Prenatal Fitness Myths Revisited, Part 2

So, last week I was doing a prenatal fitness consultation with a mama in her second trimester. We were going over some of the things you should and shouldn’t do as they relate to prenatal exercise. She told me at one point in our conversation that her doctor gave her some very general recommendations as well -one of them being to not lift anything more than 20 lbs. Okay, I get it -your doctor or midwife needs to give you some general guidelines to abide by, but most of the time these are so outdated and unrealistic that these recommendations can sometimes seem a little absurd. What about you mamas who are expecting again, and you already have a toddler on your hands that you have to pick up and hold frequently throughout the day? Are you going just look at them and say: “Sorry Sweetie, you weigh over 20 lbs., so Mommy just isn’t going to be able to hold you anymore.” Umm -don’t think so! That said, this is going to be a rule that you will have to follow for the few weeks after your baby is born, and maybe deep into the third trimester, depending on how you feel.

Also, what about you mamas who were lifting pretty frequently and heavily before you became pregnant? You can’t just tell these women to completely back off EVERYTHING they were doing beforehand. There is absolutely a nice middle ground for your prenatal workouts where you can still strength train and exercise safely and with some intensity during your pregnancy. Of course, you to keep in mind that your level of intensity during pregnancy will be far different than what you are normally used to.

With all that being said, let’s move onto the next set of prenatal fitness myths that I want to cover for you. Last time we talked about some pretty general ones (you can read about that here). In this post, we are going to cover those that more specifically pertain to prenatal exercise programming. So let’s dive in –


Myth 1: Pregnant women should avoid squatting and deadlifting

Squats and deadlifts are two of the best exercises you can do during pregnancy to improve your posture and support your pelvis. Deadlifts can also help reiterate proper alignment and are great for training the entire posterior chain in one fell swoop. Some of the many benefits to squatting (when done correctly) include:

  • Prevention of lower back and pelvic pain. Increased pelvic floor muscle strength.
  • Places pelvis in a better position during pregnancy and for labor and delivery.
  • Targets and strengthens the glutes which have a tendency to become droopy and lazy during pregnancy.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should be doing “heavy” deadlifts and “heavy” squats, especially as you as you get into the third trimester, or simply when you begin to notice your belly is feeling less supported and perhaps bulging out during these exercises. The goal is to minimize the severity of diastasis recti and to not induce further pressure on the pelvic floor.  As that belly grows and you begin to feel less supported, you can scale back traditional deadlifts to other hip hinging exercises like hip thrusts and bridges.  Squats can always be scaled back using either lighter loads or just body weight.

Myth 2: No overhead pressing during pregnancy

Overhead pressing is one of the primary functional movement patterns, and therefore should be included in your workouts when deemed appropriate. While these type of lifts can put stress on your lower back and pelvic floor (when done inappropriately), and challenge your balance as well, there are still ways to modify these lifts so that you can continue to do them comfortably throughout your pregnancy. If you are experiencing any type of pelvic organ prolapse, you need to proceed with caution and use sound judgement. Make sure that your prolapse is being managed and you are you working with a pelvic floor physical therapist to help improve it. If you have been given the green light by your physical therapist to add overhead pressing back into your routine, be aware of how it feels in your core and pelvic floor (do you feel any pressure or heaviness in the pelvis?) so that you can modify for future workouts. You can do overhead exercises seated, preferably on an exercise ball or bench, rather than standing, use a lighter weight, a ½ kneeling landmine variation, or if needed, choose a non-overhead alternative like front and lateral raises. You do not need to continue with overhead movements if they are uncomfortable.

Myth 3: Don’t get your heart rate up over 140 beats per minute during exercise.

It is certainly important to monitor your heart rate when exercising while pregnant. However, the maximum heart rate for a pregnant woman really depends on a number of factors, including your age, fitness level, whether you exercised before getting pregnant, and any complications you may be experiencing during your pregnancy. The 140 BPM limit was previously recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), but was removed in 1994. However, if your doctor cautions you to not allow your exercise intensity to exceed 140 bpm, you should follow his/her recommendation. It wouldn’t hurt to find out if the doctor has a specific reason for the recommendation or they are simply unaware of the updated guidelines.

We now know the heart rate can usually be pushed higher than 140 BPM without worry. Rather than using your heart rate as a gauge for exercise intensity, I recommend using your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and the talk test to help guide you. An RPE of 7 (on a 1-10 scale) is considered safe for pregnant women. The RPE scale uses how an individual feels as a measure of how hard she is working relative to their maximum capacity. There are many reasons that heart rate is not an effective or accurate measure of exercise safety or intensity, but using the RPE scale normalizes all the individual variations in heart rate and variations due to eating, hydration, sleep, stress, and pregnancy. This allows women to train at a level that is appropriate for them.

Myth 4: Avoid any HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or Interval Training during Pregnancy.

