Many of today’s obstetricians promote the benefits of exercise and physical fitness for their pregnant patients experiencing normal, healthy pregnancies. But exercise in the prenatal and postnatal period must be approached with care, making personal training during this time a valuable service.
If you want to become a personal trainer who specializes in prenatal and postnatal fitness, you may be able to secure a unique subset of the personal training business and enjoy a rewarding career as a pre- and post-natal fitness expert.
What are the Benefits of Prenatal Exercise?
As pregnancy progresses, the body begins to undergo a host of physical changes as a way to accommodate the growing baby. More specifically, as the uterus grows, a woman’s center of gravity begins to shift. Further, the pelvic floor takes on additional stress as the baby’s weight increases, and joints begin to loosen in response to hormones. All of these physiological changes make good posture, cardiovascular health, and strength crucial to a healthy and comfortable pregnancy.
Poor posture during pregnancy can weaken the muscles of the back and torso, causing back pain and discomfort during pregnancy. In addition to providing cardiovascular benefits, prenatal exercise strengthens the abdominal muscles, which are needed to support the torso and maintain digestion.
Prenatal fitness is an important component of a healthy pregnancy. Most doctors now recognize that staying physically active during pregnancy allows women to remain low-risk patients, thereby allowing them a wide array of options for labor and delivery.
Prenatal exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. In fact, a 1992 study found that women who showed signs of gestational diabetes were able to lower their blood sugar levels to a normal range simply by doing aerobic exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week.
Further, another research study, conducted by the Family Practice Research Journal, found that mothers who exercised at least 20 minutes a day, at least three times a week for at least 20 weeks of their pregnancy had fewer complications and shorter labors than mothers who did not exercise.
Exercise has been shown to influence a woman’s emotional state during pregnancy, as well. A 2003 study revealed that mothers who exercised during pregnancy reported lower incidences of anxiety, depression, and pregnancy-specific stress while in their first and second trimesters.
Other obvious benefits of prenatal exercise include:
- Back pain relief
- Improved posture
- Improved circulation
- Increased energy and less fatigue
- Decreased insomnia
- Improved postnatal recovery
Types of Prenatal Exercises
Just like any personal training program, prenatal personal training programs are focused on whole body fitness, which includes cardiovascular/aerobic training, strength training, and flexibility training. And like traditional personal training programs, a number of things must be considered to ensure a safe and effective workout:
Cardiovascular Training: Cardiovascular prenatal training can be any type of rhythmic movement of the large muscle groups that increases heart rate, thereby burning calories, increasing endurance, improving stamina, and maintaining a healthy weight. Cardiovascular training for pregnant women is generally focused on low-impact exercises like walking and swimming, although some women may enjoy running, dancing, playing sports, and biking during pregnancy.
Strength Training: Strength training focuses on specific muscle groups. Prenatal strength training may involve the use of free weights, exercises bands, or body weight exercises, such as Pilates. Most prenatal strength training programs focus on light weights that do not require women to strain when lifting.
Flexibility Training: Prenatal flexibility training, which is done both before and after a personal training session, is designed to prevent muscle soreness, promote relaxation, and increase circulation.
Typical exercises aimed at pregnant women include:
- Low-impact aerobics
Prenatal Exercise Considerations
As a prenatal personal trainer, you will want to take a number of things into consideration when training your pregnant clients:
- Ensure that your clients have received written physician approval to begin an exercise program.
- Ensure that your personal training programs address the issue of posture and support for the growing abdomen.
- Focus on pelvic floor exercises to keep the pelvic floor strong and tones.
- Ensure that exercises that focus on strengthening the abdomen do not add excessive pressure.
- Incorporate abdominal breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm and squatting exercises to improve the flexibility and strength of the legs and hips (all of which are used during labor).
- Plan to adjust the prenatal fitness routine to accommodate a woman’s changing physical state throughout her pregnancy.
- Avoid any prenatal exercises that involve lying directly on the back (known to decrease the flow of blood to the baby).
- Encourage your clients to rest as soon as they feel out of breath.
- Exercises that may risk falls and abdominal trauma should always be avoided.
- Encourage your clients to increase their caloric intake based on their exercise program.
- Ensure your clients are staying hydrated throughout the personal training session.
- Do not engage your clients in any exercise that may cause overheating.
- Take care to avoid exercises that may cause your clients to lose their balance. Balance often becomes compromised as a woman’s center of gravity shifts.
Postnatal Training: Personal Training after Childbirth
In addition to personal training exercises aimed specifically at the prenatal client, you may also focus your personal training business on your postnatal clients, as they require specialized training, as well. The postnatal body has also undergone dramatic, significant changes, and clients who have recently given birth must take care to only engage in exercises that take these changes into consideration.
Postnatal exercises, which are aimed at strength training, flexibility training, and cardiovascular training, are focused on improving your clients’ physical and mental well-being while still caring for their healing, postnatal bodies.
Like prenatal exercises, postnatal exercises are generally aimed at light cardiovascular workouts combined with light weight training, both of which are designed to:
- Restore muscle strength
- Firm up the postnatal body, including the abdominal muscles
- Promote weight loss
- Improve mood and relieve stress
- Increase energy level
A number of studies have also shown that exercises following pregnancy may help prevent or alleviate postpartum depression.
How to Become a Prenatal and Postnatal Personal Trainer
Before you can become a personal trainer with a specialization in prenatal and postnatal training, you must complete a course of formal instruction, which is often achieved by pursuing an associate or bachelor degree program and/or a professional certification program:
Degree Programs in Personal Training
An associate or bachelor degree in personal training or a related area of study (exercise science, exercise physiology, kinesiology, etc.) is designed to provide you with an educational foundation in the human sciences, including biology, anatomy and physiology, and kinesiology.
These degree programs also consist of a core cluster of courses aimed specifically at working as a professional in the fitness industry. Typical courses include:
- Analysis of human movement
- Essentials of strength training and conditioning
- Exercise leadership
- Introduction to exercise science
- Physical fitness
Professional Certification Programs
Professional certification programs in personal training consist of a course of study (either online or in-person), followed by an examination designed to assess your knowledge of the many facets of personal training.
Many organizations offer professional certification in prenatal and postnatal training. Achieving specialty certification allows you to begin to promote yourself as a fitness specialist in prenatal and postnatal fitness:
- American Fitness Professionals Association, Pre and Post Natal Fitness Specialist Certification
- International Childbirth Education Association, Prenatal & Postpartum Fitness Educator
- American Council on Exercise, Pre and Post Natal Exercise Certification
- International Sports & Fitness Trainers Association, Pre/Post-Natal Fitness Specialist