I’ll be honest here, my exercise regime is far from intense right now. I am consistently working out 3 times a week, as opposed to my normal 5 times a week I tend to do when I’m not pregnant. So I’m not claiming to be an expert what-so-ever on all things exercise when it comes to pregnancy. But! Over the past 30 weeks I have learned a lot about what does and does not work when it comes to working out while pregnant (at least for me anyways). And so, with that in mind, I figured why not share what I’ve learned this time around?
Before I got pregnant with Leah I did not belong to a gym. My workouts consisted of running, running….and more running. And it worked for me as in I stayed a perfectly slim weight while still enjoying in my nightly bowl of ice cream and weekly pizza eating. But my muscle tone (besides strong runners legs) was seriously lacking. When I got pregnant I attempted to keep running, but it just didn’t work for me. I know some people, my sister included, who ran some crazy mileage up until the day they gave birth, but that just wasn’t me. Every time I attempted to run I felt gross and it was incredibly uncomfortable and painful so around 17 weeks I stopped running. And, since I did not belong to a gym, my workouts stopped all together. Yes, I walked every single day (as a child life specialist, we are on our feet ALL day) and sometimes I swam laps (the house we were living in at the time had a pool), but mostly I just floated around on my Aqua lounger. But, during my pregnancy, I didn’t really care that my workouts were slacking. I’m tall and I don’t tend to gain weight quickly, and by the end of my pregnancy, limited exercise and all, I had only gained 33 lbs, which was well within the recommended weight gain for someone of my height and weight.
^^39 weeks pregnant with Leah
And then I gave birth. And I looked down at my “fluffy” body that no longer contained a cute little baby bump and thought “oh crap.” Suddenly I noticed how weak my arms looked and how soft my legs had gotten. And it hit me just how out of shape I had let myself get over the last 9 months. I’ll be honest, the weight looks super cute when you are pregnant, but once that baby comes out, it doesn’t look all that cute anymore. Since that lovely stomach pouch is unavoidable for awhile (unless you are a magical pregnancy supermodel that pops right back within days) I realized that I would have felt better and more like ME again quicker, if I had at least attempted to keep my arms and legs strong and as “normal” looking as possible during my pregnancy.
^^Almost 3 months post birth-still looking fluffier than usual. I think at this point I was still a good 12-15 lbs above my pre-baby weight
So, after my 6 week check-up when I got the go ahead from my doctor, I dove head first into working out. I let Jillian Michaels kick my butt 5 days a week for 2 months while at the same time, starting to run again. When I was 4 months post birth, I joined a CrossFit box for a 2 month program. I worked my butt off, completing WODs upwards of 4-5 days a week for those 2 months (hey, I had to get my moneys worth!) and by the time I stopped, 6 months post birth, I was not only back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I was strong!! My abs and arms especially had a muscle tone that I had never had before and I was determined not to lose it. So, with the price of CrossFit being a bit too steep for our budget, I joined a local gym (I get a huge discount for being a hospital employee) and started going to cardio/weight training classes 3 times a week while also keeping my running up and training for a half marathon.
^^6 months post birth and back down to my normal pre-baby weight
Which brings us to pregnancy #2. I got pregnant just weeks after completing my half marathon and I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in. So, when I saw that positive pregnancy test, I knew right away that I was going to make myself work out through this pregnancy! I had a bit of a set back right away with my complications which kept me from working out (almost) my entire first trimester. But once I got the go ahead from my doctor at 13 weeks, I jumped right back into my exercise regime. I am lucky that I have a doctor who is VERY supportive of me working out while pregnant and she has encouraged me to keep my normal work out schedule going as much as possible. So, with that in mind, I started attending spin classes every Monday and weight training/cardio classes every Wednesday, with another class/gym workout or run thrown in there at some point during the week. After 30 weeks, here’s what I’ve learned so far about working out while pregnant:
1. Being pregnant is NOT a condition or ailment! I get so tired of people asking (or just stating) “You shouldn’t be doing that!” while I’m pregnant. Whether it’s lifting a heavy(ish) weight, or carrying my 30 lb 2-year old, people seem to have the need to share their displeasure for what I am doing. But guess what? You CAN lift weights while pregnant! You CAN carry your 2 year old around and even complete a round of burpees during a gym class. As long as you are SAFE and listen to your body, doing a few kettle bell swings is not going to make you go into early labor.
2. You need to drink a LOT of water while working out. I bring a 34 oz camelbak water bottle to my gym classes and by the time my 45 min spin class is over it is completely empty. I quickly learned to drink, drink, drink during a workout. Before being pregnant, I usually waited for a sanctioned “water break” during a class before getting some water. Now, I am constantly taking a brief pause to drink, even while others continue on with the class. During spin it’s easier, since the water is right there within my grasp, and I make sure I drink after every single song. During cardio/weight training classes, however, it’s a bit harder because I have to remind myself to physically stop what I’m doing and go over and grab my water bottle consistently throughout the class, but doing so has helped me feel so much better during my workouts.
