Erica Ziel: Founder of Knocked-Up Fitness
Erica is also a Certified Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor, Nutritionist, and mom of three.
Training while pregnant has recently become a hot and widely debated topic. Women like Lea-Ann Ellison and Heather Bergeron are among the badass mamas who have helped stir the pot and generate both praise and criticism.
I am currently CrossFitting through my second pregnancy and while I have never been directly criticized, I often get questions rooted in concern or fear.
“That’s great that you are still working out, but you’re not still lifting weights, are you??”
Yes. Yes I am.
“Did you workout like this during your first pregnancy?” Which really means: “Are you sure this is safe??"
Yes and Yes.
These questions just prove to me that despite all the new research and thousands of personal testimonials in support of working out during pregnancy, there is still a negative stigma attached to it. I’m determined to change that.
A pregnant woman with a barbell still shocks people. Alarms some. Inspires others. And while it’s clear that training with a bump is a new concept to many, this month’s Fashlete, EricaZiel, has been safely and successfully training expectant mothers for the past 12 years.
Erica is the founder of Core Athletica Inc. and Knocked-Up Fitness, is a sought-after expert for fitness-infused Pilates and personal training, and currently sits on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology & Health from Iowa State University and is a Certified Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor, Nutritionist and mother of three kids ages 3, 5, and 8.
Not only is exercising while pregnant safe, it is extremely beneficial to the mother’s health during pregnancy and can help with labor, delivery, and recovery. Erica’s personal and professional experience, which spans over a decade, is the strongest testament to this fact that I have seen and I am excited to share her knowledge with you!
Erica’s interest in pre and postnatal fitness began in college, long before she had children of her own. Having her own children gave her more insight not only into the particulars of training, but the benefits as well.
“As a trainer you can learn it, but having a baby gives you more insight. It didn’t click until I went into labor with my second child. The doctor was in a hurry to get the baby out because the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Typically this may have called for an emergency c-section, but I was able to get him out in 3 pushes. It really comes down to deep core – a combination of a strong pelvic floor (and knowing how to relax your pelvic floor) with strong transverse abdominals. The hope is that by learning how to strengthen deep core properly, you can push your baby out quickly. I realized that what I had been teaching could make a huge impact on a woman’s delivery.”
Three pushes?? Deep core, Erica, tell me more!
Q. What is “Deep Core”?
A. Deep Core refers to everything from your shoulders to hips including your transverse abdominals. Do not confuse “Deep Core” with abs. Core strengthening does not equal abs and crunches!
Transverse abdominals (TA) are the muscles that wrap around your midsection. These muscles help hold the baby in, give support to your lower back, and help push the baby out.
Q. What are the benefits of a Strong Core?
A. Strengthening your transverse abdominals specifically has many benefits before, during, and after giving birth. There are tons of benefits to working these muscles during your pregnancy. Here’s what strong TA muscles can do for you:
- Support your belly and can help keep your belly smaller.
- Decrease chances of the separation of abdominals. (Separation of abdominals weakens your core and makes it more difficult to regain strength and definition after pregnancy.)
- Help push the baby out during delivery! The stronger, the better.
- Increase chances of “snapping your body back” after birth.
Erica’s book, The Knocked-Up Fitness Guide to Pregnancy, and DVD collection are both excellent resources that I highly recommend! The Prenatal DVD series comes with 2 DVD’s (Pilates-Infused Fitness and Prenatal Core Pilates) a printable training schedule, tips for each trimester, and Bonus Workout Printouts which includes cardio, total body, booty, and arm sculpting.
Q. What about Squat Training?
A. Squats, lots and lots of squats! Not only do squats help strengthen your deep core, but having strong legs will prepare you for all the ups and downs of motherhood… literally! Think of all the times you will be squatting down to pick you your baby. Squat training will develop and maintain strength and also relates to having a strong back which helps decrease back pain.
Erica’s Squat Tips for Expectant Mothers:
- Make sure you’re doing them right! If you don’t know how to properly squat, seek out an expert.
- Avoid the biggest squat mistake which is putting too much of your weight forward. If you are feeling the squat only in your quads, you’re doing it wrong. Pull your hips back and make sure you are activating your glutes AND quads.
- Do them everyday!
- Practice different squat variations. Beginners can stick to bodyweight or “air squats” while more advanced women can feel free to add weight. Just make sure you are not squatting to the point of pain or “coning” of the belly (see below). Rather, make sure you are engaging your entire core.
Fit Pregnancy Safety
Q. How much is too much? How do we make sure our workouts are effective without being over the top?
A. Start by talking with your doctor, especially if you do not already have an exercise routine in place. Once you’re given the all clear, here are a few of suggestion for implementing a pregnancy-safe fitness routine.
