Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Exercise and Early Pregnancy

The most important thing for me to state here is that I am not an expert on either pregnancy or exercise. So why bother blogging about it? I want to share my experience as part of the collective consciousness that is this topic since there are few experts that women feel they can trust. Women are looking for guidance on these topics and I don't think doctors are filling the role with enough information. Instead, we can start the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Workout Journal" or in other, less corny words, we have only each other to get through this.

Here is my experience with exercise and early pregnancy with a bit of what I've observed from my friends...

Prior to becoming pregnant, I was exercising 6-8 hours a week and planned to compete in local sprint triathlons. I dropped the competing in triathlons part when I became pregnant but I would not be surprised to hear that women do participate in triathlons while pregnant. I have been active my entire adult life and consider exercise to be an important element to my happiness and general well being and have a desire to continue down that path while pregnant. Sometimes life, or the alien in your uterus, gets in the way of those goals.

Running during pregnancy
One of the first questions people ask me when they find out I'm pregnant is, "Are you still running?" Obviously, the choice to run is still a controversial question in the minds of most women if they are asking about it. The answer for me is no, I am not running, and it is not because I believe it is harmful, it is because I would not enjoy it. I'm warm just sitting here typing and for all of the 1st trimester, I was too nauseated to run. I love running, it is my favorite sport, but I wouldn't enjoy obsessing over my heart rate and feeling my stomach bounce around with every step. I have plenty of friends who run during pregnancy and they enjoy it very much! Personally, I'll save it for after delivery when I want to work off the weight and I can run whatever speed I am inspired to run that day, that just works better for me.

In my opinion, aqua jogging is the ultimate alternative to running, especially during pregnancy. You get a total body workout, your body is cradled by water, and there is no impact on your joints or tummy. The best option is to find other people to aqua jog with and then enjoy the feeling of the water and the good company of friends. There is a very small learning curve but it's quick to get going, and if you are really out of shape, you can take it at a walking pace. Please email me tribabe at gmail dot com if you want advice. I recommend hyrocuffs that go around your feet for buoyancy since a belt may not be comfortable. I aqua jog 1-2 times per week for 30-45 minutes per session and try to drink water and have food immediately afterward. The water lowers your body temperature and makes you hungry so you have to be careful not to overeat after exercising in water.

Walking is great for getting outdoors and getting your mind off of being pregnant. I enjoy walking after meals to help with digestion, otherwise, I just want to fall asleep after I eat. My plan is to build up to 1 hour long walks while I am pregnant to help me with patience and stamina so that when I want to return to running, being outside and on my feet for an hour isn't exhausting. I have taken extended breaks from running in the past and was able to come back relatively quickly by starting out with alternating running and walking in 1 minute intervals, extending the amount of time I run each session.

Biking during pregnancy
For me, cycling is freedom! Getting out on the open road and away from responsibilities and seeing the countryside is a joyful experience. I decided not to ride a bicycle on the road while pregnant due to the risks of being hit by a car. I miss it, and on sunny days, I long for it to the point that it's painful, but for me, the choice not to ride is the correct one. For me! Some women ride stationary bikes or bike trainers while pregnant and that isn't something I enjoy in the first place and since I'm not in training right now, I'm not going to do it. I have the rest of my life to ride a bike trainer in preparation for triathlon season. Oh look, a new reason to live (sarcasm).

I know a woman who spent her entire pregnancy mountain biking (at an easy pace) on the trails in our area and her one comment after giving birth was, "My delivery was so painful! I think my core muscles were so tight from exercise that there was no stretching!" We don't know if this is medically possible or not and I bet a woman who sits on the couch all of her pregnancy thinks that delivery is pretty painful too. What the story illustrates to me is, you should do what you enjoy and what makes you happy, but don't think 10+ hours a week of exercise is going to guarantee you a quick and easy labor. Well, think whatever you want, if that gets you through delivery then more power to you!

Swimming during pregnancy
Swimming is my favorite exercise while pregnant! BTW, if you search Google for "swimming and early pregnancy" the top hit is my blog post from my 1st pregnancy "Swimming and Early Pregnancy" which is much wittier than this post. I'll keep trying.

