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How Much Exercise is too Much During Pregnancy?

October 15, 2013
Keri Lynn Ford

I recently announced my first pregnancy, and as a personal trainer, the subject of fitness during this time in a woman's life has obviously dominated a lot of my thoughts. Although I have never been one to back down from a tough workout, being responsible for another human life does alter my perspective a little.

Opinion has always varied about the intensity allowed during various points of pregnancy, but lately, the hot topic of conversation revolves around the ever-controversial CrossFit. Personally, I do not condone CrossFitting while pregnant. There are a few exceptions, of course; trained fitness professionals and those with an extremely high level of previous conditioning may want to continue with tire flipping throughout pregnancy. But for a vast majority of the population, it's just not a good idea.

Pregnant or not, CrossFit is notorious for extremely high-intensity workouts and has also gained a reputation (whether fair or not) for yielding a high number of injuries. People may be pushing themselves way past their limits, engaging in improper form or simply trying to lift too much weight. Trainers who allow this kind of thing to go on are not limited to CrossFit certified ones, but in the faster pace and full force environment of a CrossFit box, these mistakes become amplified. Not an ideal situation for someone trying to nurture a new life.

Other dangers of overzealous fitness while pregnant (not specific to CrossFit, but again, these elements are all present in that kind of situation) include:

- Relaxin: Pregnant women are prone to looser ligaments as a result of a hormone released that prepares your body for birth. This can lead to a little bit of clumsiness, which is not very safe during a 50-pound clean and jerk.

- Side effects of pregnancy, like dizziness when standing and shortness of breath: Blood flow changes from your brain to the baby, can in turn lead to dizziness. I have learned through my many fitness competitions, where I pushed my body to the absolute edge and back, that listening to your body is key. It is possible to push your body too far and have it start to rebel against you. Trying to run through a dizzy spell is probably not the best way to handle it.

- Blood pressure changes: Some women experience higher or lower blood pressure. This can factor in for anything that involves jumping or an up/down movement (burpees, for example).

- Increased blood volume: Blood volume is increased because a growing baby is fed from your blood supply. And since more blood flow is required, the amount of blood needed is too.

- Elevated body temperature: Becoming overheated during pregnancy, when your body temperature becomes slightly elevated from the increased blood flow and hormones, can affect the baby's development. This is another reason why exercise is not instructed to be as intense, and also why things like hot baths are not recommended during pregnancy.

- Stomach trauma: Remember those burpees I talked about above? Well, losing my footing, slipping and slamming into the ground stomach first is up there on my list of top nightmares right now. It's just not worth the risk.

Recently, Heidi Powell (wife of Chris Powell of the television show Extreme Weight Loss) wrote a blog that compared all of her four pregnancies. For the most part, it was a cool piece, but one thing she said that really rubbed me the wrong way was that women shouldn't use "morning sickness" or "nausea" as an excuse to skip a workout. She says, "I was experiencing morning sickness in my first trimester ... 'Who on Earth works out when they are sick?' I would ask myself. Another excuse."

I may not have made it through four pregnancies, but having just gotten through my first trimester, I absolutely disagree with this reasoning. I felt like I was constantly hungover, with pounding headaches, constant nausea and pure exhaustion. I don't believe that skipping a workout when you aren't feeling well constitutes "making excuses."

Pregnancy is not the time to start trying new and crazy fitness classes, or aiming to break your lifting personal records. It's a perfect time to maintain or even slightly decrease your level of activity, depending on your previous level of conditioning. I personally have continued to teach spin class once a week, but I keep my resistance a bit lower to keep my heart rate down and I take consistent inventory of how I am feeling throughout. Since I have been teaching for years, my body is already used to this type of workout.

Everyone's experience with pregnancy is and will be different, but I can't emphasize this overall message enough: Listen to your body; it is the best roadmap and thermometer for fitness at this time. Losing some of your fitness level is only the beginning of sacrifices you will make as a parent. To me, it's not worth risking my baby just so I can be the mom that is still doing ring kips and burpees at eight months pregnant. I plan to use common sense, do what feels right to me and listen to my doctor at all times. Don't be selfish at the risk of your future child.