Friday, January 3, 2014

The 40-Week Training Plan

"I have my most intimate thoughts when I'm running. That's when I'm most honest with myself, and I think about what I want out of life. I've definitely had thoughts, especially in the last month like, Wow, my baby knows me better than anyone. He's the only person that's ever been behind that curtain. I mean, obviously, he's not really hearing my thoughts, but there's just that feeling that there's some connection that I could never have with another person." ~Kara Goucher, Elite American Marathoner (2:25:53)

In 2010, elite marathoners, Kara Goucher and Paula Radcliffe were both
expecting babies and still training and competing. Runner's World did a
great piece on them in October 2010. You can read it here:

It seems like everyone and their mother is expecting these days, even some of my most active friends, which has inspired these next few blogs. Whether you are an amateur, pro-athlete, or professional couch potato, welcome to a series of blogs on staying fit during pregnancy!

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily for all pregnant women. This can be anything from walking to yoga to jogging. They site general benefits such as controlled weight gain, less fatigue, and possibly even a shorter labor.

Even if you haven’t exercised prior to pregnancy, it’s okay to start an exercise plan after becoming pregnant. Doctors have changed their opinions about this. Women pregnant with multiples or those with high-risk pregnancies definitely should still first consult a physician before continuing or beginning an exercise routine.  It’s never a bad idea to speak with your doctor before you start any training regimen, but it is safe for pregnant women to slowly work up to that 30 minutes a day that ACOG recommends, even if you have been a couch potato prior to pregnancy.

Those used to morning workouts may have to adjust their normal workout routine during pregnancy due to morning sickness, pure exhaustion, or other issues. Exercise, no matter when it is done during the day, is always helpful. It helps you de-stress, it helps your muscles relieve tension, it helps with back pain, it helps with leg cramping, it helps with edema (swelling), and it helps you sleep better at night.

Interestingly enough, an article just came out about the effects of maternal prenatal exercise on the newborn brain. They looked at women who were not previously very active, had them start a training plan with just 20 minutes 3 times a week of moderate activity, and in the end, they found that the brains of these women’s babies were actually more mature than the control group. It’s just one study and could be entirely a coincidence, but, let’s face it folks, with all the good exercise can do for regular people, if it’s not only safe but recommended for pregnant women to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy newborn, then why not give it a whirl?

Things to try for those not-so-active prior to pregnancy:

This one is the easiest to do because it doesn't require any special equipment or preparation. We've already talked in other blogs about easy ways to add walking to your everyday routine as a way of incorporating exercise. Make sure you have a pair of comfortable but supportive shoes and some comfortable clothing that isn't going to rub or irritate your skin.

There are tons of prenatal yoga classes out there, especially if you live in a big city. If you don't, there are great DVDs. Going to classes can be a great way to meet other pregnant women also trying to stay fit :) If you are already into yoga and have your favorite class, or if you join a regular yoga class, be sure to tell your instructor that you are pregnant so that exercises can be modified appropriately.

Weightlessness during pregnancy? What a fantastic idea! Especially in the later months, swimming is the perfect cardiovascular exercise during pregnancy because it is relaxing and allows you to have low-impact exercise while not feeling as huge and swollen as you do the rest of the day ;) 

Preferrably stationary, since biking outdoors puts you at risk for falls that can lead to abdominal trauma and miscarriage. 

Low-impact gym cardio
Elliptical, Nordic Track, Stair Master - all low-impact exercise machines that you can find at your local gym that are safe to use during pregnancy.

