Women's fitness

Should you exercise when you are pregnant?

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The experience of having a baby is an emotional roller coaster ride. From the excitement when you first found out that you are expecting a baby, to the creeping thoughts of what will happen to your body during and after the pregnancy, it is a journey filled with intense trepidation.

For us women, it is understandable that we are concerned about how our body would inevitably be changed by the pregnancy. Some of the most common questions that gets asked are, “Can I still work out?”, “Is it bad for the baby?”, and “Will my body ever be the same after pregnancy?”

My answer is, if you want your muscles to recover quickly after pregnancy, you’ll have to use them and strengthen them (wisely of course!) throughout your pregnancy. The benefits are manifold: you can avoid stretch marks, cellulite, loose skin, improve your posture, and reduce body aches just by following a sensible exercise program.

 

BENEFITS OF EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY

If you keep active during your pregnancy, muscle memory will help you to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight quicker. If you’re not physically active before you got pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before you start. If you always have been active, continue to stay active!

Exercise elevates your endorphin levels, which will make you feel better and happier as your body adjusts to new changes. You will have more energy, and less pregnancy-related symptoms such as swelling, back pain, constipation, urinary incontinence, and varicose veins.

Your postpartum recovery will be quicker, and getting back to regular exercise will be easier. However, you should note that there is no one-fits-all exercise plan for pregnant women. Training with a professional who is certified in pre and post-natal exercise programing is essential.

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Pregnancy exercise tips:

  • Have an exercise routine and try to stick to it, it will be better for you and your baby.
  • At every trimester, the way your body reacts to exercise will change, so it is important to adapt to those changes by modifying the intensity and the exercises.
  • After your second trimester, avoid staying too long on your back when exercising.
  • Drink 1 cup of water every 15 minutes of exercise to keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
  • Remember to exhale on the efforts of each exercise to keep the oxygen flow to your baby.
  • Avoid all contact sports completely!

After pregnancy, the uterus shrinks approximately one centimetre every day. In 5 to 6 weeks, it should go back to pre-pregnancy size. At this time, it is important for the new mom to start strengthening the inner core muscles. Getting rid of that mommy’s pooch, unless you do deep inner-core concentrated exercises, will be a tough challenge.

Getting back to regular exercises should be done slowly and only after the doctor’s permission. You should start with basic core strengthening exercises, working the pelvic floor, and focusing on your posture, balance, and stretching.

The author Tsvety (left) is a mother of a toddler, and a strength training coach at UFIT.

The author Tsvety (left) is a mother of a toddler, and a strength training coach at UFIT.

COMMON POST PREGNANCY ISSUES THAT CAN BE CORRECTED WITH EXERCISE


Abdominal Separation

For many women who has just given birth, abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti) is a common concern. Avoid crunches and twisting moves. Your post-natal trained fitness coach will be able to prescribe a series of exercises to effectively activate your core muscles correctly, to help bring your abdominal muscles back to normal.

Urinary Incontinence

60% to 80% of women injure their nerve endings when giving birth, which damages the pelvic floor muscles and affects the ability to control the bladder. Pelvic floor exercises such as pelvic tilts can help to alleviate the condition, as well as helping to relieve back pains. You should also consider Pilates practice as a highly effective form of exercise to strengthen the deep core and pelvic muscles to to reduce the risk of post-pregnancy issues.

Post-partum Depression

Exercising after birth can also decrease the incidence of post-partum depression. Getting fitness into your daily routine is one of the the best mood stabilizers for new mums. Finding a little bit of me-time in your busy day is important. You can’t take good care of your family if you don’t take good care of yourself first.

*To learn more about pregnancy related health and wellness issues, check out UFIT Clinic's 4-week Pre-Natal Program where our team of women's health experts including physiotherapists, massage therapists, pilates instructors, and personal trainers teach expectant mums how to stay happy and healthy during pregnancy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Tsvetelina Ivanova is a Personal Trainer at UFIT, and a mum of a 2-year-old toddler. Specializing in strength training, plyometrics and metabolic conditioning, Tsvety has a keen interest in improving mobility, functional training, and Olympic lifting.

