It’s 8 A.M., and celebrity trainer Anna Kaiser’s positive energy is almost contagious. Except she’s crushing me with an insanely sweaty interval workout, and all I can think about is getting through the next mini box jump and keeping tension in my resistance band from the ceiling.
It’s easy to see why she’s known for sculpting and conditioning some of the most impressive celebrity bods–she counts Karlie Kloss, Kelly Ripa, Shakira, and Sarah Jessica Parker as clients. This workout is hard AF. And her teaching style of working out with her clients is particularly impressive right now: She recently announced that she’s five months pregnant.
After my workout at AKT In Motion’s NoMad studio in NYC, I sat down with Kaiser for a post-workout snack (compliments of Pure Protein) to chat about how pregnancy has changed her own fitness routine, and what other expectant moms (or women who are trying to get pregnant) should know about having a fit pregnancy.
1. When you’re pregnant, pre- and post-workout fuel is more important than ever.
Before she was pregnant, Kaiser just drank a green juice about an hour before her morning workout, but these days she’ll have a more substantial breakfast to give her more fuel. Working out on an empty stomach isn’t normally going to hurt you, but when you’re pregnant, your body’s already putting lots of energy toward making a baby. Getting something in your stomach before lacing up your sneaks will give you extra fuel and make sure you’ve got enough in you to use throughout your workout. It’ll also help keep your blood sugar levels stable. “This morning, I had eggs and Ezekiel bread, a full-on breakfast, about an hour and 15 minutes before class,” says Kaiser.
It’s important to eat a balanced post-workout snack, too. “After the workout, have a mix of good carbs and protein to help your muscles recover,” says Kaiser. This is smart whether you’re pregnant or not—protein helps rebuild muscle fibers and carbohydrates replenish your muscles’ energy reserves (they get stored as glycogen, which helps fuel your next workout). “[Having a post-workout snack also] gives you energy for the rest of the day so you don’t feel exhausted,” she adds.
2. When you feel too wiped to work out, commit to moving for just 15 minutes—you might find that you can finish the exercise you’d planned after all.
Speaking of exhaustion, it’s a real challenge during pregnancy, even for a trainer. When she really isn’t feeling it, Kaiser says that just getting moving is key.
“One of the things with pregnancy is that you feel so tired all the time, but nothing has helped me more than exercise. Especially during the first trimester, it was really hard to get up in the morning and get motivated. Sometimes I’d just be lying on the floor before a session with Kelly Ripa—her sessions are really hard—and I’d think, OK, I’ve got to get through it, even if it’s just 15 minutes. If you can’t do more than 15 minutes [of a workout], you can stop. And within 15 minutes, I felt so much better and my energy was back. It truly is just getting yourself there, and it makes a huge difference in the rest of your day.”
By committing to just moving for 15 minutes (or 5, or 10, depending on how you feel and your personal goals), you might find that you have the boost you need to continue your workout. And if not, you gave it a shot.
3. Establish a support group and a routine you love to help you get motivated.
Whether you sit at the helm of your own fitness empire or you just have a couple of girlfriends you hit the gym with, finding people to cheer you on during your fit pregnancy can be the difference between getting #UpNOut and skipping your workout. “Having a community that’s looking forward to seeing you show up really helps—this way you feel supported and it’s not just day-after-day trying to get yourself there,” Kaiser says. Make workout plans with friends or sign up for a group fitness class with an instructor you know to help hold yourself accountable to keep moving. “I’m so grateful for AKT that I have something I enjoy doing, because otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. And that’s coming from a fitness expert! I love working out! It was really hard,” she says.
“Getting into a routine with something you really enjoy before you get pregnant makes a big difference, so that you can continue that along the way,” adds Kaiser. While it’s great to mix things up in your fitness routine, when you’re pregnant, falling back on workouts you know you like and can do can help keep you going, whether that’s dance cardio, running, swimming, or any other activity you enjoy and that your doctor says is safe for both you and baby.
