Being a distance runner and pregnant can come with its challenges, and even more questions. The way you are used to approaching your workouts – run hard, and push yourself to limits– can be difficult for some to let go. For others, it maybe a welcome respite, but nonetheless there are some changes, and key things you will need to be aware of for the health of your unborn child. Here are some of the basics to think about when you find out there’s a baby on board.
1. Running and working out is safe and healthy!
Being active when you are pregnant is one of the best gifts you can give to your unborn child. You will (it’s a certainty!) get people who criticize you for this, and give you bad looks at the gym or on the street. Even complete strangers will feel the need to give you their opinion on how you are “harming your baby”! Do not listen to them, more and more research is coming out that proves again and again the numerous benefits of doing exercise, and even exerting exercise while pregnant.
With that being said, we do need to adjust our limits, likely your overall volume, and listen more carefully to what your body is saying. This isn’t the time in your running life to be pushing through pain. If it hurts, stop and walk, or decrease your pace. With the changes going on, the loosening of ligaments and increase in weight, it is very easy to injure yourself in ways you never knew possible before. For one, the–now very important–ligaments involved in supporting your growing uterus can be strained, and reduce you to a prego-waddler single stepping down stairs, much too early in pregnancy!
This would be a good time as well to try some other activities that are less impact on your loosening joints. Swimming is one of the best activities to do while pregnant, and may just become your favourite as that belly grows heavier and heavier! It is also more difficult to get your heart rate soaring too high, so you can push a little more in the pool. One of the best things about swimming while pregnant is that your belly makes you extra buoyant making those lean running legs much less of a battle to keep up!
2. Take off the watch, put on the Heart Rate Monitor
If you are a trained athlete whose body is used to doing regular hard training, you’re still safe to step on the track and do more reduced “workouts” while pregnant (disclaimer: if you feel that you really want to or need to for your sanity. You’re most important job right now is growing a healthy baby, not trying to run personal bests!). HOWEVER, it can be difficult for a runner who is used to pushing themself to the max in their workouts to judge what it means to run only moderately, or somewhat hard. Also, with the increase in blood volume, increase in body mass, and the increased job your heart now has to do, your heart will reach higher numbers at a lower exertion rate than you are used to. This is why it is good to keep an eye on your heart rate, and that you are not pushing too hard and putting baby in oxygen debt. Based on research from the Exercise and Pregnancy Lab at Western University in London, Ontario Canada, the maximum heart rate your heart should be reaching (as a trained athlete, it is lower otherwise) is 160 b/min. So stop timing your track intervals, or taking your kilometer splits in a tempo run, and keep your heart rate at a safe level.
With the increase in the size of your belly will come a decrease in the length of your stride. As the pregnancy gets further along, your walking stride is also going to significantly decrease. This is going to cause a significant tightness in the muscles particularly on the backs of your legs (hamstrings and calves) and your adductors. Do yourself a huge favour, that could also save you a lot of work (and possibly money) after baby is born on pre/re-hab when those muscles are still tighter than you’ve ever known them to be! If you are typically a lazy stretcher, this may be a good excuse to try prenatal yoga classes.
This may seem counter-intuitive since the muscles in your middle are being torn and stretched apart to their max, like you never thought possible. But we are not talking about doing reps of crunches and working on those outer abdominal muscles. We mean the inner abs in charge of keeping you stable when you move. Maintaining the stability of your middle and hips will help you as your centre of balance shifts dramatically, so you can keep active throughout your pregnancy. It can help to avoid the dreaded back pains that come with your front side growing. It will also help when it comes time to push that baby out.
Along with this….
5. Get on the ball!
…On the swiss ball of course. If you have never invested in one, this would be the time. Use it for basic exercises or stretching, you will recruit stabilizers all over. Sit on it whenever you can, and move your hips around in circles. It loosens the hips, works on stability in your core and hips, and later in your pregnancy will help encourage baby into a ‘ready to launch’ position. (A lot of women also find it useful during labour.)
6. Wear a pregnancy support belt
Speaking of back pain and ligament strains, this could be one of the best things you can do to keep active during your pregnancy. Even before your belly starts to get so large you are knocking things over every time you turn around, put on a support belt at least when you leave the house for a run. This will help reduce the strain on your back, hips and those loosening ligaments.
7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Never before has your hydration been so crucial. Your blood volume is increasing at a considerable rate, and your baby is supported, and protected in a fluid-filled sac. It can be dangerous to let your body get dehydrated to any rate. Start taking water with you when you run, or plan your runs around water stops. And just as important, keep hydrated throughout the day, all day.
Disclaimer: You should consult with your doctor before doing any exercise while pregnant.
About the Author: Bethany is a London, Ontario resident who loves to balance her training with being a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and teacher. She values the many opportunities, and relationships, that running has brought her in her life, and the important lessons it has taught her along the way. Becoming a “running mom” has brought her new joy in life and in the sport. Especially since it also brought her a new running partner, who can often be found sleeping in his running stroller out on the streets of London.