altheatized, and published articles have been included in magazines like Best Body, Essence, Parenting, and Oxygen. In 2009, she was the cover story for Our Town Magazine and had a 2-page feature article in Upscale Magazine. Althea has been married for 14 years and has two very active sons. Visit her on www.Altheatized.com