I am extremely blessed in the fact that my pregnancy has been extremely easy. No morning sickness, no food aversions, no weird cravings. I feel fine- just starting to get a bit squishy (which is a mental struggle I am working on).
For the general public, exercise is often discussed in terms of “do what feels right,” “don’t push it,” “work out 20-30 minutes a day.” Lots of walking is recommended. But what about those of us who find walking…well… boring and slow? Is it ok for me to run? What pace or heart can I maintain safely? And for how long? Again, the answers are vague. This irks the scholar, perfectionist, and athlete in me.
Because I feel physically fine, I have been struggling with slowing down. I’ve searched and searched; however, I have found very little research exists about high-performing pregnant athletes and what is “good vs. bad” in terms of exercise- the intensity, quantity, and duration. This has left me with a TON of questions! Some scholarly articles discuss heart rate, but the research is scattered and there is no 100% agreed upon max heart rate. This means “appropriate” intensity has yet to be defined. Information about quantity and session duration is vaguely defined by how active you were pre-pregnancy and how well you feel. Basically, research is minimal for athletes.
The one non-vague piece of advice that continues to emerge is that pregnant women are supposed to avoid activities with high risks of falling or contact. If you have a brain, you can understand the idea of not causing trauma to a fetus… Ok so what does that mean for me as a mountain biker and trail runner? There is a risk I will fall– and I did have my first fall while running a fews weeks ago at 15 weeks pregnant. (Just a mere flesh wound for my elbow and back- I rolled to my side so there was no direct impact for the juniorito).
After my research in scholarly articles, discussing with my doctor (who I disagree with– her advice is to just walk- BORING! And not supported with research as to why that should be my only exercise), and consulting athletic friends these are my take aways:
Don’t take up a new sport that has fall risk. For me, this means not trying new lines while riding my mountain bike. Also, as I get bigger I’ll need to be aware of my changing size (may affect balance, how I reach the handlebars- raise that stem!, etc.).
Be able to talk- this ensures a heart rate that isn’t so taxing that you and the baby get enough oxygen. I have a high heart rate once I get going, even during this pregnancy though most women have lower heart rate during pregnancy. What research has taught me is that heart rate zones change during pregnancy so even if you know your max heart rate when there isn’t a wee one in there, it changes during this time. Just keep talking.
If an activity hurts I first suggest strength training and yoga. This doesn’t have to mean lifting weights, though if you already lift, be more specific to weaknesses you may have. Both strength and stretching are good for both pregnancy and your adjusting body AND for birth (I hear– no experience yet!).
If pain is sharp and recurring, icing, heating, and time may help. Remember, don’t force anything- if it’s not happening, respect the changes. (Easier said than done, I know!)
Be grateful! If you’re able to be active- even a walk or swim counts- be stoked and proud of your body.
I am working on this, as it can be hard watching your weekly mileage begin to dwindle. Part of this is because we can’t cover as much ground when you stay in the “talk zone” as when you can do intervals and the like. I’m switching my mentality to be more time based, versus mileage. After all, I’m still training 10+ hours a week and am soooo grateful!