Tsvety can assist anyone who is looking to improve their strength, body composition, and overall fitness level. She is known for her patience and encouragement with clients new to strength training, and her tough and motivating approach with clients who are looking to take their fitness to a higher level. Also known as the "wedding trainer", Tsvety has helped many brides look their best on their wedding day by creating an effective personalised training plan for each client to achieve their goals before their big day.

Why women should strength train (part 2)

Strength training for women - that very term often conjures up images of women looking like male bodybuilders, or hard-core weightlifting workouts that turn your biceps into blocks of steel.

Here is Part 2 of this two-part series following Part 1, where three of our female trainers from UFIT Orchard share their views on strength training for women.

What are some great strength exercises for women

Anna Melman, from Israel

Long gone are the days when women wore jazzy pants and did aerobic classes for hours to get in shape. Women in this century now embrace their curves with strong shoulders, a great set of glutes and robust back muscles whist walking tall towards the weights area, once unfamiliar to our gender. 

Men want biggest chests, but women on the other hand want a better bum (gluteus). That's easier said than done because squats will build a nice set of glutes only if they're active. If the glutes aren’t firing up, other muscles such as the quads would compensate and do the work for you. Once you've engaged your glutes properly, be prepared to feel the burn in every single squat.

The perfect squat for great glutes

  1. Make sure your knees are shoulder-width apart

  2. Place arms in front and engage your midsection and upper back

  3. Keep your weight on your heels

  4. Push your glutes behind and sit down, slowly making sure your midsection is engaged. If you can sit below parallel then go ahead, and if you can’t then find that sweet spot where you are still holding yourself upright and feeling your midsection (braced core)

  5. Drive up with the heels, thinking about your glutes as you ascend and stand tall

And over to the chest, bench presses don't make your boobs smaller and if you want a Pec-tacular chest then ladies listen up - you need to add bench presses into your regime. Since the chest is such a large muscle area, training it will burn more calories than training smaller muscle groups. 

Brilliant bench-pressing for a great chest

  1. Adjust your bench in-line with the bar at around eye-level and lay down on the bench (imagine lying down with the bar directly over your eyes)

  2. Find the lines on the bar and make sure both your hands are in similar position, I like to use the “one thumb rule” (thumb on the line and once in perfect position lock that thumb around the bar)

  3. Pick up the bar from the rack and place it in front of your body with straight arms. Move the bar over your shoulders with your elbows locked and press your shoulder blades onto the bench ensuring your chest is upright

  4. Lower the bar to your mid-chest whilst keeping your elbows close to your body and keeping your forearm vertical.

Moving up the body, a great way to build solid shoulders is the military press (shoulder press). It’s a simple, easy to learn movement that allows for the safe lifting of heavy weights.

Stronger shoulders with shoulder presses

  1. Start by placing a barbell around chest height on a squat rack, grab the barbell using a pronated (palms facing forward) grip. Make sure to grip the bar wider than shoulder width apart and use the lines as a guide, aiming to keep the vertical forearms perpendicular to the ground

  2. Unrack the bar and place the barbell on your collarbone. Push the barbell upwards, incline with your body and lower bar down

  3. Always make sure your core is engaged throughout and locking out at the top to ensure stability of the bar

And finally - for the entire body - the deadlift is the king of all workouts, and when done right it doesn’t isolate but incorporates every single muscle group in the body, repeat after me; every single one of them!

