This is a post that has been a long time coming, and I’m thrilled to finally be typing it to share with you today! I have discussed this topic in the form of emails and conversations time and time again with friends, members at my Orangetheory studio, and others who are just generally curious about how I participated in high-intensity workouts until 37 Weeks pregnant.
First, I need to address the biggest factor here which is the most important thing to do if you’re considering working out throughout your pregnancy: checking in with your doctor. Every person, every doctor, and every pregnancy is different, and while most recommend that pregnant women continue exercising as normal (with modifications, as needed) throughout their journey to prepare them for labor and postpartum recovery, some will require little to no movement at all if it’s a high-risk situation. So, please make sure to check in with your OB/GYN first and foremost!
Second, I am proud to say that I acquired a new specialization under my Certified Personal Trainer certification through NASM a few months ago, which is the main reason why I am sharing this post now. While I am a certified personal trainer and now specialize in Women’s Fitness (including pre and postnatal precautions and modifications), I’m not your personal trainer, and it’s important to note that what worked for me won’t necessarily be the best routine for everybody. If you have any specific questions or would like more advice on the subject, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
So, what is Orangetheory and why would you want to participate in a high-intensity style of training while pregnant?
OTF is a one-hour total body workout that focuses on building strength, endurance, and power. Each workout is created by a team of fitness professionals at the corporate headquarters in Florida and sent out as the same “Workout of the Day” to every studio across the nation every day. Every class is different, but you can expect cardio and strength training with up to 23 minutes on the treadmills and the rest of the time on indoor water rowers and at a weight station doing a variety of exercises that use equipment like TRX straps, dumbbells, benches, mini bands, BOSU balls, medicine balls, and ab dollies. You are working with a certified personal trainer as your coach throughout the entire hour who makes sure that you aren’t over-training or under-training, and this is also tracked using heart rate monitors.
(You can check out more information on the workout and what to expect at your first visit on my FAQs post!)
While some shy away from workouts like OTF while pregnant, it’s actually the perfect workout for most pregnant women. Not only can you go at your own speed and level throughout the cardio and weight sections of the workout, but you are monitoring your heart rate to ensure that you aren’t pushing yourself too hard. I’ve had many conversations with women who are stuck in the “go big or go home” way of thinking with working out, and that just doesn’t apply while you’re growing a sweet little baby in your belly. When modified and tracked appropriately, OTF is an amazing option to help maintain and build strength and endurance throughout pregnancy.
How To Modify Orangetheory For Pregnancy:
- Realize that your fitness level and speeds will not improve, and be okay with it.
This is HUGE. If you’re pulling back to protect your baby during workouts, it isn’t going to be the time when you’re hitting personal records on the treadmill or lifting the heaviest weights. Your focus right now is keeping yourself and that baby healthy — that’s it!
- Practice the “Address Test”.
This is something that my doctor recommended to me and I used it during every workout. Since you want to be conscious of your heart rate and make sure it isn’t raising too high, I highly recommend using the green zone (71-83% of your maximum heart rate) as your new orange zone and try to avoid the orange/red (84% or higher) as much as possible (i.e. goodbye splat points). Randomly challenge yourself to say your full address out loud
- Reverse your progress as you progress in your pregnancy.
Most people don’t start as runners at OTF. In fact, most start as power walkers and then, over time, progress to joggers and runners and increase their all-out speeds from there. While pregnant, running might feel comfortable at first, but it won’t forever. I completed my first workout while 15 Weeks pregnant, and while I was a runner, I held back on my speeds a lot. Eventually, I bumped down to jogging, then power walking, and then got off of the treadmill completely and became a strider (similar to using an elliptical machine.) Again, everyone is different, but this is the regression that felt best for me.
- Use the bench!
The bench became my best friend during prenatal OTF workouts. It was a bonus if they were already out for the day, but if they aren’t, you can always ask your Coach to help you get one out for you to use.
Trust me, once you have a big belly in the way, the last thing that will feel comfortable is getting all the way up and down during a workout! You can use a bench to modify a lot of exercises that require you to get on and off of the floor including burpees, push-ups, and mountain climbers. Instead of lying flat for an exercise like a chest press on a bench, you can put it at an incline to avoid lying down. Also, I’ve used it at an incline to sit and lean back on it while grabbing onto the top for a modified version of bench v-ups.
