Hey guys! I’m back from a long weekend of traveling and visiting the in-laws. I’ll spare you all the kiddo + grandparent pics this time—for some reason, I get extra trigger-happy on the old camera around them. ;)

On Sunday night, Brent and I saw 22 Jump Street (on a super rare movie date), and…we were so disappointed! I know it’s hard to pull off a good sequel, but after the awesomeness of 21 JS, this was a major letdown. At least I got to look at Channing Tatum for 2 hours, but I’m not sure if poor Brent got anything out of it (oh wait, he did—also looking at Channing Tatum).

Anyway, today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about training pregnant women. I have a lot of thoughts on the topic, since I’ve been both training my own pregnant self for 36 weeks now (+40 with kiddo #1) and leading a prenatal fitness class for the last 6 of those. (I’ve also gotten a lot of info from my prenatal fitness training, of course.)

how to train pregnant clients

There’s some advice out there on this topic (really, not much), but a lot of it is super generic, overly cautious, and/or very outdated.

The thing that makes it so complicated, of course, is that no pregnancy is the same. I’m sure you’ve heard that, but no seriously—they’re really not. Even with subsequent pregnancies on the same person, you never know what you’re going to get.

Which means that no rules are perfectly applicable to everyone. (Story of your life right?)

It also means that you’re going to have to rely on your client’s cues even more than usual. (This is something I’ve had to learn how to do over that past 6 weeks.) While she still needs your encouragement and motivation, you can’t push her as much as you might have before.

Whether you’re working one-on-one with a pregnant woman or teaching a group exercise class that includes them, here’s what you need to know:

Know the moves to avoid (group exercise: have modifications ready)

Here are some of the biggest offenders:

Crunches/anything that puts pressure on the abs/pelvic floor

Pregnant women are prone to diastasis recti (when the ab muscles split apart significantly down the the middle) and the best way to avoid getting it is to be careful during pregnancy. The general rule of the thumb is to opt for core stabilization exercises instead of traditional crunch-like moves (think: planks, stability ball and standing core exercises).

Plyometrics

Explosive movements are generally not appropriate for preggos, just because they tend to be uncomfortable and could force women to hold their breath during the “loading” stage of the movement (more on that later). That said, I’ve been doing modified moves like mini squat jumps (where your feet are literally 1-2 inches off the floor) and rope jumping in my classes, and the girls do fine with those. This is something that’s completely dependent on each woman’s tolerance—luckily, it’s really easy to modify or swap out.

Movements involving getting up/down quickly

Think burpees. The bigger the belly gets, the more awkward these movements feel, and the more exhausting/frustrating they are for mom. If you want to include something like this for functional exercise purposes, I’d recommend surrenders, and I’d slow them waaay down.

Deep stretching

Pregnant women are full of hormones that help ligaments relax and stretch in preparation for birth—but they might not realize it. This is why it’s easy to overstretch when you’re pregnant, potentially causing injury. Remind pregnant clients to stretch just to the point of resistance—and none of that “take a deep breath and see if you can go even further” stuff.

–Supine exercises (on the back)

Here’s an example of something that tends to get exaggerated in prenatal fitness. We know pregnant women should obviously not lay on their stomachs (ta-ta for now, supermans), but what about supine moves? A lot of pregnant women hear that lying on their back restricts blood flow through the inferior vena cava, which means compromised blood flow to baby (um—no good!), but this isn’t quite the red alert situation some women are led to believe.

In reality, only a small percentage of women actually experience this, and they would know. The first sign is dizziness (which happens long before the baby is impacted in any way)—so, by all means, if your client is feeling dizzy laying on her back, supine is out!

For most women, though, a few minutes of lying on their back is totally harmless. Chances are you’re not leaving her there for long, anyway.

Things to do:

–If your pregnant mom is concerned, you can have her prop herself up on a stack of pillows.

–Plan your exercise flow so she’s not going from standing directly to lying supine. A dramatic shift like this can give her a head rush. (Have her first transition into an exercise that’s done on all fours or on her knees, for example.)

prenatal-yoga_thumb.jpg

Know what she needs MORE of

It irritates me a little when I see prenatal workouts that are just dumbed-down versions of regular workouts. Pregnant women are not just less fit women—they have completely different bodies with unique needs.

So it’s not always about doing less, and sometimes, it’s about doing more! For example, pregnant women need more…

Squats!

Something that’s often compromised during pregnancy and labor is the pelvic floor, and the best way to support those muscles is through lots and lots of squatting and other glute work (not just kegels, as many people think).

Make sure women are using their glutes to squat and lunge, not their knees, backs, or quads!