Deadlifting blast for the entire body

  1. Whilst standing hip-width apart, move closer to the bar until your shins come in contact with it

  2. Reach forward with your arms, engage your core and reach out for the bar below, it should be within the lines of the bar

  3. Making sure your shoulder blades are retracted and your core is still engaged, pick the bar up whilst moving the bar long the body without breaking the flow of the bar, moving from A to B in a straight line

  4. Stand up straight and ensure your neck is in-line with the spine lower down the bar, pretending you are shaving your legs and never want to miss a spot, whilst keeping every posterior chain muscle tight and engaged

 

What I love about working on strength training with my female clients

Devina Pronolo Tan, Singapore Powerlifting Champion, Mum of Tobi, aged three

Most females who are not familiar with strength training come to me with the mindset of just losing weight. But as time passes by, they discover something else (on top of losing weight). They realise they're getting stronger, despite being at a lower body weight, and they no longer limit themselves to the light dumbbells and they actually aim to be stronger. 

They feel empowered and begin to understand that strength training is about being healthy, and the number on the scale is not the only thing that matters. I get text messages from my clients telling me they receive compliments from their family members, friends and partners that they look better. I truly hope that words will get around - being strong is a necessity for all women!

 

My own strength training

Terri Forward, from the UK

I remember my first experience of walking into the free weights room at my local gym and feeling completely intimidated, looking around this definitely didn’t look like somewhere I belonged, but thankfully I didn’t let that stop me. After years of relentless cardio and back-to-back exercise classes, strength training finally gave me the key to a fitter, leaner, stronger me. Since then I’ve never looked back. 

For my own strength training I typically try to schedule a minimum of three sessions a week. I love to incorporate different equipment which adds variation and a fresh challenge, such as the kettlebell, resistance bands, battle ropes and the exercise ball. 

I typically build in big compound moves (deadlift, squat), functional exercises that translate to real life (like a kettlebell suitcase carry) and unilateral exercises to ensure I challenge my core stability and address muscle imbalance to prevent injury (dumbbell single-arm shoulder press)

Proper form and technique are crucial as this ensures I work the intended muscle groups that I want to develop and grow. Trying to master the deadlift has been one of my more recent feats and is one of the more difficult lifts to learn. I'm feeling my body grow stronger and more efficient as the exercise difficulty and weight load have increased which gives me a huge sense of achievement.

Why women should strength train (part 1)

Strength training for women - that very term often conjures up images of women looking like male bodybuilders, or hard-core weightlifting workouts that turn your biceps into blocks of steel.

Take a look at our fabulous female Personal Trainers from our UFIT Orchard gym - who, along with their clients do regular strength training - and have toned, feminine bodies.  In Part 1 of this two part series, here’s what Tsvety, Jasmine and Ellie have to say about the effect of strength training on the female body, health and mind - balanced out with the way a male sees it all (thanks Nathan Williams). 

 
UFIT Orchard Female Personal Trainers,   L to R: Ellie Halse, Anna Melman,  Devina Pronolo Tan, Jasmine Danker, Eunice Chiu (Community Manager), Tsvety Ivanona.

UFIT Orchard Female Personal Trainers,  L to R: Ellie Halse, Anna Melman,  Devina Pronolo Tan, Jasmine Danker, Eunice Chiu (Community Manager), Tsvety Ivanona.

 

WhAT ARE THE BENEFITS FOR WOMEN?

Tsvety Ivanova - from Bulgaria, mum of Isla aged 16 months

It lowers body fat - When you do strength work your body composition will change and resting metabolic rate will increase which will burn more fat

It increases physical strength - You'll be less dependent on others. Nothing makes me feel more invincible than picking up my own stroller in one arm, child and diaper bag in the other and going down a flight of stairs. As you get older, that strength will keep you independent and able to take care of yourself for longer

It improves athletic performance and increases energy - You'll be stronger, more powerful and faster in any sport you do, but not just that. Doing things around the house or with your kids will be much easier. The daily chores won’t feel nearly as tiring and you will feel much more capable

It reduces the risk of injury Just ask most of my runner clients how much less knee pain they’ve had after strengthening their glutes. Weight lifting not only builds stronger muscles but also builds stronger connective tissues and better joint stability

It decreases the risk of osteoporosis It's been proven that to stop, reverse and prevent bone loss you should add strength training to your workouts. It protects bone and muscle mass.

