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Safety for Pregnant Instructors

Many years ago, while I was pregnant with my second child, something happened that I hope no other group fitness instructor goes through. As I was driving to teach class, I experienced some cramping, but dismissed it. After all, I needed to get to the studio and I didn’t have anyone to cover for me. “I will go to the doctor later,” I thought. However, the cramping became so severe that I was rushed to the hospital. The diagnosis: an ectopic pregnancy. I was hemorrhaging internally, and I lost the baby. Within a few hours, the blood started compressing my lungs and I had trouble breathing. Emergency surgery saved my life. If I had taught class that day, I would not be alive to tell this story.

James F. Clapp III, MD, a pre- and post-natal fitness researcher, advocates exercise during pregnancy. However, he cautions pregnant athletes to be extra aware, because they do not have the same internal mechanisms that nonathletes do to tell them when to stop. Group fitness instructors can be put in that same “athletic” category. It’s important that fitness professionals know how to teach and train their pregnant clients, but also how and when to modify moves and lifestyle choices for themselves. This article addresses some of the top questions pregnant instructors ask.

Heart Rate

Do I need to keep my heart rate at 140 beats per minute?

In 1985, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published its guidelines for prenatal exercise, cautioning women not to exceed a maximum heart rate of 140 bpm (Clapp 2002). Pregnant athletes found themselves in a quandary over these guidelines, since for many fitness enthusiasts 140 bpm hardly qualifies as a workout. In 1994, ACOG made its guidelines less restrictive, but the organization still failed to address the upper limits of exercise.

Current ACOG guidelines suggest moderate intensity, which means being able to talk during exercise (ACOG 2002). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that moms-to-be stay within pre-pregnancy intensity levels and use rating of perceived exertion to measure intensity (Artal, Clapp
Vigil n.d.). Although an upper level of safe exercise intensity has not been established, women who exercised regularly before becoming pregnant and who have uncomplicated, healthy pregnancies should be able to engage in moderate-intensity activities such as jogging and aerobics with no adverse effects.

Abdominal Exercise

Can I do sit-ups?

ACOG continues to recommend that pregnant women not lie in the supine position after the first trimester (ACOG 2011). The concern is supine hypotensive syndrome, where the combined weight of the baby and the uterus obstructs the venous return and decreases cardiac output. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work the core; however, it’s important to remember that since the rectus abdominis is stretched over the uterus, it doesn’t have the same strength it did pre-pregnancy. You can still do a variety of vertical or incline core exercises, and even plank variations, as long as doing so does not cause stress to the back.

The Final Trimester

Do I need to stop working out/teaching during my last trimester?

The answer: Absolutely not. You may continue to exercise and teach; consistency is very important. If you work out three times per week at the beginning of your pregnancy, then you should strive to keep that frequency through each trimester. Your workout intensity may decrease, but you don’t have to compromise frequency as long as the number of workouts is consistent.

What about yoga? If you normally teach more-active classes, do you now need to teach prenatal instead? That depends on the class. There isn’t much research on yoga and pregnancy. Modifications are necessary, and it’s advisable not to participate in a hot yoga class. In Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, Clapp (2002) states that the upper limits of thermal response during exercise are not known. A rise of up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit does not seem to pose a risk. However, while you may be able to keep your core temperature in a safe range, is it worth the risk? Inversions are also not recommended. Pregnancy hormones cause ligaments to relax and put joints at a higher risk for injury (Nordahl et al. 2005). Because your center of gravity has changed, balance exercises may also pose a risk. Yoga has many benefits; it just needs to be modified for the pregnant body. Chances are you can teach many of the exercises without having to do the questionable ones yourself.

To read more about how pregnant instructors can safely continue their careers, please see “Pregnant Instructor FAQs” in the online IDEA Library or in the July-August 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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