I'm Pregnant - Can I Still Train?

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I’ll preface these thoughts with a huge caveat: listen to your doctor and your body.  Only you and your doctor can know what’s best for you, your body, and your unborn baby.  What follows is just my own experience with and reflections on training while pregnant.

When I found out I was pregnant at about six weeks, our triathlon training season had just kicked off and one of my first questions to my doctor was whether I could stick with it.  To my immense relief, she said yes.  Since I wasn’t new to triathlons and my body was used to daily exercise, she gave me the thumbs up for continuing the routine, as long as I listened to my body (yup, that’s a theme here) and didn’t try to set any records.  Andy and I weren’t yet ready to tell the whole team I was expecting, but I quietly let our phenomenal spin instructor know so she didn’t expect me to max it out in every training session.  I also joined a differently paced running group so I wouldn’t be tempted to push it too hard keeping up with the leaders of the pack.  But those were pretty much the only adjustments I made to my training regime for the first trimester.

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Now, I fully acknowledge I was lucky.  I generally didn’t have morning sickness and aside from some general fatigue, I basically felt like my same self.

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In the second trimester, things got a little more complicated but training was still totally manageable.  I was extra careful on the single outdoor group bike ride I joined, strategically positioning myself in the middle of the pack to fight that familiar temptation to try to stick with the frontrunners.  After that 30-ish mile ride, I decided I was more comfortable confining my bike training to the spin room, but I know there are plenty of pregnant women who continue to ride outside in groups right up to their due date.  In terms of running, I knocked my max distance back to about six miles at a respectable but markedly slower pace than pre-pregnancy.  I swam 2-3 times a week for about 45 minutes and an average distance of 2500 yards.  And beyond formal training, I biked to work for a round trip of about 10 miles a day.  All this prepared me for a decent showing in a sprint tri at 23 weeks pregnant and the swim leg of a relay in an Olympic-distance tri at 27 weeks. 

Toward the beginning of my third trimester, running started to strain my lower abdomen and after a scary, sleepless night of sharp hip pain, I decided to lay off running until the baby was out.  And I stopped biking to work around 31 weeks, mostly because my commute distance suddenly doubled but also because of the swamp-like DC summer and my growing bump.  Aside from a weekly spin class, some yoga here and there, and walking (or being walked by) our energetic dog, swimming became my primary exercise.  Luckily I’ve been able to intersperse potentially monotonous pool workouts with regular open water swims in the Chesapeake Bay.

As of 34 weeks, I’m swimming 1600-2200 yards an average of five times per week and it’s probably the number one thing keeping me sane.  Swimming has kept me limber, regulated my weight gain, and most importantly, made me feel like myself despite so many massive physical and emotional changes.  I’ve got about six weeks to go and am optimistic I’ll be able to swim right till the end.

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So, there’s my unvarnished story of exercising while pregnant.  I didn’t want to write this in an “advice column” format because each woman experiences pregnancy vastly differently and has to make the best choices for herself.  I’d just add my voice to the chorus of women (including some super inspirational triathlon and running friends) saying that barring any medical reasons not to exercise, pregnancy doesn’t have to mean giving up your identity as an athlete.  Sure, you might not top any podiums for a while, but assuming your doctor and your body approve, you can keep right on working up a daily sweat.  And lots of reputable sources, including the American Pregnancy Association, are on board with the benefits of exercise during pregnancy (see here, for example).

So go get ‘em, mamas to be!  We’d love to hear your stories about exercising while pregnant - feel free to share in the comment section here or on our social media platforms (FB: @openworldracing1 and Insta: @openworldracing).

Elise Crane