Does This New Book Take Exercise During Pregnancy Too Far?

A pregnant woman flips a tire. (Brandi Dion/De Capo Lifelong Books)

Advice to pregnant women up until the 1960s was to put their feet up and take a load off until the baby was born. We now know that exercise is one of the healthiest habits a mom-to-be can practice for both herself and her precious bundle. But can you take a good thing too far?

A new book, "The Pregnant Athlete," depicts a woman with a serious baby bump flipping truck tires, swinging large hammers and leaping over barbells. One routine shows a very pregnant woman doing deep squats with a barbell pressed overhead and another shows a woman who looks to be near her due date lying on her back doing a series of stretches - two positions that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also known as ACOG, warns aren't generally recommended for women in late pregnancy.

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Brandi Dion, a certified CrossFit coach who, along with her exercise scientist husband Steven Dion, wrote the book, said the program isn't intended for exercise newbies.

"We wanted to show women who are already in great shape that they can maintain a high level of fitness during pregnancy," Dion said. "I would not recommend doing any of this if you aren't already doing it."

Though the authors promise the book will teach you "how to stay in your best shape ever before, during and after pregnancy" right on the cover, Dion insists the programs aren't meant to be prescriptive.

"We were not trying to design workouts for pregnant women. We were just documenting what I did during my two pregnancies," she said.

Dr. Raul Artal, lead author of the ACOG guidelines for exercise and pregnancy for the past 20 years, said that the safety of any activity during pregnancy comes down to one simple question: "How much risk do you want to take?"

Lying on your back, for example, seems benign, and Artal said that most pregnant women can do so without ill effect even into their last month. However, for 10 to 15 percent of women it can compress the blood vessels that serve the uterus, compromising blood flow to the baby and causing blood pressure changes for the mom.

"If you feel sick or dizzy in that position you really shouldn't do it," he cautioned.

Ditto for deep squats, which Artral said are more likely to cause knee pain in pregnant women because of hormonal changes that can soften and weaken the joints.

The Dions do recommend throughout the book to follow doctor's advice, listen to your body and skip any movement that doesn't feel right. But Dion said they couldn't put a warning next to every exercise that might lead to problems because "then half the exercises in the book would have warnings."

Artal stressed that pregnancy is a great time to start exercising or continue with an exercise program but that it was important to do a risk-benefit analysis.

"Consider that activities with a high risk of injury in someone who isn't pregnant will have the risk amplified by some unknown factor for pregnant women," Artal said.

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