1. The Talk Test
During pregnancy when you are working out you should still be able to carry on a light conversation, meaning at least a couple word sentences. If you are very breathy & can hardly speak, then you are working out too hard.
The problem with the old standard of staying under a heat rate of 140 beats per minute is that this may be too challenging for some, yet not challenging enough for others. Especially if you were very active before pregnancy, you can likely work out at a good intensity during.
2. Temperature Control
Wear appropriate clothing. Do not workout outside in extreme heat and humidity. Pregnant women can dissipate heat better than non-pregnant women, but you still need to stay hydrated and avoid super extreme heat. Dehydration can lead to preterm labor or false labor.
3. Watch You Balance
As your center of gravity shifts with your growing belly, you are likely to lose your balance more easily. Pay attention to your body!
4. Weight Training
Moms that are conditioned and experience in weight training can continue to do so (with doctor’s okay). The old standard is “if you weren’t working out prior to your pregnancy, you should not start a routine”. I believe there is a fine line here. I’ve helped moms get stronger during their pregnancy, which is amazing! If you are interested in incorporating weight training into your prenatal routine, but do not have prior experience, find instruction on how to lift properly and go light.
Regardless of experience, you should never do anything that hurts your joints, strains your back, or makes it hard to connect deep core muscles. For example, when done properly, deadlifts are an excellent exercise. However, if you start to feel the movement ONLY in your back… STOP. If you can safely deadlift – activating deep core, glutes, etc - lift on strong mama!
5. “Coning” of the Belly
Avoid coning of your belly during any exercise. Coning of the belly is when you see a “bulge-like” look down the middle of your belly. Your belly should stay nice and rounded. If you see the middle of your belly start to protrude out near the middle avoid those exercises and stick with ones that allow you to keep your deep core muscle activated.
6. Listen to your body. If something feels bad or wrong, don’t do it!
Q. What are your nutrition tips for expectant mothers?
A. I encourage moms-to-be to eat as healthy as possible but not to feel bad about giving into cravings every once in a while. Here are my top nutrition tips for expectant moms:
- Consume lots of greens – this is where the bulk of nutrients will come from for you and your baby.
- Eat a lot of “good fats”.
- Eating high quality fats in combination with lots of greens will help your body absorb the nutrients in your vegetables. Get the most out of your salad by adding fat!
- Focus on grass-fed and organic protein sources.
- Eat fruit in moderation as it contains a lot of sugar.
- It’s okay to give into cravings now and then! Don’t beat yourself up over the occasional cupcake!
I know, #2 right? Contrary to popular belief, high-fat diets are not the devil. You will gain more weight on a low fat, high sugar diet than anything else. Erica is a huge fan of a high fat diet – of course referring to “good fats” such as avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oils and coconut oils… even bacon (nitrate-free of course)!
Here are Erica’s 7 Favorite Pregnancy Super Foods.
Q. Why do you recommend a high fat diet during pregnancy?
- Your growing baby needs fat for brain development. The brain is 60% fat, of which DHA is one of the most important components essential for brain and eye function.
- Your baby will take a lot of the fat you consume and you need to make sure you are eating enough for both of you.
- There are links between not having enough fat and postpartum depression (link to a study on this?).
- Consuming a high fat diet helps curb sugar cravings. Consuming too much sugar from carbohydrates leads to weight gain, not fat.
Erica is just as knowledgeable on the subject of postnatal training as she is prenatal training. If you follow her prenatal tips, getting back into your exercise routine after baby will be that much easier… but don’t rush it! Check out Erica’s website for tips on how to make a safe transition.
Here are Erica’s 5 Signs You’re Ready to Exercise After Baby.
Q. Lastly, what is the most important piece of advice you can give an expecting fit mama?
A. Always listen to your body! I can’t stress this enough. I get many questions about different exercises during pregnancy and the best advice I can give is this: “If it doesn’t feel good for your body, skip it.” This may sound a bit obvious, but because everyone’s pregnancies can vary greatly, this is what I continually say. What works for one may not work for another even if it is a pregnancy-safe exercise.
As our Fashlete of the Month, Erica is receiving a customized sterling silver inspirational jewelry charm with the words of her choice. Erica chose: Strong, inspiring, and beautiful.
"As busy mom’s it can be to easy to lose site of our own Strength, inspiration and beauty – The simplest of words can remind us of just that, “you are… strong, inspiring and beautiful.” And you don’t have to be perfect."
Be sure to check out Knocked-UpFitness.com for more pre and postnatal training and nutrition tips. Feel free to leave questions for Erica in the comments below. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.