Listening to Your Body – The Key to Prenatal Exercise

I’m often asked, “What’s the most important thing to do when working out prenatally?” and my answer is always the same.  No matter what your goal, no matter what your previous exercise history is, no matter what state or stage you are in during your pregnancy, the most important thing you can do is listen to your body.  Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten how.

“Listening to our bodies” has been trained out of many of us.  From going on diets to abiding by strict workout routines (i.e. x number of reps, x number of sets, x times per week) prescribed by personal trainers, even to working out with DVDs – when we follow external cues for being healthy, our inner sense of, “this is right for me, right now,” gets quieted.  That inner sense, drawn from the deep wisdom of the body, knows what it needs – to ignore it would be to our detriment.

We’ve all heard messages from our bodies loud and clear.  Realizing we haven’t been honoring our bodies after the fact is easy – it usually comes with a straight-forward, not-easy-to-ignore  physiological response.  Perhaps lack of sleep caused you to be irritable.  Maybe you moved something too heavy and pulled your back.  Or you could have eaten something that caused major indigestion.  The body doesn’t joke around, and it is happy to let you know when you haven’t been treating it respectfully.

So the questions then become, “How do I reactivate my ability to tune into, and honor, my body’s wisdom?” and, “How do I prevent the negative responses in the first place?”

Thankfully, the body gives us messages (positive and negative) while we are in the middle of doing things.  It floods us with Oxytocin when we gaze into a loved one’s eyes.  It gives us a feeling of strength and energy when we are doing the right amount of activity.  It sweats, saying, “More water, please.”  Your muscles feel fatigued when the body needs rest.  Your stomach grumbles lightly when it begins to get hungry.

The trick to hearing these messages while working out begins with the intention of listening to them.  Slow your mind down, turn inwards, and take a little inventory.  For example, while walking or jogging, ask yourself:

  • What’s my energy level?
  • How do my joints feel?  My back?
  • Am I sweating a lot/ do I need a sip of water?
  • Am I too pooped to exercise today?  Can I increase my workout a bit?
  • Is it too hot to exercise?
  • Am I exercising out of guilt or inspiration?

If you feel any pain or discomfort, then STOP.  I don’t care how much you worked out just yesterday, what your trainer said, what you read in a book, or what the very fit pregnant lady in the DVD insists you can do in your prenatal workout – if your body doesn’t feel up to it, then it isn’t… and you shouldn’t do it.  At least, not today.

Finally, a great tool for monitoring your workout is a modified version of the Rate of Perceived Exhaustion Scale.  The way it works is, instead of having you measure something like heart rate (which is variable during pregnancy and therefore is not a reliable tool) it has you compare how you are feeling in the moment to various states that you are most likely already familiar with.  See the scale below:

Modified Rate of Perceived Exhaustion (RPE) Scale

1 Sleeping
2 Being awake
3 Light exertion (typing, eating)
4 Strolling
5 Moderate walking or exercise
6 Moderately Intense walking or exercise
7 Intense walking or exercise
8 Very intense exercise (speed-walking, jogging)
9 Extremely intense aerobic activity
10 Adrenaline-driven action (running from a burning building)

During most prenatal workouts, you should aim to stay between a 5 to 7 for 30 minutes per day (you can split the time up if one shot feels like too much).  When pregnant you should never go to a 9 or 10.

I hope you found this to be helpful.  Feel free to comment and let me know your tricks to listening to your body’s messages when you are doing your own prenatal workout!

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