Fit and Pregnant: Oxymoron?

This post appeared in the Huffington Post on February 3, 2014

Imagine a pregnancy with fewer mood swings, a speedy, easy labor, and fitting into your pre-pregnancy jeans soon after birth. Although this may sound too good to be true, these are actual benefits of exercising while pregnant, not to mention the benefits to your child, such as building a stronger immune system. So why aren’t more expectant women working out? Over 75 percent of pregnant women do not follow theAmerican Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG’s) recommendations, even the most minimal like walking 30 minutes several days a week. The likely culprit: media misconceptions on what is safe during pregnancy sensationalizes pregnant women running marathons or lifting weights.

Such was the case for Lea-Ann Ellison, a CrossFit professional who’s photos of her bench pressing while pregnant caused such a controversy that even Ron Burgundy had something to say about it.



In spite of what the media propagates, health experts, personal trainers, and doctors all agree that a fit pregnancy is safe and highly encouraged, so lets talk about the best ways to get you moving.

Inside Lea-Ann’s CrossFit world

The key to a fit pregnancy is personalization: while you may see some expectant women running marathons, its important to understand that these women were doing so before their pregnancy, thus their bodies are used to it. Working with an experienced trainer who knows your body and history is a good way to develop a custom workout plan. Ty Vincent, owner of CrossFit Sunset, was Lea-Ann’s first CrossFit trainer, and was surprised by the social media frenzy her pregnant pictures had created: “It’s not a surprise that she would continue to exercise while pregnant. She did it while she had her other two children as a figure model competitor.” Ty advises consulting your doctor and finding a good facility where you can get personalized, one-on-one training.

Pregnant women are often considered “delicate,” so it may be jarring for some people to see them breaking a sweat in a fitness class. Aimee Lyons, owner of two CrossFit facilities, published an article on her blog about her pregnant clients doing CrossFit with similar pictures to Lea-Ann’s photos; however, that blog post did not create the same firestorm. But Aimee is excited that Lea-Ann’s photo caused a stir: “Hopefully it brought it more to the forefront in the fitness community that this is safe to do. I think that people’s perspectives of what pregnant women are capable of and able to do will change.” But what exactly are pregnant women capable of, and how do we know how much is too much?

Do pregnant women push themselves too much?

Three out of every four pregnant women don’t get enough exercise, and “bride to baby” celeb-trainer Jenny Skoog agrees that pregnant women don’t push themselves hard enough. One of Skoog’s articles discussed how her clients ran half marathons while pregnant and delivered healthy babies. Says Skoog: “Some doctors instruct their patients not to push their heart rate above 140 bpm. Others say to continue doing what they’ve been doing prior to becoming pregnant.” But chiropractor Dr. Chris Niedzinski cautions that it’s possible for women to push too far. “Long duration exercise is not encouraged (marathon training), as it can be damaging to mom and baby in many ways. However shorter, high intensity exercise is very beneficial and newest research here is proving that.” Although fitness trainers can provide great advice on safety and proper technique, deciding what is too much and what is just right will ultimately be up to you and your doctor.

 EXCLUSIVE Online storm rages after 8 1/2 month pregnant mum post photo of her weight lifting.

The doctor’s advice

Here are five top tips on a fit and healthy pregnancy, from Dr. Draion M. Burch (aka Dr. Drai), who is not only an OB/GYN, but also the President of The National Osteopathic Medical Association:

  1. Do what your body knows, whether athlete or novice. Dr. Drai has heard patients discuss Lea-Ann’s photo. He recalls: “If she was doing it before at that level, then it’s safe, within constraints and in moderation. But if you were not exercising and strength training like that beforehand, you shouldn’t start then.”
  2. Aim for 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 days a week. Dr. Drai recommends a consistent workout schedule, as he states that being fit “helps with backaches and other common pregnancy problems like constipation, bloating, moodiness, and low energy levels. Many pregnant women have problems sleeping, and exercise improves sleep as well.”
  3. Drink plenty of water and up your calorie intake, in order to accommodate both you and your baby, as well as your energy expenditure during workouts.
  4. Be mindful of changes in your body. He cautions: “If you experience increased shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, muscle weakness, early contractions, or anything like your water breaking, stop exercising and call your doctor immediately.”
  5. After your first trimester, avoid exercising on your back or in hot weather. These two factors can induce contractions and dehydration.

Media misconceptions

Although both fitness experts and doctors mostly agree that working out while pregnant is safe, the media, as demonstrated by Lea-Ann’s case, still perpetuates so-called ‘dangers’ of exercising while pregnant. Author and Founder of BeFit-Mom Helene Byrne has accumulated over 30 years of knowledge in pre/post natal exercise. About Lea-Ann, Byre comments: “I think it’s really important for people like us in the fitness industry to be able to say, ‘Look. This is what we know from exercise physiology…if you are adapted to this physical form of exercise, it is safe to continue.’ For her, if you look at her photos you see a perfectly neutral pelvis. And those are the things that make it safe… she is able to maintain a perfect technique.” Next time you read controversy on pregnant fitness, remember people just aren’t used to seeing a pregnant woman bench press. Byrne’s position is that it is safe to continue training, with adjustments. Continuing or starting your fitness routine means a fit baby, which means your child will be much less likely to be one of those kids who gets the recurring ear infections or is constantly sick. Bottom line: fitness during your pregnancy gives your baby a healthy head start in life.

The mindset of fit mothers and free will

Despite media misinformation you may come across, we can conclude that fitness trainers, health experts and doctors all concur that exercising while pregnant is a must. Not only is it a must from a health standpoint, but perhaps it’s also, for us women, a civic duty. Dr. Carla Lundblade, celebrity clinical therapist to the stars, comments that the controversy over Le-Ann’s photos “makes me question some of the more archaic views of pregnancy and what we think women are capable of doing”. Lundblade continues: “Le-Ann followed what she felt was best for her baby and herself and her fitness level and the result was completely fine.”

Lea-Ann made choices about her health, her life, her baby’s health, and the end result of that story is that she has a beautiful, healthy baby. Pregnancy is an individual quest and we all make choices that we believe are best for ourselves and for our children. We’re all ultimately responsible for the outcome of these choices.


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