It decreases the risk of diabetes Your body may improve the way it processes sugar, which could reduce the risk of diabetes 

It improves mood and fights depression The best stress relief in my opinion is smashing a strength training session. Strength training releases endorphins that naturally make you feel better.

 
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What are the myths?

Jasmine Danker, from Singapore

There are so many myths! I’ve heard it all since I picked up my very first dumbbell when I was 15:

  • Don’t lift anything more than 3kg! Your arms will get massive.
  • Don’t train legs or you’ll develop thunder thighs.
  • Don’t do over your head to heavy or you'll get bulky
  • Only run on the cardio machine and do a lot of abs.

I once believed all this malarkey and it hindered whatever benefits I could have gotten if the people around me told me the truth about strength training, but it's never to late to discover it yourself. This is what I still hear:

"I don’t want to have muscle I want to be toned" - There isn’t a difference between both; being toned or defined only means you have low enough body fat so your muscles can be seen. Therefore the less fat you have covering your muscles the more toned you are, and the fatter you are the less defined you will be. So to get toned you've got to build some muscle, and to carry less fat around your body, strength training obviously can do just that! Boom !@#!

"Bench presses will make your boobs flat" - Every woman’s dream body happens to be a six-pack and maintaining their chest size thanks to all the fitness/bikini models on social media (roll eyes).

What actually causes breast reduction is extremely low body fat. Your breast tissue is mostly fat and any chest exercise won't cause your body fat to dwindle low. As long as you keep eating enough. The American Council on Exercise says that "10 to 13 percent body fat is the minimum amount you should have to be healthy, so a percentage of 10 or more should keep your breast size normal”.

"Muscle will turn to fat if you take a break from lifting" - Both are made up of very different types of cells that have different functions. The muscle cells simply shrink when someone stops exercising after a long period of time to conserve energy. The reason behind weight gain is failing to adjust their food intake to compensate for their decrease of caloric needs and continue to devour the same amount as when they were lifting.

"It’s dangerous". Everything is dangerous, walking in heels is way more dangerous then weightlifting, but we still do it. The benefit outweighs it all and if you want to learn the proper technique on lifting we are here at your service! 💪🏾

 
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What do we mean by strength training?

Ellie Halse, from the UK

Strength isn’t just a physical state, it's also a mental state. Strength can be defined as being able to withstand a force, and for a lot of women that can mean a lot of different things. I believe it's best explained by if you feel strong you are strong. 

Strength training for females has so much variety!

1. For lean muscle and endurance: 
Use lighter weights and higher reps - and perform high numbers of the same movement.

2. For hypertrophic muscle: 
Add weight, decrease reps - for a mixture of endurance and strength.

3. To get big bursts of strength for short periods: 
For pure strength/power training, increase the weight and do smaller rep ranges (1-5).

In short, there is something for every woman out there. Woman also hold their strength differently to men. We're able to build lower body strength much easier than males, however having less testosterone males will build bigger muscles much easier than females. 

Thankfully today more and more women are strength training than ever before and at UFIT Orchard our team of powerhouse women bring their own style of strength training to the floor, whether it’s for the perfect booty, lifting heavy, or movement efficiency.

 
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We’ve heard from the women - hear it now from Nathan Williams

Over the past five to ten years there's been a huge change in the mentality of strength training by females. 

Within the fitness industry I believe this trend was popularised by the amazing female physiques forged by the ladies of the world's most popular fitness company CrossFit. CrossFit has made female strength training sexy and achievable. This trend is now mainstream and all good coaches know that to get your female clients a lean and athletic physique - of different degrees - that strength training is absolutely essential for training success. 

UFIT has always attracted slightly more females than men in terms of clients (around 50-55%) and this  seems to be even higher at our new Orchard location - the women really are taking over the gym floor! 

Ask any coach, there's no better feeling when your female client is rocking relatively big weights with impeccable form and the whole gym can't help but stop, look and says “Wow!” No ego, just consistent progress, hard work and long term dedication to getting stronger and better.