Reminders to breathe normally

It’s very important for pregnant women to avoid using the valsalva maneuver—when you exhale forcefully against a closed airway. Everyone does this naturally right before pushing/pulling an extra heavy load (you might hear people say “huh” or grunt right before the movement). Although it’s technically not ideal for anyone to do it, it’s especially concerning for preggos, since it can disrupt blood flow to both mom and baby and cause fainting.

Pregnant moms’ breathing can be faster or slower—the key is that it needs to be continuous.

Reminders to brace the core

I know, engage the core, bla bla bla. But here’s the deal with the core and pregnancy:

–It’s even more important than ever to work the core muscles during pregnancy, since they have a much bigger load to carry and are responsible for pushing the baby out during birth. (Specifically, the TVA muscles.)

BUT:

–Pregnant women tend to care less about their core muscles (it’s not like they’re working on their 6 packs, right?).

AND:

–Pregnant women can’t work their core muscles in a lot of the traditional ways (either due to too much pressure or the belly literally getting in the way), which means they have to rely on core bracing during non-core-specific exercises as a primary form of working those muscles. (Not to mention it’s just good habit!)

Form checks

The further along a pregnant woman gets, the more her body alignment can shift. Specifically, the belly pulls the lower back forward (pushing the pelvis out below), and the body adjusts by jutting the shoulders and head forward too, leading to an overly arched neck and a slouchy, compressed shape.

posture

(image source)

Here’s the problem: pregnant women can’t tell this is happening. If her shoulders are up to her ears and she’s squatting into her knees, she probably doesn’t know it. (I’ve totally seen pictures of myself pregnant and thought, WOAH, why am I hunched forward so much??) She needs you to tell her what her body is doing.

It also wouldn’t hurt to encourage her to practice movements in front of the mirror at home, to give her muscles a chance to memorize what good form feels like now.

Balance work

Another thing that bugs me is when people say that pregnant women have compromised balance, and should therefore avoid any balance work. What?? Having trouble with balance is all the more reason to work on it! Especially since it’s a great low-impact fitness option.

(The alternative: just hope you don’t fall and actually hurt yourself in real life??)

Obviously, you don’t want to do any wildly challenging balance moves, like push-ups on a stability ball or anything where the feet are on the ball. Just use common sense and make sure women have a support within arm’s reach.

Hip opening and back of the legs stretches

In my prenatal fitness classes, we practice doing deep eastern squats at some point in every class.

eastern squat

Even if the girls can’t get all the way into the squat (they should work towards hovering just above the floor with heels on the ground), they’ve told me that the position feels great. And, of course, it’s super effective for opening the hips. (If women really like it: the eastern squat is also a traditional childbirthing position!)

Stretching the backs of the legs is important for keeping the pelvis loose, so it’s not locked in that jutting-out position that contributes to back pain. I like to do the wide-legged forward fold from yoga, but there are tons of options for this.

forward fold

Know her specific limitations

Again, every pregnancy is different, so it’s helpful to get to know what this specific pregnancy looks like. Ask your clients if they have any doctor-prescribed limitations, if they feel pain when doing specific things, or if anything just “feels wrong.” Some of that is relatively unavoidable in pregnancy (for example, lots of women are uncomfortable rolling over in bed or getting out of the car), but some of it could be translated to specific exercises to avoid.

(Just remember that no one exercise is that important—there’s always something else you can do!)

A common example is pelvic/groin area pain. The safest approach to this is to keep the legs together, but more specifically, avoid exercises that have one leg moving away from the body while the other stays still, such as lateral lunges, fire hydrants, or glute kickbacks.

This is where you need to remind your client that you don’t know how things feel to her—she needs to tell you if anything feels off to her, so you can adjust it as needed.

Understand her goals

Most pregnant women aren’t coming to you to lose weight or get ripped. But the two of you should still spend time talking about what she’s trying to accomplish, like:

–Maintaining as much fitness as possible to support quick postpartum return to activities.

–Having a labor that’s as quick and manageable as possible, with few or no interventions and an easy recovery.

–Keeping pregnancy weight gain under control.

–Reducing pregnancy discomfort by toning muscles that support good alignment.

–Increasing energy.

Someone who’s used to working out mostly to look and feel good might not realize that goals like these are even on the menu during pregnancy. This is your opportunity to show your value as a trainer, and it’ll also help keep her motivated so she’s not just going through the motions of prenatal fitness because she thinks she should.

Lower weights, higher reps

The most important thing here is to make sure your client can do her lifts without holding her breath or compromising her form. She might be used to lifting in a certain weight range, without realizing that her changing body has introduced some form issues that suggest she now needs lighter weights.

Remind her that you can burn out your muscles just as easily with the lower weight/higher rep combo!

