Now that your doctor has Okayed your decision to exercise, you should be aware of some basics before starting on your regime. Though pregnancy is not an illness, your body is different from the pre-pregnancy days and exercise basics apply more now than ever. For instance your heart rate and blood pressure rise faster at the start of the activity when you are pregnant then when you were not pregnant. Therefore a well-planned warm up and cool down session are important for anyone who works out but becomes all the more essential for the pregnant exerciser because demands of pregnancy are different.
Every exercise routine must contain the 4 basic elements as outlined above. You will need to include them when you perform cardiovascular exercises i.e. walking, aerobics, swimming etc. which are popularly practiced by pregnant women who exercise. Here’s a brief overview of these basics:
Warm ups are basically to work up slowly to exercise, and it is an important element. Warm up is especially useful now given that the pregnant body is more prone to injury and poor balance. A warm up ensures exercise is safe as the heart and breathing rates climb gradually. Both a warm up and a cool down give your heart and respiratory system time to accelerate to and decelerate from a workout. It further lubricates the joints and warms up muscles. Warm ups should be similar to your chosen exercise but done slower and with less vigor. For instance, if you are swimming you may want to warm up by moving your legs and arms around in the water before easing into your workout. If cycling is your workout for today, try brisk walking as a warm up. Take more time for the warm up if you feel the need to.
A tip if walking is your thing: A few minutes of warm up (say 5 mins) prior to the workout and about 4 minutes of stretching afterward and whatever walking you can cram in between.
Similarly for cool down sessions you will need about ten minutes to come down from a workout and it is equally vital. Once you are done with the core exercise, you will need to ease back into the rest mode. The aim is to gradually decrease the level of intensity as your heart now will take longer to return to the resting mode. You cannot just suddenly stop a workout as you not only create tense muscles but the blood that has been pumping around in your heart, lungs and working muscles can suddenly pool in your lower extremities (legs) causing you to feel light-headed - a cool down routine prevents this from occurring. As with a warm up, during your cool down session you will need to perform the core exercise but at a lighter pace i.e. slower and with less oomph. So if you are walking, end the session with a slower walk and some arm and leg movements. On the other hand walking also serves as an ideal way to cool down from most exercise.
To be fit you need to exercise regularly and with effort, but you should not feel pain if your workout is regular. Don’t overdo the activity - pain will only put you off exercise.
Hydration & Fuel
If you choose to exercise during pregnancy you need a lot of fluid. Drink plenty of water and eat right. Being pregnant and exercising will enhance fluid needs further. You not only burn calories but also use up a lot of fluids when you exercise, thereby creating a need for replenishment of both water and food. Dehydration can lead to preterm contractions and preterm labor. It is therefore very important to pay attention to hydration and fuel. The number of calories you take in and the number you burn need to be taken into consideration - top up where you have to. Also, don't exercise when you are hungry; snack an hour before you workout or workout about 2 hours after a meal. Where liquids are concerned, drink enough without filling up just before you start. Keep a big bottle of water handy and drink every 15-20 minutes to keep yourself hydrated. The key message is to drink frequent and eat sufficient.
Once you are done with the cool down session, you can move on to stretches. Routine stretching is advisable now that there are many hormonal and physical changes to contend with. A few minutes of stretching will help loosen stiff joints, lessen the chance of injury and help your body to return to pre-exercise state. You need to stretch right after you finish your workout to prevent sore muscles tomorrow. The biggest plus is stretching will lengthen muscles and make them more flexible. This will equip your body to perform exercises better as your muscles are more fluid. Did you know the hormone relaxin (present from the second week of pregnancy till postpartum) makes our body very flexible now than ever before, but that does not mean you can overdo physical moves, including stretching. Push your body too hard and you may sustain injuries. Stretching or rather gentle stretching is recommended by most experts before and after any aerobics or resistance training. Feeling tension as you stretch is normal, but not the pain. The rule of the thumb is to ease into the stretch and only push into the position enough to feel the stretch, and no further.
Difference between pain and sore muscles: Pain happens when you push limits. Soreness happens when working muscles have never been worked before or have not been worked for a long time.