Getting In Shape Mid-Pregnancy
For the first 23 weeks of pregnancy, this fitness loving mama-to-be was on the sidelines. Thanks to bleeding brought on by placenta previa, no exercise, standing for long periods or even casual walks around the mall were allowed.
Like me, many mamas-to-be experience some unforeseen pregnancy complications that lead to bed rest, pelvic rest, activity restriction or even extended hospital stays. It’s scary, stressful and upsetting. You fear for the health of your baby, but you also fear for your sanity:
Will I be able to sit on my butt for months without going crazy? Will I replace exercise with competitive ice cream eating and end up with gestational diabetes? Will I end up friendless from becoming a super, duper grouch?
While I had no guarantee that my condition would resolve before the end of my pregnancy, I got the great news at 23 weeks that my placenta had moved, and I was released from the activity restriction. I was so happy and couldn’t wait to get back to my daily sweat.
Can You Get Back In Shape Mid-Pregnancy?
YES! Trust me, I didn’t think it would be possible to get "back in shape." (I use this phrase loosely, as every part of my body expands!) In fact, I had very low expectations about what I would be able to actually perform from an exercise perspective after all that time off from activity. And, I had even lower expectations of what “improvements” I would make.
But, all I really cared about was getting a healthy dose of feel good endorphins and to maybe improve my conditioning a bit, so I wasn’t gasping for air every time I climbed our stairs.
However, much to my surprise, I was able to achieve so much more than that with consistent (but very low intensity) effort. In the first few weeks, my conditioning and strength improved considerably. I went from barely being able to take on the StepMill for five minutes to easily completing 20 minutes in just two weeks. I gained back my stability. My lower back pain diminished. And, to my surprise, after about month or so, I actually started to look noticeably more fit. (Say what?)
Where Did I Start?
I had to be really cautious and smart about transitioning back to activity, as I was not dealing with the same body I had pre-pregnancy. I was weak, unbalanced, and de-conditioned. So, while I was so pent up that felt like I wanted to full out sprint down the street, run stadiums and jump on the squat rack, I had to be smart.
I leaned on my friend and Bombshell Baby Fit Coach Jennifer Andrews, who has coached 100s of Mom-to-be for an overall approach. I knew she’d understand my desire to get after it while balancing what is safe. In other words, I had to retrain my brain for what fitness was going to look like for me.
Also, once a week, I trained in-person with a friend and expert trainer Dena Pistor to help ensure I was stable and keeping good form. After 23 weeks of limited activity, I was a bit of a mess. And, I was a Nervous Nelly about what I could safely do without creating more complications.
My Initial Approach: Get Back To Basics
Getting back to activity mid-pregnancy meant getting back to basics. Prior to getting pregnant, I envisioned taking all sorts of fun classes like prenatal yoga and barre, keeping my cardio frequent and intense for as long as my body would allow and lifting a few times a week HIIT-style.
Instead, I found myself doing basic light weight, high rep resistance training five to six days a week with shorter, low intensity cardio sessions. I didn’t focus on cardio a lot, because traditional cardio brought on the Braxton-Hicks contractions (and, later in my pregnancy, led to pelvic pain when the cardio sessions were too long or too intense).
This very basic fitness approach felt safe, comfortable and just plain good. While I never left the gym dripping in sweat or like my butt was kicked, I got the endorphins I craved and a little muscle pump.
Overall, my focus has been as follows: (1) feel the muscles working, (2) maintain strict form, (3) keep heart rate below 140 BPM, per my doc’s recommendation*, (4) keep things moving (no long rests unless I feel I need it) and (5) do what feels good.
*Note: Many consider that heart rate requirement to be outdated. However, given my high-risk journey to this point, I decided to go the conservative route.
The Third Trimester: JUST KEEP MOVING!
From Week 23 until about Week 30, I slowly increased my training intensity, as I felt my strength and conditioning improve. However, a few weeks into the third trimester (about Week 31), I started to feel like I was back in the first trimester. I was pooped, had bouts of nausea and stacked up all sorts of new aches and pains. Given how I felt, I had to change my approach to exercise a bit.
In doing so, I adopted the philosophy, “Just Keep Moving.” It doesn’t matter what or how much I do, the key is to just keep doing something to stay mobile and feel at my best. Because my energy is so unpredictable and variable, sometimes I leave the gym after 20 minutes and sometimes I feel great for 75 minutes.
Because of this, I do a lot of total body training with supersets combining an upper and lower body moves. Total body training ensures that no muscle is neglected in a week of longer and shorter workouts. It also allows me to create more intensity by always having lower body moves incorporated into my sets.
In addition to having variable energy, I started to experience shooting pelvic pain, also known as “lightning crotch.” And, while it kinda sounds like a super power, it’s definitely NOT. It’s just a super pain! For me, its exacerbated by cardio with any kind of bouncing, even walking! So, I rely on the StepMill, as its very low impact when climbing at a slower rate (50-70 SPM). And, if you really push through your heels, you can feel your glutes activating with each step. Gotta love a booty burn!
It’s Worth It
After spending more than half of my pregnancy not exercising, I wondered whether its even worth it to get back to it before the baby arrives—especially because I was so concerned about creating more complications by doing so.
If you are pondering this thought (and have medical clearance to exercise), I can say that, without a doubt, IT IS worth it. While I knew that exercise would help manage stress and give me a boost, I didn't expect to actually look and feel stronger during my pregnancy after so much time away.
Besides feeling strong, exercise helped me to feel better overall, especially on those days when my hormones were kicking my butt and I felt just blah.
In addition to my experiences, exercise will help you feel stronger come delivery time and ensure you have a good fitness base for once the baby arrives.
And, most of all, exercise keeps YOU on the agenda. It’s so easy to lose yourself in the process of becoming a Mom—even in pregnancy. But, we are all better and more capable of caring for others when we care for ourselves. So, take a step, get in a sweat and enjoy some exercise “me time.” Your body, mind and baby will thank you!