Don’t force her to go easier than she needs to

You’re at your client’s mercy to tell you how she’s feeling and what she’s capable of on any particular day. (And it can be totally different from day to day!)

That said, she doesn’t need to be overly cautious either. If she’s worried about hurting the baby, remind her that the baby is very well protected and floating in a barrier of water. As long as she has the thumbs up from her doctor, you and her are using common sense (per above), and she’s not feeling any sudden pains, she’s doing just fine.

In fact, she’s benefiting her baby’s health more by exercising (like, actually exercising) than by avoiding it or holding back too much.

Monitor her ability to talk and breathe (not her heart rate)

The old heart rate rule (keep it below 140 during pregnancy) has been debunked for awhile now, and most doctors are on board with going above that as long as women can still talk and breathe comfortably. (Really, if women were active pre-pregnancy, they can probably get over 140 pretty easily without getting too winded.) Also, since women can have slightly increased heart rates during pregnancy anyway, tracking the HR just isn’t that helpful for monitoring exercise intensity.

The easiest measure of exertion during pregnancy is the good old talk test. Can she respond to your questions with gasping for air?

Make sure she’s using the right muscles

When a growing belly compromises a woman’s normal alignment, she’s  more likely to rely on secondary muscles instead of primary ones to move. And she probably won’t know she’s doing it.

The three most common (and worst) muscle swaps to watch for are:

Knee/back loading instead of hip loading. This is a major one! The biggest example is squatting into the knees and/or with the back instead of with the glutes. (A lot of people don’t realize that the glutes should be the hardest working muscles in lunges, too!)

Shoulder loading instead of chest loading. This is when, during a push-up, the hips fall first, and then the shoulders, and they come back up in the opposite order, rather than the body moving up and down in a unit.

Upper trap loading instead of back loading. During a bent-over row, power should start in the client’s back instead of her upper traps/shoulders.

Be patient

If your pregnant client calls at the last minute to cancel your session, she’s probably not faking it. She might even disappear for weeks at a time. Pregnancy is exhausting, and there’s no telling which weeks are going to be harder than others (generally, women are the most tired in the first and last few months).

That said, if her biggest obstacle is exhaustion, gently remind her that energy begets energy! (Eye roll, I know…) The best ways to fight the fatigue are with good nutrition and exercise—the more she can get, the better she’ll feel.

Be encouraging

Remind her what a great thing she’s doing, both for herself and her baby. Even if she can’t do as much as she used to, the fact that she’s doing something is admirable. She will have people asking her why she isn’t just taking it easy and eating whatever she wants (for two!)—help her remember her motivations (easier delivery, healthier baby, quicker postpartum recovery) and all the awesome benefits prenatal fitness offers her!

Make sure she’s talking to her doctor

This should probably be first in the list, but I didn’t want to scare you away with obviousness. :) As much as you need to be doing your best to keep her safe, it’s the client’s responsibility to make sure she’s also running everything she’s doing by her doctor. Which leads to the last point…

Protect yourself

It’s not a bad idea to have a pregnant client sign a form indicating that she’s accepting the risks of working out both for herself and her baby. Even if you’re doing “100% pregnancy-safe” exercises, working out is like sports—there are always risks.

It’s always a good idea to protect yourself, but it’s even more important when there’s a baby involved!

 

Have you ever worked with a pregnant client? What was your experience like?

If you are or have been pregnant yourself, how many of these things did you run into or incorporate into your exercise routine?

What would you add to this list?

 

Have a great day!

xoxo

Kim

{ 3 comments }

Getting it done and a vacation workout

by Kim on July 25, 2014

Yesterday, I had one of those “this is motherhood” days.

For whatever reason (probably none at all), Mason woke up at 4:30 AM (!) and decided he was up for the day. He’s usually an awesome night sleeper, so this was completely out of the blue—not sick, not uncomfortable, not hungry/thirsty, clean diaper…

And it might have been ok if it didn’t mean that he was then desperately in need of a nap by 8:30, right as we were heading out the door to daycare. Ughh…

Here’s the other part that baffles me: some days, after a poor night of sleep, I’m somehow totally fine. Other days, I’m a moping pile of exhaustion and can’t recover all day long.

Guess what kind yesterday was! Winking smile

On top of that, it was also a Thursday, which meant I had my prenatal class in the evening. Luckily, I’ve already learned that being a group exercise instructor is just like having any other job: you show up and get it done, regardless of how you feel. And turns out it’s even easier to shake off a funk when you’re in a high-energy workout environment!

It also didn’t hurt that we had perfect weather and a beautiful spot to work out in.

20140724_183559

There’s a fabulous view of the city skyline behind those trees—which I tried hard to distract everyone with when we were a minute deep into some brutal arm circles. (I use the “go to your happy place” trick ALL the time with myself, and it totally works!)

