Eight years of training elite female athletes proves what research shows – exercise benefits pregnant mothers
By BUDDY HUTTANUS
2020 is coined the Year of the Woman, and female athletes are part of the movement. While women have been breaking barriers on and off the field for years, until recently, many professional athletes thought that they had to put their career on hold to have a family. Science simply does not support the myth that healthy women should not workout before, during, and after pregnancy. Women’s bodies are resilient and capable of high performance even after such a significant life event.
My career has been shaped by working with elite female athletes over the last eight years, helping them physically prepare their body for what their sport demands. Most recently, I was lucky enough to be part of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) during their journey to their fourth World Cup victory. Many of the former and current players on the USWNT are mothers - continuing to perform at the highest level. Within my role, being able to understand what pre and postnatal athletes need is imperative. While all mothers may not be elite athletes, they still have to perform in a variety of ways on a day-to-day basis, much like an elite athlete. Research indicates that creating a healthy plan to stay active during the prenatal period, as well as a return-to-activity plan during the postnatal period, has immense benefits for the mental and physical health of new mothers.
Historically, strict guidelines were established for expectant mothers; however, as evidence for the benefits of exercise during and after pregnancy grew, these guidelines changed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has been a leader for establishing these guidelines and refers to the latest research available. Recent scientific evidence supports the positive effect exercise can have during the pre and postnatal periods. Research has shown that mothers to be who exercise can have: (a) reduced risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery, (b) healthy weight gain during pregnancy, (c) improved overall fitness, and (d) shortened recovery time from pregnancy. With a variety of benefits, here are a few tips to help expectant mothers start a healthy and safe exercise routine while pregnant and after.
First, establish a routine that is efficient and can be easily accomplished. ACOG guidelines recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise during pregnancy. This time commitment may seem like an unreachable task during a hectic week. However, setting aside short 20-30 minutes sessions five to six days per week- consistently, can build a great foundation for fitness. Also, if finding time is a persistent problem, look to add shortened workouts of 10 to 15-minute blocks multiple times throughout the day. These workouts can serve as a quick work break, build fitness, and create healthy habits. Next, prioritize what exercises are the most important. During the pre and postnatal periods, building strength in core and pelvic floor muscles is extremely important for labor, delivery and recovery. Expectant mothers should engage in core stabilization, specifically working the transverse abdominis while also focusing on the pelvic floor. These muscle groups are a good starting point for a prenatal exercise program. As postpartum begins, every woman will have a different level of base fitness. Therefore, it is best to consult your primary care physician prior to beginning any new fitness regime.