How to Modify Group Fitness Classes When You're Pregnant
Prenatal yoga is great, but it's not your only option. Learn how to modify some common group fitness exercises so you and baby can stay safe while sweating.
A lot has changed when it comes to the science of exercising during pregnancy. And while you should always consult with your ob-gyn to get the okay before jumping into a new routine or continuing your usual workouts with a baby on the way, pregnant women have fewer limitations for safe exercise than before, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
That's good news for anyone who is religious about barre classes and strength training. Just know: Some moves call for necessary safety modifications and swaps. One overall guideline? "In general, I always tell my mamas to avoid any exercise that puts stress on her pelvic floor, causes incontinence, and/or creates 'coning' of the belly," says Erica Ziel, a mom of three and creator of Knocked-Up Fitness and the Core Athletica rehab program. (Coning is when abdominal muscles bulge during an exercise that's causing too much stress on the abs.) This can be a good indicator for determining whether or not to continue a certain type of exercise.
Otherwise, check out how to change up some of the go-to moves in your favorite classes with these pro swaps.
TRX master instructor Ami McMullen says when you're pregnant you should always avoid "any exercise that might increase your likelihood of falling." Your center of gravity will change as your belly grows and you progress through pregnancy, making balancing more of a challenge.
Avoid: TRX Lunge
This lower-body exercise has you facing away from the anchor with your back foot suspended in the foot cradle as you balance with your front leg and drop your back knee into a lunge. This "creates more demand for balance and stability in the standing leg's knee, ankle, and hip joints," says McMullen.
Pregnancy modification: TRX Balance Lunge
Instead of just one foot in the TRX foot cradles, you actually hold onto the handles with both hands for more balance stability. Face the anchor point in a standing position and step back into a reverse lunge, keeping back toes hovered above the floor. "This option still works your lower body and core, but keeps you much more stable by allowing your arms to help unload the weight. It also gives you the option to touch the back foot on the ground quickly if you begin to feel wobbly."
Barre can be a wonderful prenatal option because it's naturally low-impact, but some of the moves can be uncomfortable and, at worst, dangerous. Most core work can easily be modified (but always avoid crunches) and you'll want to use the barre more for balance support, but your foot position and range of motion are two commonly overlooked factors pregnant women should be mindful of.
Avoid: Deep First Position Plié
Levels of the hormone relaxin increase during pregnancy, which can cause ligamentous laxity-or instability in the joints. That means movements where the knee drives out past the toes, such as in this first position plié where toes are turned out to 45-degree angles and you bend at the knee, should be avoided, says Farel B. Hruska, an ACE-certified trainer and FIT4MOM pre/postnatal fitness expert. For expectant moms, these moves can be dangerous as they place the knees in a less stable position, potentially causing stress on the joints throughout the leg, says Hruska.
Pregnancy modification: Second Position Plié
To make knees more stable, stand in second position (toes still turned out but feet approximately 3 feet apart) instead of a narrow first position with heels together. And yes, you'll still get the thigh-and-booty benefits. (Learn more about the best and worst barre exercises.)
Cycling, like barre, is a crazy-awesome low-impact workout. If you're a runner but your joints ache or your bladder leaks during runs (a common and obviously annoying side effect of pregnancy thanks to pressure on your bladder from your expanding uterus), cycling can be a great go-to for cardio and strength training, too.
Avoid: Too-low handlebars and too-intense interval work
A growing belly and larger breasts mean most pregnant women are already battling poor posture. Too-low handlebars can further the problem. Also, with added blood volume, expecting mothers can get winded much more quickly than they did pre-pregnancy. Your overall effort should decrease, says Alexandra Sweeney, lead instructor for Flywheel's Pacific Northwest region.
Pregnancy modification: Ride upright and work up to a 6 out of 10 exertion level
Lifting the handlebars prevents your knees from hitting your belly during every rotation and helps encourage better posture. Not to mention, riding upright can simply be more comfortable, says Sweeney. As for intensity level: "On a 1 to 10 scale, if you usually aim for an 8, 9, or 10, you'll want to drop your highest effort level closer to a 6. Give yourself the permission to do what you can." Bottom line: There's no shame in going at your own speed and intensity. You're already the badass pregnant woman who showed up to work out. (Don't know the difference between a 6 and an 8? Learn more about how to judge your rate of perceived exertion more accurately.)