If you are an efficient swimmer and you don't fancy yourself to be the next Dara Torres, then swimming is incredibly enjoyable while you are pregnant. If you are new to swimming, you probably won't enjoy it very much. Swimming is a technical sport that requires a lot of practice to become efficient. When I first started swimming, I could only swim one length of the pool and I would have to catch my breath for a minute before heading back down for another length. I don't think women in early pregnancy should learn to swim unless they have a good adviser and don't pressure themselves to build up too quickly. If you know someone who is thinking about getting pregnant, encourage them to take swimming lessons in advance of their pregnancy.

As a slightly more experienced swimmer (it took a long time to be able to say that), I took all of the pressure off of myself to swim fast and just enjoy the experience of being in the water. I still attend master's swimming class 2-3 times per week, but I only swim 30-45 minutes and I modify sets as needed. Today coach called 9 x 200, alternating freestyle with IM. I put fins on and kicked the IM sets and focused on technique while swimming freestyle. It felt amazing! I hope to build up long slow swims while pregnant but any goals I have are secondary to feeling well and not overdoing it.

Exercise with nausea, fatigue, constipation and other joys of pregnancy
I read a pro triathlete's account of pregnancy and was impressed to see NO ZERO DAYS as part of the workout plan. I think that is great, for her, just like it was great for Paula Radcliff to win the New York marathon after giving birth. She's freaking awesome and I am incredibly impressed by her.

Now, for the rest of us... early pregnancy is not the time to be Zena Warrior Princess or whatever the hell her name was. She-ra? GI Jane? There are people who get incredibly sick during the first trimester, they should not feel compelled to follow in the footsteps of a professional athlete and mimic their workout plan.

Unfortunately, I had too many days where I was not well. I went to the pool and swam on some of those days and tried to fight through the nausea like I would fight through training fatigue. It did not work. I would end up sick as a dog later that day. I spent entire days in bed, drilled by nausea or so cramped up from constipation I could barely move. It was not freaking awesome. All I wanted to do was get out of bed and workout. On one of those days, I took the dog for a short 20 minute walk and came home covered in sweat and felt my heart rate racing. I should have stayed in bed as my body was instructing me to do.

You don't have to exercise everyday of your pregnancy unless you are well enough to do so. Professional athletes don't work 8 hours a day and then go workout, they workout for their job. It is exhausting to sit at a desk all day, trying to focus on work, when you are pregnant. A commitment to regular exercise is important but so is rest and well being. Don't push yourself too far and do your best to let others help you and inspire you to live your best life, as you should no matter your gestation status.

Prenatal Yoga
I haven't tried it yet but other women love it! I hear it is a great way to meet other pregnant women and to relax. I plan to attend a class when I get this constipation issue under control but right now, I'm terrified I would toot my way to being booted out of the class! My goal is to learn basic meditation and take yoga once a week and perform yoga at home as needed. Toot toot! Pregnant woman, coming through! Hey, you read this much, you poor person. I had to put the nail in the coffin.

Please let me know if you have any other great workout ideas or tips for pregnant women.


D said...

I can't believe I just read a whole (long!) post about exercise during pregnancy - something I will never, EVER experience. Good thing you are clever, missy.

I know it's still several months off, but I'm looking forward to the posts about the animal reactions to Bean (oh, Bean's the kid's name, by the way hehe).

NoPoGirl said...

I worked out pretty much until I gave birth. I, too, kept going to masters swim, with modifications. I rode my road bike until 7 months, at which time the pressure on my bladder was ridiculously intense and I quit. I gave up running at 5 months due to the bladder issue. Then, I walked a lot, swam, skied the blue runs and rock climbed. I skied at 38 weeks, but you have to understand that I normally ski 50+ days per year, so it wasn't like I didn't know what I was doing.

Take heart. I was back on my bike at 4 weeks post-partum, back at the gym at 8 days and back running at 2 weeks. Working out while pregnant does NOT help labor. What it does do is help your body recover MUCH faster after being pregnant. My daughter is 9 months old and I was in all my old clothes (some of which are now too big!) and my hubby says my abs are even better now.

Screw prenatal yoga. It's lame. Take the real yoga and make modifications as necessary. You will be a lot stronger after pregnancy. Also, I highly recommend taking Pilates during maternity leave. I took it once a week until I went back to work and it helped SO MUCH.

Good luck! It just gets better!

Amanda Whitmire said...

Thanks for the info! I think you're turning into my official pregnancy tutor. Looking forward to my next lesson!