Squats, Pregnancy, and Relaxin: Are Deep Squats Safe?

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by KIMBERLY ARAUJO

Does Relaxin Increase Risk of Injury in Deep Squats?

Squats, Pregnancy, and Relaxin: Are Deep Squats Safe?

[S]quatting to less than parallel (higher) doesn’t allow for full recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings, which can lead to injuries due to muscular imbalance.
In countless websites and articles about exercising during pregnancy, you will commonly read that women should not squat below parallel (in which the knees are at a 90 degree angle) during pregnancy due to the loosening effects of the relaxin hormone on joints and ligaments during pregnancy. I have always been skeptical of this claim for a number of reasons. For one, if squatting below parallel is really that unsafe for pregnant women, why is this not included in the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommendations? Two, squats are usually performed in a controlled manner; they are not a ballistic movement, so therefore the risk of twists and strains should be the same or less than just going through your day-to-day activities. Finally — and most importantly — squatting to parallel actually places the knee ligaments in their least stable position. On the other hand, squatting to less than parallel (higher) doesn’t allow for full recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings, which can lead to injuries due to muscular imbalance because the quads are disproportionately stronger than the glutes and hamstrings.

Benefits of Deep Squats

Muscular Balance

Muscular Balance
The same reasons that I tell my non-pregnant athletes to support squatting below parallel apply to pregnant women as well…the basic principles of  human anatomy do not change just because a woman is pregnant. The quadriceps muscle attaches to the tibia (the shin) just below the kneecap. When the quads pull on the knee, the force is directed forward relative to the knee joint. When the hamstrings are positioned correctly in the squat with the hips moving back and torso leaning slightly forward, the backward pull of the hamstrings balances the forward pull of the quads. The balance is optimal when the hips are below parallel. In addition, when squats are performed in this fashion, they help strengthen much more than the legs. Squats work the muscles of the back and the abdominal muscles as well as help protect the knees and spine.

Relaxin Risk Theoretical
[T]he currently available research supports resistance training as a safe and effective type of exercise to perform during pregnancy.
In addition to the benefits of muscular balance and strengthening of the musculature that surrounds and supports the joints, “the relaxin risk is largely theoretical,” says Patrick O’Connor, Ph.D., co-author of a a 2011 University of Georgia study which found that a low-to-moderate-intensity strength program is safe for pregnant women, even for beginners. The 12-week study followed 32 women who were 21-25 weeks pregnant when the study began. The women worked out twice a week, increasing their weights lifted by an average of 36% over the course of the study. Not one woman got injured. Although this was a small study and the research on resistance/weight-training during pregnancy is limited, the currently available research supports resistance training as a safe and effective type of exercise to perform during pregnancy.

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