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Pregnant? You can still use the gym!

Pregnant? You can still use the gym!

The Facebook picture of pregnant weightlifter Lea-Ann Ellison lifting heavy weights above her head has caused a media frenzy.  Many criticise her ‘reckless’ gym workouts while others applaud her determination. So what is the advice for pregnant women and gyms nowadays?

Being eight months pregnant, Cross-fit devotee Lea-Ann Ellison did look rather extraordinary with her bare swollen belly poised delicately under the hefty looking dumbbell. Nell McAndrew received similar criticism last year when she continued to run 6 miles a day whilst 20 weeks pregnant, though she had decreased her usual routine.

It’s only natural many people are concerned. After all, it’s not that long ago that pregnant women were expected to rest as much as possible. Fitness guidelines and expectations of what pregnant mums should do has changed a lot. Nowadays all medical experts agree that the fitter the mum the healthier the pregnancy will be. So keeping up a fitness routine is better for you, and your baby.

Official NHS guidelines recommend 30 minutes moderate exercise a day, while avoiding any strenuous activities, such as horse riding, skiing and scuba-diving. The RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) also encourage women to exercise as long as:

  • There are no pregnancy complications.
  • Exercise isn’t too intense i.e. doesn’t raise the heart level to its maximum.
  • You avoid overheating e.g. by doing strenuous activity when it’s hot.
  • You don’t lie on your back, especially after 16 weeks.

Reasons to exercise whilst pregnant

Basically, as long as your pregnancy is ‘low-risk’ you are free to do most exercise. You will also be reaping enormous physical and psychological benefits for yourself and your child, including:

  • Reducing the child’s future risk of developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
  • Improving baby’s toleration of labour as exercise increases blood flow, strengthening the foetus’ heart.
  • Reduction of common complaints such as swelling, varicosities, and tiredness.
  • Less pregnancy weight will be gained, reducing the risks of diabetes, pre-eclampsia and therefore foetal abnormalities.
  • Less anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia.
  •  Quicker recovery from labour,
  • Getting back into your jeans faster!

However, before you sign up to the next advanced Zumba class, remember there are also good reasons for taking it steadily and listening to your body. 

Reasons to exercise caution

  • Women who push themselves too hard use up precious energy, so their immune system could become run down making them more susceptible to illnesses.
  • Hormones make the pelvic tissues more stretchy which could make joints hypermobile.
  • Exercising when tired means you pay less attention to posture and form, placing stress on the lower back and pelvis and risking longer term damage.
  • Exercising too much, too soon after giving birth can damage the pelvis and spine.

Gym rules for prenatal fitness

Ok, so you and your bump are all set to get active. But what should you do at the gym? If you were exercising regularly before then simply continue your routine. If you weren’t previously active then it’s time to get your growing backside moving, but now is not the time to take up rock-climbing!

There are plenty of exercise classes designed for pregnancy such as pregnancy Yoga, Pilates, Aquanatal and Active Birth. As well as only doing movements that are safe, you also get to meet other prenatal and postnatal mums. Some larger gyms also have a team of pregnancy specialists to help support you and design your fitness sessions.

If pregnancy classes aren’t your thing, you could continue your usual workouts, though checking with your midwife or gym instructor first. Some non-pregnancy classes which are continued by many pregnant ladies are pump classes, swimming, and aerobics. More intense classes such as spinning may be continued as long as you don’t allow your heart rate to go above 140 – 150 or get too hot (especially in the first trimester). Many people drop the more intense classes for this reason.

Gyms won’t condone any exercise which would put the health of the child, or the mother, at risk.  Therefore strenuous activities such as weightlifting will never be encouraged. That said, as long as you let your instructor know you are pregnant he will be able to show you how to adapt workouts as necessary so that you don’t have to give up anything you don’t want to. You can also wear special exercise clothes to support your bump. 

Whatever you choose, aim for 2.5 hours of exercise each week, or 30 minute sessions at least 3 times a week, and include some general activity every day, even just walking.

The key advice is to listen closely to your body so you will know if something doesn’t feel quite right, and to speak to your gym instructor.  Keep working out and you’ll help yourself have a healthy pregnancy - and if you really fancy it, perhaps you can always take up weightlifting after!