Exercise & Pregnancy: 10 Tips for Group Fitness Instructors

Don't freak out when a mom-to-be or new mom comes to your group fitness class. Check out these 10 tips to equip yourself with the knowledge to give them a great workout experience.

As a group fitness instructor, the first time you encounter a pregnant women in your class you might freak out. Without the knowledge of how to work with this unique subset of women, you suggest they attend a pre or post-natal specific class and “take it easy”. While this may seem like a good suggestion, the reality is that the majority of pre and post-natal women attend general group fitness classes.

Ultimately, it’s your responsibility as an instructor to educate yourself on how to best serve moms-to-be and new moms in your classes. And while a Primary Group Exercise certification provides a few tips, the reality is that you need to dig a little deeper to really understand the pregnant body.

Here are 10 tips for better serving pre and post-natal participants in Group Fitness classes

1. Know the basics

When a woman becomes pregnant or gives birth to a baby, lots of things are happening to her body, specifically in her pelvic floor. During pregnancy, internal pressure is increased due to the uterus expanding and the baby growing. Many moms-to-be feel pressure on their bladder and pain in their low back due to the shifts occurring in their bodies.

After pregnancy, it’s important to understand that just because a mom has been released from a medical professional at 6-weeks postpartum, it doesn’t mean that she is healed and ready to jump right back in to high intensity exercise. It can take well over a year for a postpartum body to heal from childbirth – whether it was vaginal or cesarean.

2. Pelvic Floor = PRIORITY!

Understanding pelvic floor safe exercises and helping moms-to-be and new moms with specific modifications could set her up to a long life of living pain and symptom free.

During pregnancy and early postpartum, the hormone relaxin is produced which relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis to allow for childbirth. It’s important for fitness instructors and moms to understand that because of this, high impact movements such as jumping or running and heavy-loaded deep squats and overhead presses could cause increased downward pressure on the pelvic floor which could contribute to a lifetime of symptoms such as incontinence and pain.

3. Remember that whole person

It’s also important to consider the whole person. A woman is not defined by her pregnancy. A woman is not defined by how she gave birth. Many pregnant and new mothers participate in fitness activities because it makes them feel great – physically and mentally.

When speaking to women who are pregnant or are returning to exercise after having a baby, we need to take the time to get to know the individual so we can understand her current and previous experience with exercise, any limitations – whether they are self directed or given by a medical professional, and what she hopes to accomplish through participating in our classes.

4. General exercises to incorporate | Prenatal

For pregnant exercisers who have been consistently working out, a lot doesn’t need to be changed at the beginning. In the first trimester, women may feel extremely fatigued and possibly sick, but as long as they have the energy, they could most likely continue what they were previously doing.

Throughout pregnancy, most women can continue their normal routine of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises while being mindful of any pain or discomfort and adjusting as needed.

Even if a pregnant participant comes to our classes and hasn’t been exercising regularly, it’s never too late to start. As long as she’s been cleared by a medical professional, incorporating low intensity exercise just like we would with most other clients who are new to fitness could make a huge impact on how she feels during and after her pregnancy.

5. General exercises to incorporate | Postnatal

For women returning to exercise after having a baby, it is vital that they start slow. Having a baby is equivalent to any other major medical procedure and should be treated as such when returning to exercise to avoid long-term complications.

Beginning within the first month postpartum, new moms can start with gentle stretching, short walks and most importantly retraining their core and pelvic floor to work in sync through specific breathing exercises.

After the 6-week check up, as long as there are no limitations from a medical professional, bodyweight and resistance band movements can be added. Focusing on the muscles that assist the core and pelvic floor in gaining function and control.

Some great bodyweight and resistance band movements to incorporate would be:

  • Glute clamshell
  • Dead bug
  • Glute bridge
  • Squat
  • Single arm rows
  • Rear delt band pull-aparts

Over time, additional resistance, intensity and movements can be added.

6. General exercises to avoid | Prenatal

Once the baby starts growing, going into the second trimester, movements that allow the stomach to hang unsupported (such as planks and traditional push ups with feet on the ground) should be avoided; as the belly grows, any extra downward pressure in these positions could increase the likelihood of developing diastasis recti – or abdominal separation.

Supine exercises are also not recommended without elevating the head. This position can cause increased pressure into the valgus nerve, and cut off blood supply to baby.

Additionally, as the pregnancy progress, high impact movements such as running and jumping can cause a tremendous amount of pressure on the pelvic floor which could lead to pain and incontinence for the mother – both immediate and long-term.

7. General exercises to avoid | Postnatal

The early postpartum period is very similar to late pregnancy in terms of what exercises to avoid. As the pelvic floor and core continues to heal, avoiding front planks and push ups will remain important as most mothers experience diastasis recti to some extent.

Same goes for crunches, sit-ups and high impact movements such as running and jumping. All of these things could exacerbate any symptoms related to diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse and pelvic floor dysfunction.

8. Connect and serve

Finding out what motivates or demotivates our clients and participants is extremely important and pregnant and postpartum participants are no exception. Take the time to learn about their short-term and long-term goals so that you can best coach them not only within your class, but can help direct them to other resources such as pre/postnatal personal training, physical therapy, a nutritionist or any other professionals they may want on her team.

9. Pre-natal is a short blip in time

Pregnancy is such a short blip in the larger picture of our life’s timeline. Some common themes we hear from pregnant moms in the exercise setting is directly related to worrying about gaining too much weight, or fearing what will happen after the baby is born in relation to consistently exercising and weight loss. Fitness professionals can play a supportive role in helping moms-to-be understand that this period of time is so short in the grand scheme of things. There’s a time and place for focusing on weight loss and fat loss if that is an eventual goal but right now isn’t that time.

10. Post-natal is forever

Even though most pregnancies last for 9-10 months, postpartum is forever. Even after the early postpartum period is over, understanding the barriers and challenges that new mothers face including changes in their bodies, fatigue, overwhelm, exhaustion, and potentially depression and anxiety is important.

Many moms come to our classes as a way to do something positive for themselves (…and for a few precious moments away from caring for their children). Meeting participants where they are and helping them get the best possible experience in the few short minutes they’re with us could make a lasting impact on the way someone feels not only physically, but from a mental and emotional standpoint as well.

Knowledge is Power!

As there will always be moms-to-be in our classes, it is recommended that you educate yourself on proper exercise selection and protocols when working with this population.

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