Working Out While Pregnant

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In general, I find it kind of fascinating to observe the general population’s reactions to pregnant people. Whether it’s determining who is most likely to give up their seat on the subway (more on this later) or watching strangers struggle to control their “must touch the belly!” reflex, being pregnant (especially in a big city) is nothing short of non-stop social experiment.

That includes the reactions you get when you work out with a baby bump.

I’ve made a concerted effort to keep up with my workout routine as much as possible since I got pregnant. Prior to the bean, I worked out pretty hard 5-6 times per week. When we wanted to get pregnant, my doc recommended cutting back because there is some indication in recent studies that exercise can have negative effects on fertility. (Well+Good actually did an article on this in January if you’re interested in some of the science behind it.) Because I’m impatient (and, oh yeah, really wanted to get pregnant without too much trouble), I started cutting back on my vigorous workouts when we started trying. Which, really, meant cutting back on every workout I did. I go hard, yo.

I didn’t love tempering my workouts (I also didn’t love the handful of pounds I gained when I did), but fortunately I ended up getting pregnant the following month. Were the two actions directly correlated? I’ll probably never know. But I like to think I was at least doing everything I could to make the process go smoothly.

Ironically, while doctors recommend cutting back on exercise to get pregnant, they’re actually pretty encouraging about hitting the gym once you’re knocked up. The only warnings my doc gave me were to avoid trying anything new or where I could get injured easily, like rock climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding (um…no problem?), and to try not to surpass an 8 on the “how hard is this from 1-10” scale. Generally, that meant pushing myself without pushing my heart rate above 140 so I was never breathless.

Obviously, every pregnancy is different and you should make your own decisions based on whatever advice your doctor gives you and how you feel, but in general, your Great-Aunt Bertha’s advice to avoid anything more strenuous than climbing the stairs is pretty outdated.

It took me a while to really start showing, so for a few months, I was able to exercise while pregnant without causing much of a fuss. I stopped attending super hardcore bootcamps, like Barry’s or this studio I used to go to that trains you to do obstacle runs, and I held back a bit more in spin class. Otherwise, it was business as usual.

In the last month, though, things have started to change. And by “things,” I mean my belly. Despite being officially into bump territory, I’m still able to do most of my workouts without too many new modifications. I mean, I can’t lie on my tummy anymore, I have to adjust my handlebars higher in spin, and I had to sit out a half marathon Joey and a bunch of my friends ran recently, but all in all, I still feel like I can push myself and usually leave class feeling like I got a good workout.

The real difference is in the responses I get from trainers.

I have to say: If you ever really want to know how experienced a particular trainer is, watch how they handle having a pregnant woman in class.

Less experienced trainers always act they they have been thrown a gigantic curve ball (literally?) and will usually over-modify everything to the point where you might as well just be lying in a bed and sitting up every now and then. I mean, I get it. They (and I) would rather I got less of a workout than anything or anyone got injured. But if I’m going to take the time to show up and the trouble of having to wash my hair later, I want to feel like it was worth it.

Of course, there are always the less experienced trainers who basically just ask you to tell them what you can and cannot do. This is where it pays to be informed and aware of your own body. I generally tell these folks that I can’t do sprints, but everything else I can handle or will modify so I’m comfortable. That usually calms them down enough for you to work out in peace.

It’s much better, though, when you end up with a more experienced trainer. I’ve even had a few who have prenatal training certifications, which is awesome because you feel so much more comfortable letting them push you instead of trying to feel out for yourself where your limits are. Plus, these are usually the folks who don’t look at you like you’re broken somehow.

The trainers who are truly the best are the ones who have kids of their own. Female trainers with kids obviously get what you’re going through (and understand that if you’re still showing up to class, it’s because you still want to get a good sweat session in), and male trainers are usually just really nice to you because they’ve dealt with a pregnant lady before.

Over all, and like most aspects of pregnancy, I’ve found you just have to be your own best advocate. Pay attention to your body, and trust it. Let the trainer know you’re pregnant (I usually share this info when they ask if there are any injuries, but I always say, “I’m not injured, but I’m pregnant”) so they won’t try to push you more than you are comfortable with during class — but from there, do what feels right. As a trainer (who is a nurse and has had two babies) told me recently, “The baby will tell you when you can’t do that anymore.”

For me, keeping up with my workouts benefits me physically, emotionally, and mentally. I feel more like myself, I have more energy, and I’m told it will make labor and recovery a lot easier down the line. What’s not to like?

Have you worked out while pregnant? What kinds of responses did you get? What are your best tips?