It is not difficult to acquire good information about prenatal exercise that is specific to aerobic and muscular endurance. Almost anytime you pass a magazine stand you're likely to see a caption referring to what's new in exercise for this special population. In fact even the non-trade publications seem to go to great lengths to assure that the information they're printing is current and accurate.
With respect to prenatal resistance training, however, the information is limited. Once a woman becomes pregnant it may be difficult for her to find approval for beginning such a program. Therefore this article offers a different perspective on exercise and pregnancy, a philosophical perspective focusing on when a woman should train for this important time of life. It is not within the scope of this perspective to address specific exercise prescription.
I often discuss exercise programs with women who suddenly become motivated to begin exercising when they first learn they are pregnant. Although they're somewhat apprehensive, I encourage them to feel at ease with an appropriate prenatal program because research supports this idea. Furthermore, it has been established that exercise during pregnancy can result in benefits1. My position, however, is that women should train for pregnancy before becoming pregnant. Then the prenatal classes could be more appropriately used as part of a maintenance program throughout gestation.
Pregnancy is accompanied by substantial physiological and morphological changes: increased metabolic rate and heat production, as well as decreased cardiac output, A-VO2 difference, and proprioception have been reported 3,4,6,8,9. Because of this, prudent modifications of the guidelines for designing a general fitness program have been suggested for women who have no complications during pregnancy 2. Further modifications should be considered, even to the point of curtailing the program, for women with certain medical or obstetric conditions 1.
In summary, what we've learned from the research is that it is all right, even beneficial, to
exercise during pregnancy. The suggested modifications are simply a way to contend with the natural limitations of the body. The key phrase here is natural limitations of the body. Wouldn't it be more wise to train prior to conception when a woman would be free of any limitations?
At the risk of arguing semantics, I have substituted "exercise" during pregnancy with "training" prior to conception. The concept of training more clearly defines intent. In terms of pursuing an objective, the elite athlete training to overcome the opponent is similar to the average individual training to overcome the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It is this establishment of the objective that leads to the development of a prescription of exercise specific to the endeavor or event.
Likewise, a pregnant woman faces continual physiological and morphological opposition throughout her pregnancy. Wouldn't a training program specific to preparing for these changes seem logical? In addition to the philosophical aspect of "training" versus "exercise" is the even more important issue of intensity.
A specific training program infers work at a greater intensity. Granted, the research now suggests there is no indication that pregnant women need to limit their exercise intensity 1. However, intensity usually refers only to the cardiovascular consideration. It seems rather imprudent to ignore the question of intensity for resistance training. I would hope that competitive athletes do not assume they can continue their normal resistance training intensity during pregnancy.