Confession time: I included some burpees in last night’s workout and kind of regretted it. I could tell that the girls were struggling, and when I asked for feedback post-class, they all agreed that it’s just too cumbersome to get from a squat position to a push-up position with a big old belly in the way. Most of us are in our last month of pregnancy (and one girl is due next week!) so we’re definitely at the height of our preggo limitations, and feeling it!

Can’t wait to get this baby out and get back to my normal routine!

Kim-1019 edit

(I’m at the stage where I don’t even remember my stomach looking like that. Smile)

I still think burpees are awesome, but there are definitely plenty of alternatives to choose from for prenatal exercise. We can all still do inchworms pretty comfortably, for example.

This weekend, I have another baby shower to go to, and Brent will be going to the “man shower” equivalent for the dad-to-be. I like this trend of guys getting baby showers (Brent’s friends threw him one for Mason and everyone had to bring diapers—we honestly didn’t buy a single diaper for months!) but it’s also totally unfair. In our experience, girl showers = low key games, snacks, gift openings. Guy showers = partying, drinking, “last hurrah” kind of stuff. The man shower Brent’s going to this weekend involves a day at the horse races, grilling out, and a night on the town.

Ladies, how can we step up our baby shower game?!

Is anyone else traveling this weekend? I know a lot of people are planning their last end-of-summer trips. If that’s you, here’s something to take with you!

Vacation Workout


(Tip: if you don’t have a clock/timer available, just hum Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 3 times at  a moderate pace. That’ll put you at around a minute—plus, it’s a nice distraction!)

I actually sent a variation of this workout to my prenatal girls over the 4th of July, since we skipped our weekly class for the holiday. I was so proud when most of them came back saying they’d tried it!

I’d love to know if you give it a shot!

Notes:

  • A double-under is when you’re jumping rope and you swing the rope over twice in one jump. Faking it just involves doing bigger jumps than you would for regular jump roping.
  • 20 push-ups is a lot! But you can do it. Smile You can always modify to minis: on your knees and/or only going up and down 1-2 inches.

Have a great weekend!

xoxo

Kim

{ 8 comments }

Why kegels are OUT (and what’s in)

July 24, 2014

Quick preggo update: 36 weeks! I’ll give you the full scoop next week, but here’s a sneak peek at the belly progress: (It counts as a sneak peek because my head is cut off. Clearly.) When you talk about pregnancy—and especially, pregnancy + fitness—at some point, kegels are bound to come up. I used to […]

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Hot fitness deals

July 23, 2014

Last year at this time, I was ridiculously excited to pick up my first pair of Zella’s Live-In leggings (aka lulu knock-offs) on mega discount during Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary Sale. They served me well (until I got pregnant) and I have a feeling I’ll be living in them again as a stay-at-home mom this winter. […]

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Why every expecting couple needs a babymoon

July 22, 2014

I’m having a vacation hangover. Brent and I just got back from our long weekend in Door County, and all I want to do is reverse time and do the whole thing over again. The whole trip was perfect—great weather (sunny and 72!), great company (of course), and the perfect mix of activity and relaxation. […]

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A fun-boring vacation and what you should know about TVA muscles

July 18, 2014

I’m officially a free woman! Yesterday was my last day at my marketing job. It ended up being a really fun day—we had a company kickball game and potluck over lunch!—and I surprised myself by almost crying when my boss hugged me goodbye. (Hormones??) The change doesn’t feel real yet, and it probably won’t until […]

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15 must-pin workouts (and when to use them)

July 15, 2014

The most horrible thing happened this morning. I was up early to work out (that was the good part). I ran through one of my favorite arm circuits (and even upped my weights! I was on FIYAH!). But then… I got stuck. I hadn’t planned anything specific beyond the arm circuit, and I had 20 […]

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Ready enough

July 14, 2014

Heyyy check it out! The first piece of baby gear for #2 is officially set up in our room. I’ve heard great things about these Rock n’ Plays, so I’m excited to try one out with the new guy. Supposedly they’re magical for newborn sleep! I snagged this off Craigslist over the weekend, and we also got […]

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Barre class blues

July 11, 2014

Happy Friday! I’m super bummed—I had a rocking prenatal barre workout ready to go for last night, but I had to postpone the class when most of the ladies ended up being unable to make it. So disappointed! I still took an awkward solo pic to prove to you that I was there. (And to […]

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Expecting more + dark chocolate sea salt bark

July 9, 2014

For the past two days, I’ve been struuuuggling to get up in the mornings. At the start of the week, I was already exhausted from our weekend trip (Mason was up for about two hours in the middle of the night one of those nights—thaaanks buddy), and then I stayed up a little later than […]

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