By now, we are well aware that exercise during pregnancy is very beneficial for both mom and baby (assuming there are no complications and contraindications that would change things). However, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the idea of exercise intensity during pregnancy. When considering high intensity interval training (HIIT) during your pregnancy, what you need to consider first and foremost with any exercise program, but especially your prenatal program, is that the benefits should far outweigh the risks. Exercise is an extremely beneficial activity for your health and well being, but at some point, it becomes detrimental (like most things in life) if it’s not planned out safely and properly. You can absolutely do HIIT or metabolic conditioning workouts during your pregnancy, but they need to be appropriate for what you can handle safely right now at your pregnant fitness level, not at the levels you were typically capable of achieving before you became pregnant. It’s not about throwing a bunch of random exercises together that could be harmful to a pregnant body (like burpees, sprints, jump rope, etc.) and doing as many rounds of them as fast as possible with no rest time -all for the sake of breaking a sweat and getting your heart rate up. Your high intensity workouts need to be tailored in a way that will appropriately reinforce strength through pregnancy while giving you the sense of that “intense” workout your inner athlete craves. So how should you program your high intensity workouts? Let’s go over a few general guidelines –

  • Keep your “working” interval time between 15-30 seconds long.
  • Your rest time between each “working” interval should be long enough so that you feel fully recovered before moving onto the next interval. A good starting point for your work to rest ratios is a 1:1 ratio meaning that you should rest for AT LEAST the same amount of time you were exercising. For example, if your exercise interval is 1 minute long, then your rest period should be at least 1 minute of recovery time. If you need to rest longer then you can use a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio and so on. So again, let’s go back to the example…if your work time is one minute long and you need to rest longer than one minute, you can double or triple up on the rest time and allow yourself to recover for 2-3 minutes, etc. Take as much time as you need in between your “working” intervals to allow for your heart rate to come down and your breathing to stabilize a bit more.
  • Keep the TOTAL duration of your intervals (meaning the sum of your work AND rest periods) between 5-20 minutes long.
  • Rate of Perceived Exertion is a more appropriate way to monitor your “working” interval intensity. You will want to cap the intensity of your intervals at a 7-8 on a scale of 1-10 (1 = sitting at rest and 10 = completely out of breath, can’t talk, feels almost impossible to keep going). Your intervals should feel “somewhat hard to hard”, but you DO NOT want it to feel close to or like an all-out exertion. It is okay to feel somewhat breathless as your breathing and heart rate increase, but you should still be able to speak a sentence. Lastly, your body will tell you if it doesn’t feel right, so listen to what your body is telling you.
  • Another easy way to do some metabolic conditioning is to pair or group several exercises together and work through them in a circuit fashion. With a circuit style workout, you will move quickly from one exercise to the next and perform one set of each exercise before you start back at the first exercise.
  • Keep your load/weight manageable enough to stay within a 10-15 rep range for each exercise.
  • Choose exercises that will complement each other so that you will have a more balanced approach to your routine (i.e. push exercise followed by a pull, upper body exercise followed by a lower body exercise, etc.)


Myth 5: High Impact & Plyometric Type Exercises are OK during pregnancy.

Generally speaking, it is best to avoid high impact and plyometric type exercises during pregnancy, especially later on into your pregnancy. The repetitive pounding and force from high impact exercises place too much demand on a body that already lacks sufficient core stability, pelvic floor integrity, and proper postural alignment. You may not experience any immediate complications from high impact activity, but it’s more so the cumulative effect of doing these exercises repeatedly that can lead to oftentimes preventable complications and aches/pains down the line. So what exercises are considered high impact? The following exercises should generally be avoided after the first trimester:

• Running -yes, you read that correctly -running. Besides, do you really want to have to constantly stop for pee breaks during your run?!?!

  • Plyometric exercises like box jumps/squat jumps/jumping lunges, bounding, leaping
  • Jump rope
  • Burpees (and no -placing mats on the floor for your knees or stacking mats up to provide cushioning for the belly DOES NOT make them any safer. Yes, I have seen that done before)
  • Heavy strength training (I’m talking like 1/3/5 rep max weight range where you could potentialy be holding your breath)
  • Heavy Olympic Lifting
  • Some kettlebell exercises like swings/cleans/snatches/windmills/Turkish get-ups/Figure 8’s (too ballistic of a motion for an unstable pelvis, and some of these movements can cause even more pulling on the abdominal wall)
  • Kipping, twisting and rotational exercises.

Remember, err on the side of caution and if something does not feel right -DO NOT DO IT! There will be plenty of time to get back to high impact exercises after you have delivered your baby and rehabbed your body. In the meantime, substitute the high impact work with activities like metabolic conditioning with weights, steady state and interval aerobic conditioning.

Myth 6: You should avoid any kind of abdominal/core work during pregnancy

Having a strong core is essential during AND after pregnancy. Proper abdominal and core training is absolutely safe during pregnancy, should be done, and it provides many important benefits. Core training can help prevent and relieve back pain, improve your posture, relieve strain on the abdominals, maintain pelvic floor strength, keep the pelvis in an ideal position, prepare your body for the physical demands of labor and delivery, and can set you up for a speedier postpartum recovery. With that being said, there are some exercises that you should avoid to reduce abdominal separation (diastasis recti) and downward pressure on the pelvic floor. We will go into detail more about this topic later, but these exercises include front planks, crunches, sit-ups, and double leg lowers to name a few.

So that does it for this series on prenatal fitness myths. If there are any other ones that you have heard about and would like some clarification on…please feel free to contact me because I want you to feel strong and supported through your pregnancy. Until then -keep on lifting Mama!!

If you’re looking for some additional help with programming your workouts during pregnancy, give this program a try!

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