Fitness in pregnancy – Part II (+ 4 exercises)

A few more things I want to say about fitness in pregnancy, before I am through with this very unique period in every woman’s life (for the time being, anyway!).

Fit, lean and healthy
First of all, it pays immensely to enter pregnancy as fit as possible. I don’t care if you don’t run 10Ks in your second trimester, but you’d better be as strong, lean and healthy as possible when you are starting out.

The female body goes through so many changes over these nine months and a good level of fitness makes everything so much easier. You will be able to carry the load much better, maintain your posture, keep your muscle tone, and not succumb to gravity without a fight. As for the health benefits: from keeping blood pressure at low levels, to even having to cut through less layers of fat during a c-section (gross!), there is a lot to be said about being in the right form prior to deciding to have a baby.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalimages.net
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalimages.net

Nagging sport injuries
It was interesting to see some of my old sport injuries flaring up and resurfacing during the nine month wait. ‘What’ s with this old pains’, I was thinking a lot of the time, ‘I mean it’s not as if I’ve been exercising myself to death here!’ Plantar fasciitis, a bit of knee pain, arch pain, and, worse of all, my sciatica pain going all the way down the right leg, have all made their appearance with a vengeance. Some of these pains have come and gone, but the sciatica has been steadily getting worse over the past few weeks, to the extent that really it is an effort now to even take Lisa (our dog) for long walks any more. I do hope that recovery is fast and smooth on many levels, beginning next week. In fact, I consider myself injured at the moment!

Pregnancy exercises post-partum
The pocket-sized book “Your Pregnancy Day-By-Day” by Professor Stuart Campbell, and Alison Mackonochie (Carroll & Brown Publishers Ltd, 2005) is full of pregnancy information for the ignoramus like me (for example, according to the book, a full-term pregnancy is 294 days exactly, who would have thought!).
It also offers a few fitness exercises (mostly in preparation for labour) that I have found could be of use later as well. I am going to be practicing them post-op, as soon as I can.
Here they are.

Tailor sitting
This exercise releases tension in lower back (so, a blessing for me really!) and improves pelvic flexibility. After placing pillows under thighs and sitting with back straight and the soles of feet together, you draw your heels towards you, using the arms to push down on your thighs. Relaxing your shoulders and the back of your neck (yes! I need that so much!), you breathe deeply and hold the stretch for a count of 12. Repeat every day. As one becomes more flexible, one can remove the pillows and push knees closer to the floor.

Pelvic rocks
This is a good way to relieve backache in late pregnancy and during labour (and after, might I add!). You aren’t meant to let your lower back sag while doing this exercise. Get down on your hands and knees, with knees about hip-width apart. Keep neck in line with spine and the back flat. Then tighten abdomen and buttocks and slowly round shoulders and back and let your head drop down. Hold briefly before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 times a day or whenever one feels tension (which for me is indeed very often during the day, also what a great exercise after a tough running session!).

Modified squats
This exercise strengthens the thigh muscles and is a mild form of the squat, perfect for c-section recovery as well as for anyone just starting out on the whole squat exercise set. Standing with feet hip-width apart about 2 feet from a wall, back and arms flat against the wall, you slowly lower yourself down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees don’t go beyond your toes. Hold briefly, then slowly stand up. Repeat 12 times, twice a day.

Power kegels
These pelvic floor exercises are good for every female runner wanting to regain full bladder control post-preganncy (not always as straightforward as one might think). You can perform them sitting, lying or standing (but not while you’re urinating, as this may cause an infection). Draw up and lighten the muscles around the anal sphincter; then hold. Slowly tighten the muscles around the urinary sphincter as well and lift up through the vagina (as though you were ascending in a lift). Hold for a count of 6, release with control, then repeat – beginning with 4 sets of 4 reps and working up to 4 sets of 6 reps.

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