You're a fit mama, or mama-to be. You know your dumbbell from your kettlebell and the idea of running a 5km has never scared you, a 10km even, perhaps you've tried a triathlon, or perhaps you love thrashing it out in CrossFit and enjoy this kind of intensity regularly. The fact of the matter is - when you fell pregnant, you were athletic, fit and strong.
Let me take a guess that you're quite competitive and driven too. You're used to pushing through discomfort and you're used to juggling - to switching areas of your brain into auto-pilot whilst you train through discomfort... going into the 'zone.'
And now you're pregnant. The advice out there says 'listen to your body,' 'keep moving as you've always done,' it's safe to do 'moderate exercise' in your first and second trimesters. But what is moderate exercise anyway? This advice isn't tailored for the highly athletic population. In fact this advice is based on a population that has never lifted more than 20kg from the floor. That's our warm-up weights! The fact of the matter is there's NO real medical advice on training strong pregnant women.
It's time you fit and athletically capable mums-to-be had some solid, straight-talking advice on how to look after your body throughout pregnancy. I'd love to share with you a few insights, as an athlete, that I wish I knew when I found out I was pregnant.
Now you may be past the point of just finding out you're pregnant, that's ok. It's still great to reflect on the things we tell ourselves in these early weeks and months.
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 all of the medical advice out there said I could work out as 'normal.' The problem was, my 'normal' was deadlifting double bodyweight and doing burpees to red-line... and I was seriously struggling. My perfectionist tendencies meant I already felt inferior. Was I 'failing' at being able to follow even the generic advice?
I think the best thing to say here is: you're not 'the normal.' CrossFit athletes, functional fitness athletes and weightlifting women don't really fall into a 'normal' category of fitness, competitive or not. Because we tend to circulate in social and fitness groups where we're all quite fit, it's sometimes hard to get a frame of reference, but you only need to look at where your fitness was when you first set foot in the gym and compare it to where you're at now to get some perspective on what 'normal fitness' is. Even if you're not a competitive athlete, if pre-pregnancy squatting under a 50, 60, 70kg barbell was your idea of 'normal' you're actually very much the athlete.
Do NOT beat yourself up like I did. It's ok if you feel like a sack of potatoes, you're breathing out your arse, and your barbell suddenly feels a lot heavier... 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. Now is not the time to be making gains.
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.
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 will achieve less in your first trimester.
"Ever heard the term "Go hard, or go home?" Yeh, that's not really ideal terminology for a pregnant athlete to hear. "
Hmm? What? No ego here. Said no one ever.
I'm afraid if you're sporty then the two kind of come hand in hand to a greater or lesser extent. It means you're competitive and you get a kick out of doing better each time than the time before. Even if that's competitive with yourself and not with others.
Ever heard the term "Go hard, or go home?" Yeh, that's not really ideal terminology for a pregnant athlete to hear.
If you're not managing to work out at all, that's ok too. Don't beat yourself up and fret over all the 'lost fitness' - you are in SUCH good shape for pregnancy, and that's your job right now. If you are one of the lucky ones who feels energetic and is working out like normal in your first trimester - that's great but park the ego. It's good to practice now as the second and third trimester will come and you'll need to make friends with scaling.
Sure, there are women out there who will clean and jerk their bodyweight at 30 weeks pregnant and who will compete up until their first contraction. But my feeling is, unless Nike has you on a retainer, it's time to put the competing on hold for now. The work you put in by being humble in your approach to pregnancy exercise will hold you in good stead for life.
...there are things to be mindful of.
I groan when people say 'listen to your body' because as a fit woman you are used to ignoring pain during exercise. So let's rephrase it to 'don't be tempted to push beyond discomfort.' And this is quite a new skill to tune yourself into. Be that heart rate, overheating (a common problem!), an achey joint or a twingy muscle. 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.
We only really have safety guidelines with regards to exertion because a pregnant woman's heart rate is naturally higher than if she weren't pregnant - it's not really to do with depriving your bub of vital O2. Bub will get her Os way before you. A pregnant woman's basal temperature is also a little warmer. With regards to new aches and pains, your body now has relaxin swimming around your circulation, a hormone which relaxes the ligaments around your joints. This makes you more susceptible to sprains, strains and tweaks than you used to be.
Yep - the good old 1960's advice of monitoring one's heart rate in pregnancy is golden in my books. But not for their reasons. Discomfort has become quite the norm in modern exercise and oftentimes pushing through discomfort is seen as an achievement. Pregnant modern athletic women need the monitor to objectively tell them how hard they're pushing.
The modern day generic advice suggests that fitness fans use the Talk Test or Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion. However, the athletic population finds it more difficult to accurately estimate their own exertion objectively using this test because they're used to pushing so hard it can feel quite 'normal.' On top of this, when you're pregnant you pump more blood around your body so your natural resting heart rate becomes higher. As a fit pregnant woman then, with an already elevated resting heart-rate, you run the risk of perceiving your exertion as way less than it is in reality.
So get shopping and keep under 80-85% max heart rate. Garmin, MyZone, Polar, and now even FitBit and Apple Watch have all been clinically validated as accurate HR monitors. Subjectivity isn't good enough for the pregnant modern athletic female population - you need technology to help you know how hard you're pushing.
Hope some of that has been a help for you newly pregnant fitness fiends.
My next post will have the great exercises you can be doing in your second trimester, so be sure to tune into that!
You've got this mama,
P.S. If you're not already following Hatch on instagram check out our account @hatch_athletic or give our Facebook Group a like. There's loads more pregnancy and postpartum advice happening on there all the time!