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Focus on Expectant Individuals in Fitness Industry Higher Than Ever Before with Compelling Reasons!

It is considered a social norm to offer your seat to visibly pregnant individuals when on public transportation. While this gesture is polite, it carries an outdated implication that these individuals may not be physically capable of navigating the world.

While this perception may have prevailed for a significant duration, there is a shifting viewpoint that is gaining momentum—one that recognizes the strength required for both childbirth and parenthood. Pre- and postnatal fitness classes are now widely available in the fitness sector, experiencing a recent surge due to a convergence of scientific and societal changes.

Dr. Amy Hoover, a doctor of physical therapy at P.volve, a functional fitness approach tailored for women, emphasizes, “We need to remain active during pregnancy in our daily lives,” she says. “Although our bodies undergo rapid changes and adaptations are necessary, it does not mean we should halt our daily activities because of pregnancy.” Exercise not only enhances mobility in changing bodies but also offers numerous advantages like alleviating musculoskeletal pain, enhancing bowel movements, lowering the susceptibility to gestational diabetes, and more.

In 2002, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended that 30 minutes of daily exercise was safe for pregnant individuals. However, over the subsequent two decades, studies revealed that exercise not only posed no harm but was actually beneficial, according to Dr. Salena Zanotti, an OB/GYN at the Cleveland Clinic. Consequently, in 2020, ACOG further updated its guidelines on pregnancy and exercise, advocating for regular exercise for individuals with normal pregnancies.

During this time span, we witnessed Beyoncé, while pregnant, enjoying front-row seats at SoulCycle, observed Charlotte York from the Sex and the City movie rekindling her running passion during pregnancy, and tracked numerous celebrity pregnancy fitness journeys on Instagram.

Following the evolution in ACOG’s recommendations aligning with the fitness industry’s digital transformation triggered by the pandemic, gyms, virtual studios, and fitness apps have been introducing prenatal and postpartum fitness programs at an unprecedented pace. Nike introduced the 48-week (M)ove Like a Mother program on its popular Nike Training Club app. Apple Fitness+ rolled out postpartum training after launching a prenatal plan in 2021. Other brands like Kayla Itsines’s Sweat, Body By Simone, and The Class have also unveiled new offerings, with The Class even introducing a fertility series to support individuals trying to conceive.

While prenatal yoga and moderate aerobic exercises have been prevalent for years, the stigma surrounding intense activities like strength training seems to be fading, evident in the array of classes offered by Nike and Apple Fitness+. It is widely acknowledged that pregnant individuals can generally continue their pre-pregnancy activities, making adjustments as their pregnancy progresses.

“The fitness sector has made significant strides in enhancing services for pregnant women and new mothers,” notes Rachel Trotta, a certified personal trainer specializing in pre/postnatal fitness. “As a society, we are moving past the fear that exercise could be detrimental during pregnancy and acknowledging its well-documented benefits.”

Individuals are seizing the opportunities: MindBody reported a 50% increase in bookings for prenatal fitness classes on ClassPass throughout 2022. Maternal fitness is undoubtedly on the rise.

The Surge in Pregnancy-focused Fitness

Amid the past two and a half years of the pandemic, fitness companies catering their workouts to specific audiences have thrived, while those failing to adapt to the personalized digital realm have faltered. Concurrently, there has been a heightened focus on health and physical fitness by individuals—whether pregnant or not.

“Wellness and disease prevention are currently significant, notably following the pandemic,” states Hoover. “People are prioritizing their health and conducting research for personal enhancement. This translates to a desire for increased activity at every stage of life,” including pregnancy.

Historically, pregnant individuals were viewed as idealized, fragile vessels primarily tasked with bringing forth new life, as shared by Dr. Sarah Schrank, a professor at California State University Long Beach specializing in the history and commoditization of the body. Hoover adds that this mindset materialized in behaviors such as advising pregnant individuals against even minor tasks like carrying groceries or being treated as if they should refrain from routine activities.

The introduction of fitness programs tailored for pregnant individuals, rather than solely for their unborn babies, indicates a potential shift in these attitudes. With advances in scientific understanding, the pregnant body is now revered for its strength, recognized as more than just a vessel to handle delicately.

The Advantages of Exercising During Pregnancy

Presently, medical professionals acknowledge that exercise during pregnancy is not only safe but essential. Dr. Zanotti emphasizes, “Being as healthy as possible [during pregnancy] is crucial, and exercise plays a key role in achieving this.”

