Staying Fit While Pregnant
By Kajal Desai, Contributor
Hello beautiful masalamommas! I am excited to share this 3-part blog series, journaling my fit pregnancy through each trimester.
As a bit of background, I’m South Asian American, born in Chicago but raised primarily in Mississippi (cue “what, really?” expression…) and extremely connected to my Desi roots. Connected so much so, that I co-founded Doonya, a Bollywood-inspired fitness company, in Washington, DC 10 years ago as a way to spread awareness of South Asian cultural and health and wellness beliefs. Co-founder, Priya Pandya, and I grew up living very “natural” lives steeped in holistic and ayurvedic practices and filled with music and dance.
I’m sure each of you can relate that as South Asians abroad there is much discrepancy between our views and those “back home” on the importance of health and wellness – particularly exercise – as a woman ages. For the past four years (would have been earlier had I gotten married earlier…), I’ve been asked by numerous relatives and family friends when I was going to stop dancing and focus on starting a family.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge loving support system who truly believes in the mission of Doonya and are all very proud, however, there is still a misunderstanding around my doing this for a living and the importance it has in my life. Once I found out and started to tell close family about my pregnancy, the excitement was often followed with, “now you should stop your classes.”
I’ll admit others’ concerns as well as my age (36 sets of all of the “high risk” alarms) left me unsure of the effect pregnancy would have on my body and my ability to continue teaching my classes, but I was also determined to do what I could as long as I could. So with that, I give you my journey through a fit pregnancy. Please note that everyone’s body works differently! Your fitness level pre-pregnancy determines much of what you will be able to do throughout your pregnancy.
FIRST TRIMESTER WORKOUTS
I was one of those women who knew right away that I was pregnant. At just 4 weeks, I was in New York City at our Manhattan Doonya Studio, going through a new training program. As I went through burpees and planks, I felt little cramps in my side and was noticeably more tired doing exercises that I did regularly. I had only missed my period by one day…but I just knew. I came back home to Houston a couple of days later and picked up a pregnancy test on the way home from the airport.
My husband and I were thrilled – we had been trying for over a year and it was finally happening. About 5 minutes of extreme joy and tears were immediately followed with fear – should I teach my classes this week? What if I do something to cause problems? I started researching online and then I spoke with a couple of OB friends. Even given my understanding of prenatal fitness based on my study and certifications in the field, I was terrified. And then I received mixed answers from doctors with whom I spoke. I decided that the first couple of weeks are tender and it’s ok for my own psychological well being to simply take it easy.
I took the 5th and 6th week of my pregnancy “off” from exercise though I made it a point to go for walks or at least do SOMETHING. I knew that this was a crucial time for attachment and just readying the uterus so didn’t want to be jumping around too much. At week 7 I attended a class taught by a sub to see how my body would handle it without the pressure of standing in front of a class, and around week 8 I was back in action teaching, and hoping my students weren’t noticing my weight gain).
Because some moves in our Doonya program can be higher impact (both feet leaving the ground simultaneously), I did decide to make some modifications. I would simply do a couple to get people going and then show lower impact versions for those not comfortable with or ready for full jumps – which I felt was a better place for me to be as well. Throughout the first trimester, I was careful not to do too many ab intensive exercises, as the abdominal and oblique muscles can tend to become loose and more prone to injury at that time.
I did continue some of my core stabilizing moves to ensure the core remained strong – hopefully to decrease backache as the pregnancy progresses. And finally – squats. Squatting and keeping leg muscles strong is especially helpful to counter the “no bending” and “no lifting” rules of pregnancy. I bend from my knees!
Here’s what a regular week of exercise looked like for me:
Mon: 1-mile walk around the neighborhood (weather permitting) or on a treadmill
Tues: Strength building, low cardio exercises with light weights (5lbs). For upper body and arms, I used some of Doonya’s YouTube videos. Check out this one!
(Example, Lat Lag Gayee: or just general bicep, tricep, and shoulder exercises. Gotta get ready to lift the baby in a car seat!)
For lower body, I would do weight squats and lunges.
Wed: Doonya cardio and strength class. A
Thurs: Prenatal yoga – light stretching and only what felt comfortable. I would tend to get a bit dizzy with any inverted moves, like downward dog so I modified as necessary. Stretching has been great to combat all of the hip and uterus expansion pains!
Fri: 1-mile walk around the neighborhood or on a treadmill
Sat: Saturdays are always busy — I didn’t really have a planned workout that day but just made sure to stay up and active as often as possible.
Sun: Doonya cardio and strength class
So what are the take-aways for first trimester exercise? My pointers are below, but make sure that you discuss everything with your OB first. Every pregnancy is different.
- Use your pre-pregnancy fitness level as a baseline for what you can do during pregnancy. This is not a time to start new things! For those of you who are “trying”, start readying your body and working out now for a healthier and happier pregnancy.
- Listen to your body. You know what is right for you — your intuition is a very strong tool. If at any moment during exercise you feel cramping or shortness of breath, STOP. For added security, where a heart rate monitor and slow down if you see your heart pumping past about 140 bpm.
- Don’t be too rigid in your programming. Exercising during pregnancy is just as much about joy and endorphins, as it is about warding off excess weight gain. Workout for yourself — for your sanity — for your mental wellness. If you’re not smiling or if you’re dreading your exercise, try something new.
- Do SOMETHING. You are NOT as fragile as your aunties or nani may think. Definitely get your rest and don’t overdo it, but stay active in any way that you can.
- Drink LOTS of water. LOTS. My favorite thing to do post-workout is to drink a bottle of water with a pinch of salt and freshly squeezed lemon juice to put back in what I sweat out.
- Again — every pregnancy is different. Don’t compare yourself to your friends — just enjoy what you are doing and be proud that you are being the best version of yourself for your new addition!
Kajal Desai is Co-founder and Content and Choreography Director of Doonya™, a Bollywood-inspired fitness brand. As the mastermind behind Doonya’s curriculum, dance style and fitness formula, Kajal Desai has developed and standardized the technique around Bollywood dance so that it correctly translates into fitness media, classes and training programs.
Kajal’s past life as a Organizational Management Consultant with a Masters Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology plays a role in both Doonya™ team development and training, as well as client engagement and mind-body wellness. Kajal is certified by the American Council of Exercise and has a lifetime’s worth of training in South Asian folk, pop, and classical dance forms, as well as years of training in hip-hop and jazz. Kajal began Doonya™ in 2005 in Washington, DC along with co-founder, Priya Pandya, where her primary role was working with and teaching students age 3-18. After training instructors in Southern California, she is now happily settled in Houston, TX and ready to spread the joy of healthy living and mind-body wellness to the South.
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