Physical activity during pregnancy

Physical activity is related to multiple benefits such as decreased incidence of disease, improved functional ability as well as better mental health. Even knowing all these benefits, a large part of the world’s population still does not complete the minimum recommendations for physical activity.

One of the least active population groups is pregnant women, especially in terms of moderate or vigorous physical activity. For this reason, in this article we will deal with all the possibilities available to women to carry out physical activity during pregnancy as well as the possible contraindications that may arise.

During pregnancy, physical activity provides many benefits, including better control of weight gain, reduced incidence of preeclampsia (hypertension, proteinuria and edema caused by pregnancy), reduced incidence of gestational diabetes, improved body image, improved psychological state of well-being, reduced back pain (lower back), better development of the fetus, reduced injuries caused by laxity in joints and better general state in the performance of activities of daily living.

Due to the above, the combination of strength training and cardiovascular training is recommended, as neither of them, separately, provide the benefits of both at the same time.

With regard to strength training , it is advisable to visit our doctor beforehand in order to avoid possible future complications. The fundamental premise of our training will be to maintain or improve the health of the mother and the foetus, the objective of this training being the maintenance of a reasonable level of physical capacity, always adapted to the initial conditions.

Among the aspects to be taken into account when carrying out training sessions during pregnancy:

  • Vigorous physical activity has not been linked to any problem in the health of the foetus or mother, but it is recommended that only women who are in good physical condition, i.e. who have trained at this level outside the period of pregnancy, should have access to this level.
  • CORE’s work should be aimed at carrying out static exercises, although dynamic exercises could still be carried out within the first trimester.
  • The routine should include 3 days a week, which would be enough, always leaving a rest day between sessions.
  • The strength training prescription should include exercises for the whole body, thus avoiding blood accumulation in specific areas. It is important to focus primarily on large muscle groups.
  • In terms of volume of training, beginners may benefit from a series of 10-15 repetitions (<70% 1RM) per exercise, while experienced women may perform 2 to 3 series with the same repetitions and load. The speed of execution must be slow and controlled, with each repetition taking from 3 to 5 seconds of execution (2″ concentric phase and 3″ eccentric phase).
  • The rest time between series should range from 90 to 120 seconds, thus allowing the restoration of the mother’s heart rate.
  • All strength training modalities can be carried out, including free weight, guided machine, pulleys, elastic bands and body weight exercises.
  • Within a session, we should avoid performing exercises in supine position, the valsalva maneuver and the series of work to muscle failure, as they could harm the health of the fetus.
  • Breathing during the execution of strength exercises should lead us to exhale in the concentric phase, to inhale in the eccentric phase as well as to maintain normal breathing during the performance of isometric exercises.
  • The warm-up prior to the strength sessions, as well as the return to calm, should include 5 to 10 minutes of light cardiovascular activity.
  • It is advisable to exercise after meals in order to avoid possible hypoglycaemia.

Other research on physical activity during pregnancy (Perales et al, 2017) found, in a sample of more than 2000 women of normal weight, that the combination of cardiovascular exercise (reclining bicycle, cardiovascular exercise in water, aerobic dance).

Moderate intensity strength exercises (60-80% of the maximum heart rate measured with the formula “220-age”) performed 3 to 4 days a week for one hour provided benefits such as control in the mother’s weight, as well as preventing the onset of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, back pain (lower back) and urinary incontinence, among others.

We can see that the current evidence provides us with many possibilities for carrying out physical activity during pregnancy, therefore, and as a summary, a good starting point would be the combination of strength training (10-12 exercises, between 1 and 2 series of work) and cardiovascular endurance (15′-20′ elliptical, treadmill or aerobic activity in water) 2 to 3 days a week, thus obtaining great benefits.