Third Trimester Fitness and the Elliptical Machine

Alexandra Powell Allred's picture


Dear Fitness Expert,
Is it safe to use an elliptical machine during the third trimester? How long should the workouts be?


The easy answer is "yes" it is safe to use; however, there are a few things to consider. Of course, you must have your doctor's permission to exercise and use this machine before you hop on. Because we don't know your medical history, it is imperative that you communicate with your doctor.

This said, I have a few more concerns:

• Have you been using the Elliptical? Have you used it in the past? I ask because very often women -- pregnant women suddenly realize "Egads! I am HUGE" and get the sudden desire to start exercising. While I love to have pregnant women exercise (as there are endless positive benefits for both mother and baby), it is important to ease into exercise. Just as I would advise any newcomer to exercise, it is important that a pregnant woman move slowly and carefully as she eases her body into the world of exercise. However, if you are already acclimated to cardio workouts, there is far less reason for concern.

• Whether you are acclimated to the machine or not, but DO HAVE medical permission to exercise, it is important that you understand inner core temperature. If you are like most pregnant women, you have been pouring over pregnancy magazines/books and have heard a lot about checking your heart rate. In the past, OB/GYN's do not want your heart rate to go beyond 140.

This is a safe number for women who do not regularly exercise. But more important than this is the rarely discussed inner core temperature. A woman on an Elliptical may keep her heart rate well below 140 but then will stay on the exercise machine for over an hour with the hopes of burning lots of calories. Mistake.

Mistake #1 -- Now is not the time to be thinking about burning calories. If you are wise, you are eating well (skipping the junk) and your body is using all the calories it needs. To think about dieting or cutting calories or burning calories for weight management is not wise.

The purpose of exercise for pregnant women is maintenance for some (who are already in good shape) and/or building muscle, strength and endurance for the big day: labor & delivery. Many women are surprised by how tiring it is to give birth. This is why we have found that the women who exercised during pregnancy tend to have faster, easier deliveries, handle the stress better, are happier, and are more likely to get back into shape after delivery.

Mistake #2 -- and this is the big one. While your heart rate may be low, your inner temperature can be rising to a dangerous level. Though you are sweating and may even have a fan blowing on you, your baby has no ability to sweat. With a body temperature 1 degree Celsius higher than your own and no way to control heat -- you are literally turning up the oven on your baby!

We do not want to see you raise your inner core temperature beyond 101 degree F. I always advise people to bring it down -- sit/relax/get some water - when you reach 100 degree F.

Okay, here comes the part that no one need to buy a rectal thermometer. Once you are on the machine, stop and check your inner core temperature about every 20 minutes. If you are only on the machine for 15 minutes, for example, that is fine. But, still, use the rectal thermometer to check your temperature and write it down. Write down how long you were on the Elliptical and what your inner core temperature.

As you begin to develop a workout routine, always do this and you will be able to track your own body. You may find that there are times when you seem to be hotter than other days. Are you drinking enough water? What is the temperature of the house? What are you wearing? By recording these things, you can make for a better and safer environment for both you and the baby! And ... feel much better while you workout.

The final question -- how long? This truly depends,again, on medical permission but also your conditioning. I have had pregnant clients who could stay on a treadmill, stationary bike or Elliptical for 45 minutes and others who, after ten minutes, needed to bring it down and stretch.

As you begin to write down your inner core temperature and regulate your own body, you will get a sense of what feels good and what is too much. But I would also urge you to do light (free) hand weights with a workout. Beyond the cardio, you want to build strength. If you have access to a gym, talk to a trainer. You want to be sure your form is correct. This greatly decreases risk of injury -- pregnant or not. But if you are working out at home, make sure someone is around for the first few workouts sessions. Finally, drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will help cool your body, keep your muscles pliable (less likely to pull or strain) and keep you strong.

Good luck and be sure to let us know if you have any more questions as you begin a routine.