Workin when the beat drops.... what you need to know about pregnancy fitness and hypotension
June 20, 2016
(Definitely NOT a real doctor... but I have played one on TV!)
Let's talk about one of the more common pregnancy symptoms that rears its head in your first trimester, (and sometimes before you even realize you're pregnant), low blood pressure.
A quick refresher- your blood pressure (BP) is the measurement of how efficiently blood can pass through your cardiovascular system (heart, arteries, and veins). It is recorded with 2 numbers, systolic blood pressure (the top number/ how much pressure is in your veins when your heart contracts) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number/the pressure in your veins between heart contractions). Your average BP will be 120/80.
As you know already, with pregnancy our bodies store more blood for our growing babies. Your heart will work harder to pump the blood, and your circulatory system (arteries and veins) will expand to allow the blood to pass through quickly, courtesy of the hormones progesterone and aldosterone. This will cause both numbers of your blood pressure to decrease. The expansion of your cardiovascular output allows your blood to pass more freely through your veins to deliver blood cells, nutrients, oxygen, and other good stuff to your growing little one.
Now, hypotension (Low Blood Pressure) is only dangerous when you start experiencing symptoms. In most pre-pregnancy cases, mild hypotension is actually a good thing, meaning we are in good cardiovascular health. If you were in great shape before you got pregnant, you probably had mild hypotension without any issue.
However, now that you're pregnant, you may be experiencing some of the following not-so-fun symptoms:
Fatigue (even. more. fatigue.)
"Orthostatic hypotension" (dizziness when standing)
Difficulty concentrating (as if "baby brain" wasn't enough!)
Fortunately you have options. I've trained a lot of clients who feel dizzy in the first trimester without any issue, and there are lots of precautions and modifications you can take while exercising. (With all of these recommendations, please take them only as a suggestion and stop exercising if your doctor or body tells you otherwise!
Avoid getting up too quickly
This is a big one. Orthostatic hypotension (dizziness when standing) can be extremely uncomfortable, but it's easy to remedy. (This may begin before you know you are pregnant, as it was for one of my students.) When you're ready to get up from a seated or laying down position, take an inhale. Rise as slowly as you can while focusing on breathing out deeply. (I've found that closing my eyes can also help when it's particularly bad.)
If you can, avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time. Take little walk/ stretching breaks if possible to prevent blood from pooling in your lower body.
For exercises like squats, lunges, inchworms, (and really any exercise that requires a change in head positioning), make sure you are doing deep breathing, exhaling as you come up. If it's too much, skip them all together and stick with machines until you're feeling up for more movement.
Drink lots of water
Staying hydrated can increase your blood volume. Keep your water bottle handy at all times, and especially while exercising. (We need about 12 glasses of water daily anyway.)
Stash some salty snacks in your bag
Sodium can increase your blood pressure, (please be careful if your doctor is concerned about high blood pressure), which will get things pumping along faster if you need it. A handful of salted nuts, an electrolyte drink or product (LOVE Shot blocks!), can go a long way if you're feeling dizzy. For more on what to keep in your gym bag, please go here)
Modify your routine
If you're exercising on your own, try to keep your exercises in the same area of the gym or in the same position. For example, keep all standing exercises in the same circuit, keep to a group of machines that won't require much walking in between them, or hog a dumbbell or two if you have to. As much as I normally don't love machines, I've found that they are a great substitution for leg workouts when my clients are struggling with hypotension symptoms.
Heat can cause your blood vessels to dilate and exacerbate low blood pressure, resulting in dehydration, dizziness, and fatigue. Now, this is a no-brainer for pregnancy, but you really need to keep your core temperature in check when you're working out. If you're taking group classes (more on this here), make sure you are near a fan or proper ventilation. Wear loose, cotton, and comfortable clothing when you train and scale it back on hot days. (This is also why we skip hot yoga and saunas when we're pregnant.)
I hope this helps! If you have more questions on first trimester fitness, low blood pressure, or pregnancy fitness in general, please either leave them below in the comments section, shoot me an email, or join the conversation on my Facebook page.
For more on low blood pressure, please visit the following sites: