3. Developing an Effective Exercise Plan

The fundamentals of exercise remain basically the same for everyone, pregnant or not. You should develop an effective fitness plan that includes a warmup and a cooldown, with the activities of your choice in the middle. Once your doctor gives you the go-ahead to exercise, start exercising at a comfortable level that does not cause pain, shortness of breath, and/or excessive exhaustion. You should start slowly and increase your activity little by little, especially if you were not exercising regularly before becoming pregnant.

If you were an avid exerciser before pregnancy, you may need to make just a few simple adjustments in your program. You may find that you need to decrease your intensity level during pregnancy. The most effective plan is one that combines cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, strength, and flexibility exercises. It can be beneficial to find a variety of activities for your exercise plan because you might be more motivated to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy and beyond.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Warming up before you exercise and cooling down afterward is essential to an effective and safe program. Warming up for at least five to ten minutes revs up your body and gets your blood moving to prepare it for exercise. Cooling down for at least ten minutes gradually brings your heart rate and body temperature back to normal. You should never stop exercising abruptly without cooling down and slowing down your heart rate gradually.

Both a warmup and cool-down should include some light aerobic activity followed by gentle stretching. Stretching can help to maintain your flexibility, and prevent muscle tightening and injury during exercise. Stretching during your cool-down can also help to prevent sore muscles the next day. Stretching can be great any time of the day when you need to release some muscle tension.

As with other aspects of exercise during pregnancy, stretching may require some modification to avoid possible injury. During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin causes your joints and ligaments to loosen, making delivery easier on the body. This makes it important to take some extra precautions when stretching. Stretching should always come after some type of warmup exercise that increases your circulation and internal body temperature. Stretching without first warming up can lead to pulled or torn muscles and/or ligaments. The key to stretching during pregnancy is to go nice and easy and never bounce. Do not push a stretch to the point of pain or past your natural range of motion. Hold on to a chair for support if you need to while performing certain stretches. Be sure to take full breaths while you are stretching to keep blood flowing through your muscles.

Standing motionless while doing prolonged stretches is not advised. This can decrease blood flow to the uterus as well as cause blood to pool in your legs, which can make you dizzy. Continue to move even when stretching by switching positions often or walking in place. Hold stretches for no more than fifteen to thirty seconds.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise improves the fitness of your heart and lungs as well as your body’s ability to use oxygen. When it comes to selecting a type of aerobic exercise that is best for you, keep in mind that all women are different. What works best for one woman may not work for someone else. Much of the decision will depend on your activity before becoming pregnant. You and your doctor should discuss what would work best for you. It is best to avoid exercises that incorporate excessive bouncing during pregnancy. Low-impact aerobics are a good alternative to high-impact exercise. Choose activities that are mild to moderate but take longer, as opposed to short-term strenuous exercise. The most comfortable and safe exercises during pregnancy are those that do not require your body to bear extra weight. Good examples include swimming, water aerobics, stationary biking, walking, dancing, yoga, and low-impact aerobics. Jogging and running can be safe, but they are better for women who were doing this before becoming pregnant.

Monitor your intensity by monitoring your heart rate while performing aerobic exercise. An easy way to monitor your heart rate is to make sure you can always carry on a conversation while you’re exercising. If you can’t, then you are exercising too intensely and should slow down. Modify your pre-pregnancy routine by decreasing both the length and intensity of your workout to avoid fatigue.

The best advice is to join a class for expectant moms that is lead by an expert in the prenatal exercise area. These classes can also act as a great support system for you and get you out to meet and socialize with new friends.

Strength Training

Weight training can definitely have some benefits as part of a regular exercise plan. It can help strengthen and tone muscles as well as build stamina. However, women who were not participating in a strength-training program before pregnancy are usually not advised to start during pregnancy. Strength training is definitely not advisable for all pregnant women and should be discussed with your doctor before you begin.

When using weights, it is important to use slow, controlled movements to help avoid injury to loosened joints and ligaments. Machines are generally preferred to free weights during pregnancy because they are more easily controlled. It is advisable to work with lighter weights than you might normally use and to compensate for the lower weight by doing more repetitions. It is important to breathe normally during strength training and avoid holding your breath so your baby continues to receive optimal amounts of oxygen. As with any exercise at this time, discontinue any strength exercise that causes pain or discomfort.

Avoid exercising the same muscles for two days in a row. Your muscles need time to recover. To see results, you only need to perform strength-training exercises for thirty minutes two to three days per week.

Starting with your second trimester, you should avoid lifting weights while standing. Blood can pool in your legs and cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy. You should always avoid lying on a bench to lift weights or being in a position that leaves your abdominal area vulnerable to a falling weight. Most important, it is best to exercise safely, to use common sense if weight-training during pregnancy, and to discuss your program with your doctor before you begin.

Nutritional Needs

All of the same nutritional requirements that apply to pregnant women apply to the exercising moms-to-be. Pregnancy requires additional healthy calories, and these are even more important if you exercise regularly. You need to eat enough to support your pregnancy, your own needs, and the demands of your exercise program. The key is consuming enough calories to ensure an adequate weight gain.

Your exercise plan should include an eating plan that keeps you from exercising on a completely empty stomach or an overly full stomach. Eat something light at least an hour before you exercise to keep your blood sugar levels from dropping too low. A quick snack after exercise can also help to reenergize you and regulate your blood sugar levels. Make your pre-exercise snacks healthy ones by avoiding sugary or high-fat foods. Stick to foods such as high-fiber starches, lean proteins, and fat-free dairy products.

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