CrossFit has probably seen the most polarizing reaction when it comes to prenatal fitness. But whether you're an experienced CrossFit athlete or a more casual enthusiast, you can still enjoy your WOD safely while expecting.
What to avoid: Box Jumps
While ACOG no longer rules out jumping while pregnant, most women will find that finding air can mean a leaky bladder and joint pain. Ziel says that beyond incontinence, intense jumps can also cause more intense pelvic floor dysfunction in the future. That can mean anything from sexual dysfunction to pelvic organ prolapse, which can cause your bladder to literally drop from where it's supposed to be-yikes!
What to do instead: Squats
"Squats are great! Even without weight, they are extremely effective during pregnancy," says Ziel, "Squatting is a great way to strengthen legs and deep core, open hips, and even prepare for safely picking up baby." As long as you practice good squat form, they are also perfectly safe for the knees. (Related: The Top 5 Exercises You Should Do to Prepare Your Body for Childbirth)
Much like core-focused TRX, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that you don't have to throw in the towel on your Pilates mat class. (More proof: 7 Prenatal Pilates Exercises to Safely Strengthen Your Core During Pregnancy) If you are a dedicated Pilates student, schedule a private session with your instructor to review modification options, suggests Heather Lawson, a lead instructor trainer for STOTT Pilates at John Garey Fitness and Pilates. You'll also want to avoid being on your back for extended periods, according to ACOG. Extended time spent lying supine (or on your back) can decrease blood flow to your heart and temporarily decrease blood pressure.
What to avoid: The Hundred
The Hundred is basically an abdominal crunch in which you lie on your back, hover your torso and legs above the ground, and pump your arms up and down 100 times. It is a very common Pilates exercise but Lawson says it can be harmful to prenatal women because they are on their back for an extended time, and crunches increase the risk of diastasis recti (a separation of the rectus abdominous muscle wall).
What to do instead: Pilates Bridge
Bridge is a great substitute because you can just lift the hips from your supine position. Holding the torso at an angle is safe (as opposed to staying flat on your back). Bridge is a great way to strengthen the legs and back and encourages good posture. It's also not uncommon for you to feel like your baby is interfering with your full lung capacity, and this position can help you feel like you can finally take a few deep breaths.
Studies show that movement and music are both soothing to your baby, so don't put away your dancing shoes just yet. And good news: "Modifying impact in any class does not mean you will not get an intense workout," says Madalene Aponte, Strong by Zumba master trainer.
What to avoid: Thrusting and popping
Most Zumba moves are low-impact but fast, says Aponte. She recommends minimizing trust movements (such as Samba crossovers or Merengue fast twists) and anything that causes hyperextension in your back (think: booty pops). The speed of these movements and the combination of relaxed joints and compromised posture can mean a higher risk of throwing out your back. Also, super-fast movements can increase your risk of falling when balance is already compromised.
What to do instead: Dance at half tempo
Rather than completely eliminating these moves, Aponte says you can simply perform them at half tempo to lessen risk of back injury and falling.
Yoga might get a lot of credit as a great prenatal exercise but that doesn't mean every single pose is safe. You'll want to pay attention and listen to your body (even in prenatal-specific classes but especially in an all-levels class).
What to avoid: Standing Splits
Because this is a balance pose, there's an increased risk of falling. Holding the head below the heart can also lead to dizziness and, if you lift your leg too high, you risk overstretching. "In prenatal yoga or other yoga classes, be careful to avoid overstretching due to the hormone relaxin that is present in the prenatal body," says Ziel. One sign you're overstretching: All of a sudden it seems as if you can stretch far beyond what you did pre-pregnancy. Or you might even have to force your body into the stretch. Avoid both of these sensations since overstretching joints during pregnancy can mean discomfort, pain, and instability for years postpartum.
What to do instead: Warrior II
Warrior II is more stable since you're on two feet. You're also upright so you don't have to worry about dizziness. This pose allows you to open the hips in a safe range of motion while also strengthening the low body and arms at the same time.