Light Strength Training and Cardio
If you're in NYC, check out for Central Park classes!
Exhale Spa They have toning classes and specialize some workouts for pregnant women

Some tips for seasoned exercisers and athletes:

What does moderate mean?
Obstetricians used to tell patients not to exceed a heart rate of 140 during exercise. That is an easy level of exertion for some athletes. They no longer use this guideline and instead say, "You should be able to have a conversation while exercising." I still think this isn't the best guideline, but you DO need to listen to your body, which is hard for some die-hard athletes to understand, since we are used to pushing through pain. That's why I've listed warning signs below ;) For those more used to terms involved with intense conditioning, you should never be near your lactic threshold. Sprinting and all-out exercises are out. Enjoy the break! ;)

Warning signs to slow down or stop exercise:
-Chest pain (slow down to a slow walk, keep moving to ensure that your blood returns from your extremities back to your heart, call someone or seek medical care if symptoms do not resolve)
-Dizziness (stop, get horizontal and lay on your left side to ensure blood return to your brain and adequate blood flow to the baby)
-Fainting (stop, as above, hydrate, call someone)
-Abdominal cramping (STOP until it resolves - cramping can be a sign of decreased blood flow to your uterus and the baby and continuing exercise can worsen that decreased blood flow because your heart is pumping blood to your extremities)
-Vaginal bleeding (STOP and call your doctor)

Is triathlon safe during pregnancy?
Some say yes! The key to racing during pregnancy is that you have to be willing to commit to racing at 75% of your normal effort. For some, racing at 75% is the same as training, and you can do training without the added monetary expenses and health risks. But, like I said, folks do it. Barb Limberg raced Kona while pregnant (at 15 weeks).

Is cycling safe during pregnancy?
Yes. Outdoor cycling is even safe, if you can guarantee that you won't fall. Plenty of women ride during pregnancy, but you have to accept the risks and ride under the safest conditions possible (not in the snow, obviously, like today). You probably need to abandon your road bike or at least get some wider hybrid tires, and clipping in is for post-partum, ladies. Even the most experienced cyclists may have difficulty with the changes in center of gravity and balance that the later stages of pregnancy bring, and trying to un-clip at the last second to avoid a fall gets a little tricky the bigger your belly is. Mounting and dismounting can be challenging. So, ride outdoors if you must, but, honestly, what's wrong with the indoor trainer?

What about weight training?
If you've already been doing weights prior to pregnancy, it is safe to continue, especially during the first trimester. Lighter weights with controlled, non-jerky movements are best, and this will be more important as the pregnancy progresses. I've read some stuff by non-physicians saying no kettle bells after the first trimester. I think most MDs aren't get specific about the exercises you can and can't do other than general guidelines, so do what feels right for your body and be flexible to make changes as you and your baby grow.

Go for it. But be prepared for some changes in your swing. I'm interested to hear from readers who golf how pregnancy changed things for them, since back pain seems to come to mind.

Apparently Reese Witherspoon played tennis during pregnancy.
Go figure! (This is not the friend I was talking about.)
Some say to lay off tennis during pregnancy, due to the quick changes in direction and the predilection for falls, but one of my friends played tennis up until 7 months of pregnancy. At this point, she felt like her balance just wasn't there anymore. Again, listening to your body is the best thing.

Interestingly, this may be safer than other forms of running since you are supposed to be running slower during pregnancy anyway. However, this is not the time to PR when you are running and racing for two, just like we said with regard to triathlon. Keep in mind, too, that race-day and training nutrition and hydration become even more critical than usual. You really have to hydrate pre-, during, and post-workout, and you may find that you need to top of energy stores with sugar, protein, and fats earlier on in your workouts than you normally would. Yes, your body should be able to regulate glucose and use glycogen stores, but keep in mind that while you are doing whatever you are doing during the day--be it training or working or sleeping--your body is working hard at its number-one priority: making a new human being! Make sure you do plenty of test-runs for nutrition and hydration prior to attempting long races. Lastly, pay attention to all those warning signs listed above. 

Just a side note, Kara and Paula had world-renowned coaches and trainers helping them do all this stuff, and they also had anti-gravity treadmills for their workouts. I'm not saying the rest of us can't do what they did pregnant, but they have some crazy-awesome PR's while not pregnant, so maybe just keep that in mind ;) Here they are doing a race for fun :)

Contact sports?
Avoid. Sorry folks. But do you really want to worry about someone hitting your abdomen? Your baby is in there! ;)


The elite:

Some great blogs on staying fit during pregnancy:

This is my favorite one on running:

On cycling:

For triathletes:

Stay tuned for:
-the specifics by each trimester
-how pregnancy changes gait and running form
-post-partum training