The Power of Exercise: A Guide to Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness

By Katelyn Darkangelo

Pregnancy is such a beautiful time in a mother’s life that can elicit so much excitement and joy! With that excitement may also come some nervousness or fear, especially as a first-time mom. This phase of life is new and foreign, so we shouldn’t expect ourselves to have all the answers right from the start. It’s a journey and it is totally normal to feel a little scared the second those two pink lines appear on the pregnancy test!  

One area that seems to produce a lot of fear during pregnancy is exercise. Which makes sense! We are physically carrying our baby inside our body, so we want to make sure that any way we move our body is going to keep baby safe.

In the past, knowledge was limited regarding pregnancy and postpartum exercise. Although there is still so much room to grow in the field, there’s one thing that almost everyone can agree on: exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your baby.

In this article I want to highlight reasons why exercise is the best thing you can do for you and your baby before, during and after pregnancy.

Let’s dive in!

(image above of Katelyn, her husband and adorable baby girl)

Why Exercise Is Important Before Getting Pregnant

The year or so leading up to your pregnancy is actually one of the most important pieces of the exercise puzzle! Exercising on a regular basis for a few months (or more) before your pregnancy helps establish two huge foundational pieces:

  • You’ll get to know your body. When you exercise without the added layer of pregnancy, you’ll get to know your limits. You’ll know what feels heavy for you, what feels intense for you, what correct form feels like, what feels wrong and what feels right. You’ll have a base foundation of exercise to pull from once you do get pregnant and that’ll make navigating your pregnancy workouts that much easier and safer!
  • You’ll get in the habit of exercise. A body in motion stays in motion. If you establish an exercise routine before getting pregnant, you’ll be more likely to continue exercise throughout your pregnancy. I cannot overemphasize this point! Habits are everything – especially throughout a time of constant change (like during pregnancy!).

So, if you’re planning on becoming pregnant soon, start following a workout program now so you can get to know your body and get in that habit of exercise!

Why Exercise Is Important During Pregnancy

People who don’t experience the benefits of working out themselves often incorrectly label pregnant women as “selfish” for working out during pregnancy. I know I was called that dozens of times on my Instagram page during my own pregnancy. They think we do it purely for aesthetic reasons, when this is far from the case. There are three main reasons, that are not aesthetic or weight related, as to why working out during your pregnancy should be a top priority for you:

  • Better overall pregnancy experience

Studies have shown, on average, that women who exercise during pregnancy generally experience more energy, better sleep, improved mood and less aches and pains. I can attest to this myself, and my in-person and online pregnancy clients have said the same!

Often when our bodies are in pain, we think that staying away from the pain will make it subide, when in reality, it’s the complete opposite! We need to move our bodies to help decompress nerves, loosen up tight muscles, realign joints that might be off, and so much more. Additionally, maintaining muscle strength through pregnancy is especially important. The hormone relaxin literally relaxes all the joints & tissues in our bodies, so strong muscles are essential to pretty much holding us together!

  • Prepares your body labor

When we exercise during pregnancy, especially when we add in labor prep exercises in the third trimester, we set ourselves up for our best chance at a smooth labor! Of course, there’s no way to ensure a perfectly smooth labor, but there are things we can do to at least prep for the best odds of a complication-free birth. Certain strength movements and labor prep exercises help by:

  • Balancing the pelvis so our babies can find an optimal positioning for birth
  • Having your baby engage with the cervix to help get labor going
  • Stretching the perineum for a reduction or prevention of tearing during birth
  • Establishing mobility, flexibility and muscular endurance to hold different positions and to get into different positions during labor

Preparing your body for labor through exercise also serves us mentally, as feeling prepared for something often helps us feel less scared and more in control of our circumstances!

  • Stronger postpartum recovery

 When you exercise during pregnancy, you get to know your body. You know what feels right, you know correct form and you know how your body should move. This will help you tremendously during those early postpartum days/weeks as you get back to exercise! Our bodies often feel foreign postpartum, so having a previous experience with exercise will help you navigate your way back to your “normal” quicker.

In addition to this, the muscle-mind connection we develop during our pregnancy workouts will help us recover our core and pelvic floor postpartum. Part of a good pregnancy workout plan focuses on breathing, alignment, and deep core + pelvic floor work, so when you already practice these foundational steps, you’ll have a head start on knowing what you should be doing postpartum for your safest and strongest recovery. 

Why Exercise Is Important Postpartum

A lot of women might feel the need to start a workout program after having their baby exclusively to “loose the baby weight” or to “bounce back,” but that should not be the goal of a postpartum workout program. Maybe an awesome side effect, but not the main focus. A postpartum-specific recovery program, like my FIGR:Postpartum subscription, should focus on these components:

  • Reestablishing connection to your core and pelvic floor through breath work and deep core exercises
  • Progressively building back to functional movement that mimics everyday tasks and beyond
  • Reducing or eliminating postpartum-specific pain and/or symptoms, especially as it relates to the core and/or pelvic floor

Exercise, therefore, is one of the most crucial components to helping you live a functional, strong and pain-free life post-baby. Because when you’re at your best, you can be the best you can be for your family! And that’s what it’s all about.

Every woman has differing interests and experiences with exercise as they enter into the pregnancy and postpartum stages of life, but the one thing that remains true for all of us is that exercise can be one of the best things we do for ourselves and our body as we go through constant change.

If you are in either phase of life and are looking for a structured and safe way to navigate through your workouts without the guesswork or fear, simply subscribe to FIGR:Pregnancy or FIGR:Postpartum!

And while you’re rocking your workouts, make sure to grab Raskana’s leggings and tops! I can’t wait to get pregnant with baby #2 just so I can try them out.

(image above of Katelyn during her first pregnancy)

Katelyn Darkangelo

Certified Pregnancy and Postpartum Strength Coach

FIGR Founder, Co-Owner and Trainer

Instagram: @katedarkofit  @fitisgettingreal


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