Fitness Training for Pregnant Athletes

Running. It seems that more is known about running and pregnancy from anecdotal stories than from hard research. Many runners have continued to train safely and successfully throughout their pregnancies. Most pregnant runners report cutting back on their intensity by 30 to 40 percent. If a pregnant client feels pelvic pressure when running, owing to the weight of her belly, she may wish to try a maternity support belt, which has been shown to alleviate some of this discomfort.

Climbing. Although little research is available on the effect of indoor or outdoor climbing during pregnancy, some of the concerns are obvious, especially in the less controlled, outdoor environment. First, there is the potential for abdominal trauma from the climbing harness itself or from a fall. Then there is the difficulty of climbing safely when contending with a large abdomen in front of you! Finally, climbing becomes increasingly difficult during the latter stages of pregnancy, when a woman loses her center of gravity. (The latter isn't always a problem since many athletes have a superior sense of proprioception, enabling them to adapt readily to their changing center of gravity.)

Possible solutions to these problems include wearing a specially designed harness that doesn't cross over the abdomen; climbing familiar, safer routes; and traversing lower to the ground to reduce the impact of a fall. Climbers should also keep to low altitudes to avoid oxygen decreases, as these can result in serious illness.

A Safe Delivery

It's true that pregnancy can detract from an athlete's ability to attain peak performance levels in elite competition. But that doesn't mean pregnant athletes need to lower their activity to negligible levels. As long as they listen to their bodies, it should be safe for them to exercise at pre-pregnancy training levels throughout their pregnancies.

As for returning to training after delivery, this is up to each individual and her physician. The conservative approach is to refrain from vigorous exercise for at least six weeks--longer for those with special needs--but many athletes start training earlier than that, provided they have medical clearance to do so.

Although experts have not established an upper level of safe activity for pregnant athletes, the benefits of continuing to be active during pregnancy appear to outweigh any potential risks. Unfortunately, no exact limits for frequency, duration and intensity are available. It is ultimately up to each woman--with the help and advice of her physician and fitness professionals-- to decide the fitness path to take during pregnancy.

Finally, no matter how fit a client is, she should not be exercising if she has any of the following contraindications:

  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Preterm rupture of placenta membranes
  • Preterm labor during the current pregnancy or previous pregnancies
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Persistent bleeding during the second or third trimester
  • Intrauterine growth retardation

Warning Signs

If a pregnant client exhibits any of the following signs, she should immediately discontinue exercising and receive medical attention:

  • Pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Faintness
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Difficulty walking
  • Contractions
  • Unusual absence of fetal movements (but note that the baby is often most quiet when the mother is exercising)

For the Pregnant Fitness Professional

Dr. Clapp is often concerned when competitive athletes continue to exercise during their pregnancy for their lack of ability to decipher when the level is "too much". I think that the fitness professional may need to put herself in that same category. Although it may be safe to exercise throughout pregnancy, she should have subs and alternatives when an exercise seems too intense or she does not feel up to exercise on that day. Because it's "our job", the concern is that we may not make the best decision for the baby and may not know when enough is enough.


Lisa Druxman, M.A., the creator of Stroller Strides, is a nationally recognized speaker, author and highly regarded expert in the field of pre and postnatal fitness.

Stroller Strides is a total fitness program for new moms that they can do with their babies. It includes power walking and intervals of body toning, using exercise tubing and the stroller. Taught by trained instructors, it's a great workout for any level of fitness. For information on classes or franchising, visit www.strollerstrides.com or call 866-348-4666.

References:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). 1985. Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Technical Bulletin # 8. Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

ACOG. 1994. Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Technical Bulletin #189: Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 2000. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (6th ed.). Philadelphia: Lipppincott, Williams & Wilkins.

Anthony, L. 2002. Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness. Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning Books and Videos.

Clapp, J. 2002. Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics.

Kardel, K.R., & Kase, T. 1998. Training in pregnant women: Effects on fetal development and birth. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 178, 280-6.

Sports Medicine Australia (SMA). 2001. Participation of the Pregnant Athlete in Contact and Collision Sports. Fact sheet obtainable through Sports Medicine Australia Web site (www.sma.org.au).

Stevenson L. 1997. Exercise in pregnancy: Part 2: Recommendations for individuals. Canadian Family Physician, 43 (1), 107-11.

Wang, T.W., & Apgar, B.S. 1998. Exercise during pregnancy. American Academy of Family Physicians, 1846-7.

Wolfe, L.A., & Mottola, M. 1994. Maternal exercise, fetal well-being and pregnancy outcomes. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews, 22, 145-94.

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