ACOG affirms that “regular exercise during pregnancy benefits you and your fetus” by reducing back pain, relieving constipation, enhancing overall fitness including cardiovascular health, and potentially decreasing the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean births. Trotta shares from her 2020 pregnancy experience that a routine of regular short walks and home strength training helped her in “alleviating back pain, preserving flexibility and mobility, and even averting typical pregnancy swelling.”

Furthermore, exercise is proven to be beneficial for mental well-being, an aspect many individuals struggle with during and after pregnancy. Dr. Schrank acknowledges its empowering nature, stating, “It helps women feel more connected to their bodies.”

However, Dr. Zanotti cautions that ACOG’s exercise guidelines are tailored for normal, low-risk pregnancies, stressing that all pregnant individuals should consult their healthcare providers concerning their exercise routines. Exercise should be steered clear of in “instances of uteroplacental insufficiency, bleeding, placental issues (such as a previa), rupture of membranes, and any maternal conditions like heart disease,” she advises.

Areas where the Maternal Fitness Trend Falls Short

Both society in general and the fitness industry particularly have not always demonstrated great sensitivity in how they approach the choice of childbirth—a look at how pregnant athletes were treated by sponsors in the past illustrates this.

As Dr. Schrank notes, “Our society harbors a lot of mixed feelings towards the maternal body.” “Capitalism thrives on these ambivalent emotions, as it allows the selling of products when people feel anxious.” Both men and women exhibit discomfort at the idea of physiological changes that accompany pregnancy. As Dr. Schrank articulates it, “Pregnancy: Acceptable, but Weight Gain: Unacceptable.”

“The pressure on women to conform to a specific body shape in a culture marked by sexism and misogyny is immense,” Dr. Schrank points out. “Suddenly, as your body undergoes changes due to pregnancy,

Either you are objectified for your Madonna role, or you simply feel plump and unattractive. That’s dreadful. And thus, physical activity becomes a means of managing those issues which is not ideal. Perhaps it’s acceptable to simply relax and indulge in Doritos. Maybe that’s fine.”

It is conceivable that the rise of maternal fitness initiatives is capitalizing on the concern that there may be a correct and an incorrect way to grow larger—Expecting, but not Overweight. The ACOG recommendations even accentuate this anxiety by mentioning “encourages healthy weight increase during pregnancy” and “helps in shedding the postpartum weight” as advantages of exercising.

Is it possible that maternal exercise programs are introducing yet another fat-phobic expectation to a natural process that is already filled with regulations and restrictions? Dr. Zanotti doesn’t believe this is the scenario due to the essential role of exercise in a healthy pregnancy. Nonetheless, Dr. Schrank is concerned that the surge in prenatal and postnatal fitness programs might raise more demands on pregnant individuals, especially regarding losing weight gained during pregnancy.

“We could enhance how exercise is perceived, making it less centered on ‘fitness,’ shedding baby weight, and arbitrary benchmarks, and more on mobility, quality of life, and stress relief,” Trotta suggests. Fortunately, many trainers (though not all) have adeptly handled these challenges by focusing on the practical fitness required for caring for a baby and the well-being of the new mother.

Evidently, organizations are offering these pregnancy programs because they have the potential to gain new clients. Profit-making doesn’t necessarily imply ill intentions from a company, but it clearly serves as a fresh revenue stream, rather than a service stemming purely from benevolence.

“Nowadays, you can market clothing to enhance your appearance or classes to boost your mood,” Dr. Schrank comments. “The possibilities are limitless for what can be offered.”

And some of these offerings can appear somewhat suspicious. While fitness certification bodies provide prenatal and postnatal certifications—which trainers pay significant amounts to supplement their credentials—Dr. Zanotti points out that there is “no official accreditation for pregnancy trainers.” In other words, a trainer may claim to be “pre/postnatal certified,” but such certification lacks validation from a medical organization such as ACOG. Therefore, advertisements emphasizing trainers with these certifications are essentially promotional tactics. Furthermore, they do not guarantee genuine medical supervision like guidance from an OB/GYN.

Nevertheless, despite the flaws in some of today’s choices, they provide expectant individuals with more freedom and control over their bodies than they have perhaps ever experienced. If the fitness industry can dodge problematic narratives about the incessant need to perfect our bodies and offer genuinely secure, doctor-approved programs, the surge in maternal fitness can be a triumph for mothers.

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