3. You don’t need to stay at the same level you were before. It took me awhile not to stress about this one, as I tend to be a bit competitive. During a workout, I would never let myself complete my squat sets at a rate slower than the instructor. If she was using 12 lbs, I was using 12 lbs. If the woman in front of me was banging out burpees at a frightening speed, you better believe that I was right there keeping up. That all changed when I became pregnant. Now, if I’m doing one squat for every 2 the instructor is doing, I’m okay with that (hey, I’m squatting with 20 extra lbs over here!) If the spin instructor yells that we should be sprinting at 120 RPMs and I look down at my screen and see that I’m barely hitting 102, I happily continue on with what I’m doing. I know my body is changing and I also try and stay completely in tune with how I am feeling. If I start feeling a cramp during spin, I immediately slow down and drink some water. If an exercise makes me feel uneasy, I modify it to something that works better.
4. However, it’s still okay to push yourself! Even though I am much more careful and slower than I was pre-pregnancy, I also don’t let myself use it as an excuse for not working hard during a workout. Yes, I am more in tune with my body; when I need to slow down, when I need to drink more water, when I need to modify an exercise, but I also still work out hard because otherwise, why am I there? Yes, I’m pregnant, but I also want to be strong, which will only come with (somewhat) pushing myself during a workout. I love, love, LOVE, spinning while pregnant. It took awhile to get adjusted comfortably on a bike with a big belly and what not (every week I laugh when I raise the handle bars just a bit more to accommodate for the growing gut) but, besides the initial awkwardness and discomfort, I can soar through a workout feeling awesome and not like I’m pregnant at all. Spinning while pregnant has a lot of advantages; it’s low impact (your pelvic floor is kept still during the entire workout as opposed to other cardio exercises like running), it has amazing cardio benefits, it prepares your body to tackle labor and delivery, you can totally go your own pace the entire workout..etc. I could go on and on (I’m a total pregnant spin spokeswoman over here…) During a class you better believe I am pushing myself. I up that resistance during a climb, I sprint my little heart out, I finish the class with a hard tabata, everything I would do non-pregnant; just at less of an intensity. And some weeks I feel great and I’m able to keep up in class, and other weeks I’m exhausted and I have to slow down or go down a few levels. And I’m okay with that!
5. It helps to have a workout friend. My good friend is pregnant as well, just 7 weeks behind me, and she is just as into working out as I am. We hit the gym together at least twice a week for our favorite classes and we constantly encourage each other when the other doesn’t feel like working out. I’ll be honest, if I didn’t know that Shannon was already on her way to the gym there would be plenty of times that I would have slipped into my favorite yoga pants to cuddle up on the couch instead with my beloved bag of M&M’s (bad, bad pregnancy craving over here!) but when I get her text “you reserve your bike for spin tonight??” I sigh and heft myself off the couch to change into my gym clothes. That motivator is so incredibly valuable, plus just imagine all the comments you get when you and your pregnant friend work out together! 🙂
6. Working out can actually make you LESS achy. Some days (especially as the weeks go on) I feel VERY pregnant. I’m stiff, my “lower area” hurts, I’m exhausted…all I want to do is lie on the couch. But when I push myself to an evening gym class, I usually wake up feeling more flexible, loose, more energized and overall “less pregnant.”
7. You don’t feel as guilty indulging in your pregnancy cravings! On the days I workout, I have no guilt what-so-ever when I help myself to my nightly bowl of ice cream or handful of pumpkin M&Ms. Because, honestly, for me this is not about the weight gain. Like I said before, I barely worked out at ALL with my first pregnancy and, so far, I am basically on the exact same weight gain track. At this point I’ll probably gain 30-35 lbs by the time I give birth, just like with the first. But, I truly believe that this time I will be stronger and I will feel better about myself post-birth. I guess you could call this a little experiment of sorts on how different I feel POST birth with this pregnancy as opposed to my first.
^^Why yes, that is a pumpkin pie donut with a scoop of ice cream on top. Go big or go home.
8. Do what works for you. Like I said before, some people are able to run quite comfortably throughout their pregnancy. That is not my experience. With this pregnancy especially I am experiencing some horrible round ligament pain that makes walking fast, let alone running, extremely painful and uncomfortable. But I realized that this doesn’t mean I can’t do any exercise. Through some trial and error I have figured out what works and what doesn’t. For me spinning, rowing, weight training, squats, etc all provide excellent cardio without the round ligament pain. Just find what works for you and go with it!
There you have it, 8 small (and simple) tips that I’ve figured out when it comes to working out while pregnant. I’ll be very interested in seeing how my labor, delivery and recovery compare with this baby, as opposed to my last, with continuous exercise thrown into the mix. But, regardless of what happens, I do know that exercising has made me feel strong, happy and healthy during this pregnancy so far, which, in the end, makes it totally worth it!
So get out there and move! 🙂