4. Focus on deep core work to get ready for the actual birth.
“You have to be really delicate with the way that you’re using your core and your back when you’re pregnant, because everything is starting to compromise [for the baby],” says Kaiser. Your ab muscles naturally stretch out and in some women, can separate from each other, thanks to the growing uterus underneath. Some abs workouts can actually make this worse instead of better. “No six-pack stuff and no fast twisting—that doesn’t happen [in my routine] anymore.”
Rather than focusing on the muscles you can see (like your obliques, upper abs, and lower abs), work on your deep core, namely your transverse abdominis. It’s the deepest abdominal muscle and keeping it strong helps stabilize your core, including your low back and pelvis, says ob/gyn Jessica Shepherd, M.D., founder of HerViewpoint, an online women’s health forum.
During childbirth, a stronger core may make it easier to push, and after the main event, you’ll be better set up for recovery. “The more connected you are to the transverse abdominis and your pelvic floor, the better you’re going to be when you actually go into labor,” says Kaiser. (Don’t forget about those Kegels!) Cut out any crunch-like movement, and instead, really focus on conditioning that deep inner muscle.
To learn how to engage and start strengthening it, try this simple exercise, the TVA release and hold. Inhale and breathe deeply into your stomach, letting it fill with air and expand (rather than breathing into your chest, which should be relaxed the whole time). When you exhale, pull your navel into your spine and hold it for a second. Release it just a little bit and then pull it back in—that’s your transverse abdominis working. “It almost feels shaky, like it’s hard to control, because you’re not used to isolating it that way in small motions,” says Kaiser. Do this either seated on a ball or chair. Kaiser recommends doing three to five sets of 20 reps (count them out loud to make sure you’re not holding your breath). Do these four to six days a week—you can’t really over-do them, she says. For a little extra challenge, try it on all fours with gravity working against you a bit.
5. Be gentle with your body and train smarter, not harder.
“I have to do exercises much slower [now that I’m pregnant], but I really like weighted exercises because I can use my muscles fully and slowly, instead of fast exercises with low weight,” says Kaiser. Focus on form and really make sure you’re engaging the right muscles. She also recommends keeping things low-impact, so no jumping moves like burpees. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also recommends avoiding jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions, because the hormones made during pregnancy may put you at greater risk for injury. One of the major players, relaxin, relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens the cervix to prep for childbirth. The hormone affects the ligaments in the entire body, though, says Shepherd. This means your joints are less supported and more susceptible to injury.
This is where stretching comes in, too. Stretching and mobility work (like foam rolling) are important for any fitness routine, but they’re especially useful when you’re pregnant—plus, it just feels good. “In pregnancy, it is important to stretch because as the uterus grows, relaxin relaxes the uterine ligaments, allowing the uterus and pelvis to expand,” says Shepherd. “Stretching helps prepare for the labor process and can contribute to an easier and safer delivery because the pelvic bones and muscles have been properly conditioned to adjust to a different range of motion.”
Even though your ligaments are more relaxed, you may also experience some tightness in your lower body, says Kaiser, so she recommends stretching out your quads, glutes, and calves. “However, it’s important to avoid overstretching,” says Sheperd, since you may be able to stretch beyond a normally comfortable range and end up hurting yourself. Be conscious of this while you’re stretching, and potentially seek professional help, she suggests. “If you sense pain or injury, stop the activity and go to the doctor.
6. Above all, listen to your body (and your doc).
“Everyone’s different. Some people can dance until they’re eight months pregnant, and some people feel like the need to taper back after the first trimester,” says Kaiser. “It’s all about listening to your body. But I don’t want to get that confused with using it as an excuse to not work out, so even if you don’t feel great that day, just doing a really nice deep stretch and opening up your body is going to make you feel a lot better. You don’t have to kill it. Connect to your body, go for a long walk, be physical, and just keep yourself moving!”
At the end of the day, it’s all personal, so do what feels right for you. For most women, it’s safe to do the same workouts during pregnancy that you did before, but there are some cases in which women might need a modified regimen or to refrain from exercise (this fact sheet from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a lot of helpful information.) You should always chat with your ob/gyn to get the go-ahead and make sure there’s nothing particularly risky when it comes to your pregnancy.
By Alexa Tucker