Monitoring Training During Pregnancy
What should my heart rate be?
How much weight is too much?
What can I do to monitor myself?
These are the million dollar questions for monitoring training during pregnancy. However, there is no one-size-fits-all model for training throughout pregnancy and the initial twelve months postpartum.
Tools we use for nonpregnant bodies are no longer relevant. Numbers and percentages fall under the masculine energy umbrella, and pregnancy asks us to step more into our feminine energy. “Don’t lift more than 25lbs,” or “Don’t exceed a heart rate of 140 bpm,” are both huge misconceptions that have been passed down one to two generations within our American culture.
The average weight of a car seat is 11-25 lbs. The average weight of a newborn is 5.5.- 9.5 lbs. And, it is rumored that the average weight of a handbag is around 5.5 lbs. On day one of a child’s life, the newly postpartum person is already lifting more than 30 lbs, and the child is only going to grow. Parents need to have a base level of strength so that they can get to appointments and classes on their own because that SOLO PARENTING is a real thing.
Heart rate is not a reliable measure of safety, health, or fitness. And we have not found any noteworthy research suggesting to keep a pregnant person’s heart rate at, or below 140 bpm. In fact, no one truly seems to know where this recommendation started. In 1994, ACOG (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) removed the recommendation to keep heart rate less than 140 bpm because it was found that tracking heart rate during exercise was not effective; however, many ObGyns and Midwives around the United States are still in the practice of heart rate recommendations.
In nonpregnant humans, there is around a 15-30 bpm individual variation in heart rate due to genetics, age, training type, training volume, and lifestyle (nutrition, sleep, stress, and hydration). So, even if you are a coach working with nonpregnant clients, we recommend using more than just heart rate to monitor the effectiveness of exercise. When a person becomes pregnant, their body adapts and their blood volume expands by 30-50%. Therefore, their heart rate may increase 10-20 bpm. Early in pregnancy, the heart rate will increase. Mid pregnancy (after 20 weeks), mom’s exercise heart rate will decrease but her resting heart rate will stay elevated. The last 10-12 weeks of pregnancy, it is difficult to elevate the heart rate during exercise of a pregnant person that has been training, as her body has adapted and continues to become more and more efficient.
We get that some people like to monitor their heart rate as they have trained this way prior to pregnancy. If you are using heart rate, please be mindful to use numbers as one source of information as to how you or your pregnant client is feeling and not the only source of insight and checking in with your client.
So, how do we monitor?
It’s all about FEELINGS and SENSATION. A journal is our best friend, or notes on our iphone. Pregnancy calls us to embrace more of the feminine energy. This means letting go of numbers and percentages. This means listening to your body daily, or encouraging your client to do the same.
- How do you feel upon waking up?
- How do you feel prior to a workout?
- How do you feel during a workout?
- How do you feel after a workout?
- How many kicks do you feel by baby 30 minutes after workout for a 30 minute period?
Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
Borg’s scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion comes up a lot in our conversations and programming. This shifts the perspective from “You should be doing this percentage,” to “I want this to feel like this for you.” This encourages pregnant people to tune into their own bodies, to take ownership, and make decisions and act on them. Within our programming, you will find that we use Borg’s RPE when we are talking about conditioning or general movement or flow sessions. Common phrases we may use are, “this flow session ideally feels like 12-14 RPE or 60-70% of your overall rate of perceived effort,” or “these intervals may feel like 16-18 RPE (80-90% of your RPE) but recovery needs to feel like 8-10 RPE.”
It is a little more difficult to relate RPE to load, but we still utilize SENSATION & FEELINGS. Therefore, language is very important. We utilize phrases like, “we want this load to be something you could do 10 reps of comfortably,” or “this load is something you could do 4-5 reps for five sets,” or, “we only take 3 lifts we are confident we can make today.”
Please do not use language like, “one rep max,” or “you should be doing 70% of your previous,” or “let’s squat at 70%,” or other phrases that put the focus on numbers and/or a previous chapter in the pregnant person’s life.
We are training for birth. This means mind, body, and soul. We are in season training for birth; we are not modifying the workout on the board or the regular routine you or your clients have been accustomed to. We train all energy systems, in all planes of motion, and focus on five of the ten physical skills in our strength and conditioning training. As we have mentioned before, birth is full of unknowns. We do not know if it will be three days or five hours. We do not know how long pushing will be. We do not know what positions will feel great in early labor versus active labor versus pushing stage. This is why we train all planes of motion and all energy systems. We want you/your clients to have full access to and deep confidence in your/their bodies.
We do have some general recommendations:
- Strength and Conditioning 2 days a week.
- Two rest days a week.
- Walk one mile minimum daily.
- Move freely and/or embrace active recovery and/or massage and chiropractic care and rehab care or kinstretch or yin yoga on non training days.
Founder & CEO@lindsey_k_mathews