Pregnancy and Group Exercise: empowering moms-to-be in your classes
I’ll be the first to admit that when I started teaching Group Exercise, I had NO CLUE what I was doing. After being in the business for over 10 years, I am still finding that I’m constantly learning new things about my classes as a whole, my participants as individuals and myself as an instructor.
With that said, I’d like to take a stroll down memory lane, back to 2006 when I first began my Group Ex teaching career.
As a long-time student of Group Exercise, I knew I enjoyed taking a variety of classes. I felt like I had great form and technique as a participant. Understanding musicality and 32-count phrasing? No problem at all. I loved the atmosphere, the enthusiasm, the energy and the camaraderie in a group class. In my mind, as young, newly certified instructor with all of these things already in my back pocket, I felt confident I was going to rock this new gig.
Then I taught my first class.
It was a 45 minute core-focused class. I had taken over for an instructor who taught it for years. The group was comprised of mostly women between the ages of 20-50. As I was anxiously in the back of the room organizing my music and notes in preparation for that first class, a participant came up and introduced herself to me. She said she was a new member of the gym and she was excited to get back into taking classes regularly.
She also told me something else: She was pregnant.
Remember all of that stuff I said earlier about feeling confident as a new instructor? At that moment, my confidence immediately plummeted. Pregnant? Core class? Oh crap. Deer in headlights. Silence.
I had no clue how to direct this woman on how to modify the movements to meet her needs. I went into panic mode and let her know that I was also brand new and this was my first class as an instructor. I recommended that maybe she start off with going for a walk or perhaps she should check out a water aerobics class instead of staying for my class. She left without saying a word, clearly disappointed in the entire experience. I never saw her again.
Since then, I’ve had countless moms-to-be privately let me in on their pregnancy before class. As group exercise instructors, we’re normally among the first to know when a woman is pregnant; sometimes moms let us in on this secret before they even tell their closest family members and friends. Also since then, I’ve made it my personal mission as an instructor to not only become better educated on how to modify movements for all stages of pregnancy and postpartum, but to be an advocate for all moms and moms-to-be by providing an empowering experience within the group.
85% of women in the United States will have a baby at some point in their lives. With a majority of our Group Exercise participants being women, a high percentage of those women will either: 1) be pregnant or 2) have had a baby. As Group Exercise instructors, we are doing a huge disservice to a large population of our participants by not knowing the basics of how to best serve them in our classes. We don’t have to be experts in every sub-population with unique needs. We do, however, need to know the basics of how to best coach and guide everyone to have an excellent exercise experience.
How to empower moms-to-be…
Here are a few ways on how we can better empower moms-to-be in the group exercise setting:
First, don’t be like me. Or I guess I should say don’t be like I was. Give advice within our scope of practice.
As group exercise instructors, we’re privileged in that our clients trust us by discussing their private concerns and needs with us. We’re obligated to serve them as best as we can within our scope of practice. When a mom-to-be pulls us aside at the beginning of class and tells us she is pregnant, simply responding with “I am so glad you told me!” is a great first step.
It’s a good practice to avoid connecting any positive (congrats! you must be so excited!) or negative (oh goodness, sorry to hear about that) with any health-related concern, including pregnancy. Why? At this point, we likely don’t know how she actually feels about being pregnant. She could be elated, but she might not be. Until we gather more information, staying neutral and supportive is important.
Make sure her doc has given the ok.
As instructors, it should always be in our practice to check in that a medical professional has cleared mom-to-be for exercise and ask if any modifications or limitations have been discussed.
Understand the modifications
Next, there are some general recommendations on movements to incorporate and avoid for the pregnant population. By saying general, I mean SUPER-GENERAL. This is not a comprehensive list of absolute exercise to do and avoid:
- Pelvic tilts (think: cat/cow in yoga): Encourage moms to focus on lifting and tucking the tailbone while squeezing the glutes. This allows for flexion and extension of the spine while encouraging movement in the hips/pelvis.
- Glute bridges: Glute strengthening is extremely important during pregnancy to help stabilize the pelvis. A great modification is to use a mini-band around the knees for added resistance.
- Squats: Functional movement at it’s finest, especially during pregnancy. Practicing squat variations throughout pregnancy can help a mom prepare for birth through strengthening and maintaining mobility in the lower body which is essential during birth. As pregnancy progresses, it’s important to modify squats by adjusting the resistance and stance to reduce additional downward pressure on the pelvic floor.
And some to avoid
- Planks and push-ups after the first trimester: Pregnant women are VERY likely to experience diastasis recti (abdominal separation) to some extent as the baby grows. This is totally normal! But floor-facing movements such as planks and push-ups cause the belly to hang down without support. This creates a lot of stress on the core and pelvic floor and could increase the separation.
- Repetitive jumping and high-impact movements such as running as pregnancy progresses: Many women can physically sustain higher-intensity exercise throughout the duration of their pregnancy, especially if she was very active prior to getting pregnant. But having the endurance to complete such workouts are one thing; preventing future, life-long issues are another. Repeated high-impact movements during pregnancy can cause an immense amount of stress on the pelvic floor and can cause both immediate and long-term problems for moms such as low back pain and incontinence.
Every pregnancy is unique, as is every mom who takes our classes. Encourage participants to seek out additional resources such as working with a personal trainer who specializes in pre/postnatal exercise.
As instructors, it is vital that we take the time to get to know moms on an individual basis; to understand her challenges, needs and goals so that we can empower her throughout this stage of life.
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. Make sure to check out our Educational Directory for courses specific to pre/post-natal group fitness.