Pregnancy-Friendly Treadmill Tips

Guidelines for staying safe while fitting in your prenatal cardio workouts.

shutterstock_136846844_SneaksTread700.jpg James Michelfelder

The last thing you need to do when you're pregnant is intimidate yourself right out of a fitness routine. Sure, you want to keep yourself and your growing baby as safe as possible during pregnancy. But there's no need to put your gym membership on "suspend" status while your bun is baking. Barring medical conditions that prevent you from exercising, you can, and should, maintain a prenatal fitness routine for the duration of your pregnancy—as long as your doctor or midwife agrees.

There's no easier piece of equipment to use, or customize to your fitness level, than the treadmill. Whether you end up running or walking, the goal of the treadmill workout is to help you get stronger for yourself and your baby, says Kirsten Higgins, a personal trainer and group instructor specializing in prenatal fitness at Prestige Fitness in Chicago. It comes down to feeling good and boosting energy levels as a mommy-to-be.

Running during pregnancy is definitely safe, says Erica Ziel, a personal trainer and founder of Knocked-Up Fitness prenatal DVDs. But if running doesn't feel right, it's time to walk instead. You are you own best monitor, so if your pace starts to feel like too much, then lower the intensity to something more comfortable for your body.

Here are some tips and tricks on how to get the most from the treadmill while you are pregnant.

Tip #1: Use the Talk Test Say a few words out loud to measure your exertion. Yes, you might look like the crazy pregnant lady at the gym, but people will probably just assume you're singing along with your iPod. The important this is that you'll be monitoring yours, and the baby's, safety.

"The best way to figure out if you aren't working hard enough, or if you are working too hard, is to imagine someone running or walking next to you," Ziel says. "Ask yourself if you would be able to converse with a few words." If you can't, then you are short of oxygen, which means baby is too. Or, if you can stroll around and converse with ease, then you probably need to pick up the pace. The results of this type of assessment vary day to day for every woman, so always check in with yourself via your breathing.

Tip #2: Choose incline over speed. Boost your intensity by increasing strength, not endurance.

If you are that runner or walker who misses the intensity of your pre-pregnancy workouts, try increasing the incline of the treadmill instead of the speed. Ziel says that you will not only be getting cardiovascular benefits, but you will also be strengthening your legs. Even better, you shouldn't feel as much of a pull on your ligaments around the hip flexor area if you use the incline more.

Tip #3: Get some support for your bump. When aches and pains ensue, turn to the belt solution.

"Wear a belly band to help take some weight off around the ligaments and give the back and belly more support," Ziel says. You can find maternity belly bands at many retail stores like Target. The bands may not be the most fashionable items, but your body will thank you.

Tip #4: Use your pre-pregnancy workout stats as a baseline for progression.

Because treadmill exercise is different for every woman, it helps to use your past fitness levels to gauge your new plan.

You most likely won't want to power through a long treadmill session the way you used to now that you have your baby bump, so it's best to recalibrate how you use your time. Ziel recommends you scale back the length of your actual workout, yet increase your warm up and cool down time. That way, you can fit in a good amount of movement, but without the exhaustion of too much intensity.

Tip #5: Hang on to the railings. They offer support for women trying to balance a baby bump.

The incline is fine as long as women hold on to the railings of the treadmill, says Samantha Barrionuevo, a personal trainer at Miami Total Fitness. The combination of the frontloading baby weight and the incline could lead to imbalances while walking or running. The bars are meant to help keep you stead; if you are hanging on for dear life, it's time to lower the incline and speed to safer levels.

Tip #6: If the talk test isn't for you, use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Rate different levels of exertion on a scale to keep yourself on track.

"If you have a scale from one to 20 with 20 being the most intense and one being nothing at all, you want to be between 12 to 14," Barrioneuvo says. You have to know yourself and how your body feels at each stage for the RPE to work correctly.

Tip #7: Keep a water bottle at the treadmill. Hydrate throughout your workout to avoid overheating.It's important to keep your body temperature cool during pregnancy, and water definitely helps accomplish this goal. "Dehydration is the number one cause of premature labor, so make sure to keep drinking while you're on the treadmill," Barrioneuvo says. "If you can't walk while you drink (no shame there), then just step off the treadmill or slow down your pace."

Tip #8: Stretch, but not too far. Stretch after your warm up and again after your cool down.

It's always a good idea to stretch, but do so with care and awareness. While you are pregnant, your system produces a hormone called relaxin, whose job is to prepare you body for birth by loosening some of your muscles, ligaments and joints. This can make it easy to overstretch, so be aware of your limits.

Tip #9: Hug baby while you run or walk. Strengthen your abs with a simple breathing exercise.

Take your hands to your belly and exhale deeply and "hug" the baby with your abs (transverse abdominis). Higgins says you can literally say "Ha!" to feel the muscle contracting up and in. "See if you can find that hug with baby while you are walking," Higgins says. "Simultaneously strengthening the core will make for an easier delivery with less back pain."

START NOW: Get our easy-to-follow prenatal treadmill workout (which can be used throughout your pregnancy, and beyond!).

—Maggie Young

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