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Due to its high-intensity nature, women may question whether it’s safe to continue interval training while pregnant. There’s a theoretical concern that intense prenatal exercise may shunt blood flow away from the fetus for periods long enough to impact growth and development. But, with interval training, the duration of intense exercise is short and allows for a recovery period. This avoids a sustained period of reduced fetal blood flow. Keep reading to find out more about practicing interval training while pregnant—and how to do so safely.
Consider the different types of interval training.
There are many different types of interval training, from HIIT to variations in running sprint work. But for the most part, they all encompass short, alternating bursts of intense exercise that last approximately 20-30 seconds depending on the intensity. It’s followed by a period of lower intensity exercise or rest. Interval training can be built into a running, walking, cycling, or stationary exercise equipment exercise routine, or any activity that you can easily modify the intensity. Just include several sessions each week where you do sets of short, high-intensity exercise, followed by a recovery period. The number of sets and ratio of intensity to rest that you choose is up to you and your fitness goals.
Monitor your exertion levels.
No matter what type of interval training you perform while pregnant, you’ll need to monitor your exertion level carefully. According to Maura Shirey, RN, CPFE, and owner of Bodies for Birth, interval training while pregnant is at the heart of the Bodies for Birth fitness program. Her instructors modify the routine to fit each client’s level of fitness and ability. Their program includes low-impact, moderate intensity intervals, using a progressive model that uses equal effort to rest ratios. As the student progresses, the number and duration of intervals are increased. Shirey says, “At Bodies for Birth, interval training is intentionally designed to mimic the effort needed for labor and delivery. We use interval training to help women prepare the mind and body for the effort needed during birthing.”
Shirey suggests pregnant women learn how to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion 1-10 scale (RPE). Generally, pregnant women should maintain a moderate level of exercise intensity of four to five on the scale for their sustained cardio exercise. With interval training, the limit shouldn’t exceed six to seven.
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Shirey stresses that safely maintaining interval training while pregnant consists of two key points. Keep your exercise intensity in the safe RPE zones. Secondly, monitor yourself for signs that your exercise routine is becoming too difficult. As with any activity, the harder you work, the higher the risk of injury, especially if you don’t pay attention to your body’s signals.
Stay mindful of how your body feels.
A 2016 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine offers encouraging data regarding the effect of intense exercise on pregnancy. The researchers found that there’s strong evidence that high-intensity exercise doesn’t appear to increase the risk of premature birth, forcep-assisted birth, vacuum deliveries, and/or the need for a cesarean section, or C-section. The babies of women who exercised at more vigorous levels during their pregnancy weighed less (and were less fat) than those of non-exercising moms. But they were still within normal limits. The authors caution that pregnant women should think “maintain, not build” regarding their exercise routine. They should also pay close attention to physical symptoms that may signal that they’re overdoing it.
Symptoms That Your Exercise Routine Is Too Hard
- The onset of discomfort or pain
- Weakness, shakiness, or dizziness
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Profuse sweating and flushed skin
- Feeling unwell
- Abnormally rapid heartbeat
- Feeling drained and exhausted after exercise
Also, if you aren’t gaining weight at the rate that you should be, or the growth of your fetus doesn’t measure within normal limits, check with your healthcare provider about whether you should continue with your exercise routine.
Tips For Safe Interval Training While Pregnant
- If you’re new to interval training, consider working with a prenatal fitness certified trainer. They can help you develop a program that’s safe for your level of fitness.
- Avoid doing interval training every day. Limit it to two to three non-consecutive days a week.
- Warm up with five to ten minutes of low-level cardio exercise before you start interval training while pregnant.
- Avoid pushing to the point where you’re straining to do the exercise.
- Hydrate before, during, and after interval training. Always have a snack on hand in case your blood sugar level dips.
- If your balance is compromised, avoid movements that make you feel unsteady.
- Avoid anaerobic interval training while pregnant. That level of intensity will take you past the six to seven RPE range and is too high for pregnancy.
- Switch from higher impact exercise to low or no impact if your routine is causing discomfort or pain.
Always clear your exercise program with your healthcare provider. Although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant women take part in an exercise program, some conditions make exercise during pregnancy unsafe.
As pregnancy progresses, most women will need to make exercise modifications to enable them to continue interval training safely. Modifications include: lowering the intensity level of the intervals, reducing interval duration, and increasing the rest period. If signs of exertional intolerance continue even with modifications, interval training should be discontinued. Maura Shirey feels that at 37 weeks, most pregnant women should ease up on their interval training so that their bodies are well-rested and ready for labor and delivery.
Once you ease up on exercise, you can continue to give time to your mental health with meditation. Aaptiv has meditation classes on a wide variety of topics.
How Can I Modify My Interval Training?
- Reduce the intensity of your intervals. For example, if you’re doing 30 seconds of running at a fast pace and a steep incline on the treadmill, you can reduce either the speed or the incline (or both) to the point that brings your RPE in the six to seven range.
- Increase your recovery period. If your usual interval ratio is 30 seconds of exercise followed by a 60-second recovery, double the recovery period, or extend it even longer, if needed.
- Change up your interval training mode. If running becomes too difficult for intervals, try fast walking, or switch to a stationary exercise machine, like a bike or elliptical.
- Reduce the number of intervals during each exercise bout. If you’re finding that you’re unable to stay in the six to seven RPE range or recover during the rests, cut back on the number of intervals that you do.
- Incrementally reduce your intensity on each consecutive interval in a stair step fashion. For example, if you’re doing running sprints, reduce your speed each following interval by ten to 15 percent.