- Row until it isn’t comfortable, then hop on a bike or strider.
Rowing won’t bother you at first, but one day it will. Know that you can always opt out of this machine during the workout as long as you communicate your plans with the Coach and there is a spot on a bike or strider for you. Before cutting the rower out, however, there is something you can do to make rowing more comfortable while pregnant. Instead of buckling your feet in the straps at the tightest level, turn your feet out and then tighten to allow your knees to bend to the sides while bringing your arms towards your chest on the row. Also, you can modify your pace and drop your heart rate by lowering your intensity (speed and power) on the rows — and you can see this number on the top right corner of the display screen.
- Decrease or drop the weights.
As I mentioned previously, this isn’t the time to grab heavier weights than normal. Your body is already carrying extra weight, and this is already added resistance. You want to avoid straining as much as possible. That said, consider dropping the weight amount that you normally go for on dumbbell exercises or drop them entirely and opt for bodyweight exercises. Also, be conscious of how you’re picking the weights up. Avoid using your lower back or core and try to put most of the effort in your arms or legs for heavier weights with squatting movements.
- Drop a knee.
You can modify most movements by simply dropping to your knees or one knee if it’s a one-sided movement. I started feeling too much pressure in my stomach after the first trimester to have straight legs on exercises like push-ups, plank holds, and side plank holds or pulses. Going to a knee or two knees helped with the pressure and made me feel a lot more comfortable!
- Slow down on power movements.
Work at a speed that feels good, but also be aware of what your heart rate is doing. It’s probably best to skip advanced dynamic movements like rolling
- Avoid exercises on your back, belly, and twisting.
To piggyback off of the previous point, you’re going to realize just how much you do these types of exercises once someone tells you not to. There’s a reason why these guidelines are in place, so please take them seriously! Lying on your back decreases blood flow to the baby, so this is why fitness professionals and doctors recommend avoiding being on your back all together after the first trimester. Skip anything on the belly for obvious reasons, and twisting can (while unlikely, it’s possible to) move things around that need to stay in place. Avoid any motion that goes from one side of your body to the other and crosses your midline like a medicine ball wood chop. There are always better options for you in these categories, so take advantage of them and ask your Coach for something to do if you’re unsure.
Great pregnancy go-to exercises for anything core related is a modified plank, cat/cow stretch, or bird dogs. You can literally do these in every workout and know that doing modifications is so much better than doing nothing at all.
- Focus on building strength in your glutes and hamstrings.
Why? That final marathon you signed up for during pregnancy called labor. Ha! Seriously though, focusing on strengthening the back of your legs will help you more than you realize during those final pushes. With this in mind, I loved opting for bridges (an exception for being on your back because you’re not stationary) on the floor and pedaling backward on the strider. I would do these options when the floor was a little too intense for me during the end and most coaches will be just fine with that. At that
I could keep going with bullet points, but I’m going to try to wrap this post up with a few closing tips and thoughts.
Bouncing on the treadmill is no joke, y
Avoid over stretching! Your joints and limbs are going to be looser in during pregnancy, so just be mindful of how far you are stretching pre and post-workout. Don’t overdue it!
Make sure to stay hydrated before, during, and after workouts. Pregnancy thirst is real, and while it may be annoying to hit the bathroom mid-workout, it’s worth the inconvenience versus the alternative of being dehydrated and out of energy.
Also, please know that Coaches want to help you! You are never annoying by asking for help on modifications or options for movements. Once you communicate that you are pregnant, they go off of your vibe on how much to correct you. Some members want the help and others want to be left alone. Definitely let every new (to you) coach know that you’re pregnant (even if it’s early) before a workout, and let them know how open you are to receiving feedback throughout the workouts.
Overall, I felt great while working out pregnant. Of course some days were harder than others, but I actually felt better when I moved versus days I stayed stagnant in a chair.
Just like anything else, please listen to your body and do what feels good! If something doesn’t feel right, don’t push it. There is always something else that you can do instead, and if you don’t know what that is, ask!
I hope this post has provided some insight for you, and please let me know any additional questions you may have in the comments section below. I plan on continuing this post with a follow-up on postnatal tips to workout at Orangetheory along with my experience and postpartum progress.
Thank you so much for reading and congrats to you on this journey!
[Photo credit: Jason Roth Photography. Brooklyn/NYC friends — he’s so great to work with! Feel free to message me for more information.]