4 Pearls of Wisdom for the Newly Pregnant Athlete

Mar 05, 2024

By Kat Suchet, Founder of Hatch Athletic

There is A LOT of pregnancy fitness advice out there now, which is fab. We know that fitness in pregnancy is recommended (in fact 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week is recommended by the WHO for low-risk pregnant women). Which is a far cry from what our mothers and grandmothers were told. Fitness in pregnancy is now encouraged. Good, and thank goodness.

But we're still short on pregnancy fitness advice for athletic women. I mean those that like to train hard, and regularly so.

Perhaps you love lifting a barbell, and know your dumbbell from your kettlebell. Or the idea of running a 5km has never scared you, a 10km even. Perhaps you've tried a triathlon, or you play rugby, are a rower or a horse-rider. Perhaps you love thrashing it out in CrossFit and enjoy this kind of intensity regularly. The fact of the matter is - I'm talking to you if you're athletic, fit or strong - not elitist or professional.

And there's more of us athletic women than there ever has been. We're fitter and stronger than ever. And, naturally, we're still having babies. A few more big wins for the race in general. 

So what, really are the do's and don'ts for those first 12 weeks in pregnancy and is there much we should be aware of if we're the kind of person that loves to redline with frequency?

Do we really need to keep it moderate and, as they say 'listen to our body?'


1. Keep Moving

If you're feeling great in your first trimester and can train as 'normal' then keep going! Enjoy it, don't fear that you're doing any harm to your baby.

Exercise in pregnancy is safe and recommended. Training with weight in pregnancy is also safe and recommended. It is great for strengthening and preparing the core, the lower body and the pelvic floor for all things to come in pregnancy, delivery and postpartum.

There isn't any exercise you should or should not do. Take note of points 2, 3 and 4 and that's it!


2. Manage your Expectations of Yourself

Athlete-brain can really come into its own in the first trimester. 

When I became pregnant I had been a competitive CrossFit athlete and coach for going on 5 years. I was used to having control. I was used to manipulating my environment, my body, my diet and my rest and seeing results. I had been bossing it in the gym, in fact I was probably the fittest I've ever been, and now I couldn't straddle the assault bike for want of gagging or keeling over in a corner.

What was worse is the generic advice said I could work out as 'normal.'  My perfectionist tendencies meant I already felt inferior. Was I 'failing' at being able to follow even the generic advice? I went two whole weeks without setting a foot in the gym and properly beat myself up for it.

Do NOT beat yourself up like I did.

What you can, or are allowed to do safely, and what you should give yourself permission to do are two different things. Adjust your own expectations of yourself. Expect that you might achieve less in your first trimester, and thats O.K. 

Let me say this now - in the first trimester - it's quite unlikely that you'll be unable to perform physically in the way you are used to, despite the plethora of advice telling you that you can carry on with what you've been doing. This is pregnancy safety advice but what it neglects is the mental battle a fit female will go through when learning she simply can't perform at the intensity that she is used to. Frankly she's knackered and can't choose if she'd prefer to throw up or smash a bag of salty chips.

If you feel bloated and breathless remember your body is doing an incredible thing and needs your energy elsewhere right now. Just getting to the gym is achievement enough - let it energise you, or let it help you zone out, or feel more normal. Just get that blood moving, move the joints and get some endorphins going. If you can. And if you can't, just give yourself permission to curl up and do some self-care. 

Panicking about lost fitness? It's rare that athletes are unable to workout throughout their entire pregnancy. The second trimester often brings with it a lot more energy and capacity. 


3. Keep Well-Fuelled 

Hydrate. Drink water and plenty of it. And then more water. Aim for 3 litres every day if you can. Try a little pinch of salt in there to help with the absorption if you're training hard. Dehydration can feel awful if you're pregnant and also you don't want to get constipated (which is super common in early pregnancy). You'll likely be sweating more so losing more water than normal, so do whatever you can to replenish your lost fluids, keep your bowel movements regular and avoid headaches. 

Snack. Regular snacking is thy friend in pregnancy. Have something on you at all times in the first trimester. From the moment you wake, to in the gym, to at your desk. Low blood sugar can hit you like a tonne of bricks, espcially if you're not well-fuelled pre or post workout. 

Supplements. Avoid pre-workouts that contain caffeine - we all know caffeine should be restricted in pregnancy but some of these pre-workouts can pack a serious caffeine punch without even realising, so do check the label. Protein shakes post-workout are typically O.K. if they're just a simple whey protein variety. Go for the ones with minimal additives and I always say, only supplement with protein if you're absolutely sure you're not able to get it from your diet. Natural sources of macro-nutrients are always a better option to the processed alternative. 


4. Pace and Get-Up with the Tech


Pregnant women have a higher basal resting heart rate, so now you're pregnant it might spike to a higher heart rate quicker than you're used to.

Athletic women can also be quite competitive, with themselves if not with others. Discomfort has also become quite the norm in modern exercise and oftentimes pushing through discomfort is seen as an achievement. 

What's more, clinical studies have suggested that athletes are notoriously poor at subjectively rating their own exertion because they're used to feeling uncomfortable, so we recommend objective monitoring to tell you how how hard you're pushing.

As a result, I suggest wearing a heart rate monitor. Garmin, MyZone, Polar, and now even FitBit and Apple Watch have all been clinically validated as accurate HR monitors. 

The latest recommendations (at of the time of publishing this blog) suggest keeping your workouts under 90% max heart rate with short periods over this being absolutely fine. 

Pair this advice with using the Talk Test - being able to comfortably hold a conversation during workouts - which is sound advice through your whole pregnancy.

Although it's been proven that it's safe to spend short periods at higher intensities I wouldn't recommend hanging maxed out for a whole workout. Your body will always make sure it protects your baby's homeostatic environment before it protects you (blood supply and nourishment) so a massively intense workout in pregnancy might leave you feeling rubbish and depleted for the rest of the day. Not a great idea in our books. 

So, if you're used to pushing through discomfort or switching into auto-pilot whilst you train through discomfort - going into the "the zone" - maybe park that type of training-behaviour for now. It might be fine for the workout, but it could set you back for the rest of the day and pregnancy training should be there to make you feel GOOD, not rotten. 

Lastly, make sure you're not overheating in workouts. A pregnant woman's basal temperature is a little warmer as you've actually got more blood flowing through your veins! You've also got a brand new hormonal balance, making you slightly more susceptible to sprains strains and jointy-tweaks. Be mindful when you're working out and start connecting with your body in a new way. Feels uncomfortable in your body or your mind? Reign it in a little.

Enjoy! I hope you've found some of this info helpful. 



P.S. Are you in our Facebook Group and do you know about our Pregnancy Training Programmes?

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