How can you run safe throughout your pregnancy?
That Monday morning in January 2015, I just wanted to go for my usual run. However, my positive pregnancy test in mind, I wondered: “am I even supposed to run anymore?” This thought turned that “usual run” into a special one and one which I still remember. At the start, I ran as if I was jogging on eggshells. It somehow felt strange and unusual, even if it was probably mostly in my head rather than my body. I soon got rid of that feeling and lots of runs were to follow. I am hereby broaching the issue of running training during pregnancy and I am going to try and give advice about how still to run with your belly growing bigger.
Many expectant mothers have been very active before pregnancy and they want to remain active even during and after. Exercise and pregnancy are not mutually exclusive. However, hardly anyone is as easy to unsettle as a pregnant woman. This should not have to be like that! Recently, several positive effects of exercise on both the mother and the baby have been demonstrated: a positive influence on the mood of the expectant mother, decreasing risk of gestational diabetes, avoidance of excessive weight gain, less physical complaints and higher physical and psychological resilience of the mother.
During my pregnancy, the following points have been my guidance:
- Every pregnancy is different. Therefore, you should always talk about your plans with a medical expert in advance.
- No experiments in your training during pregnancy: expectant mothers should only train the way they have been doing before pregnancy. If you haven’t been running before your pregnancy, you should not start with that as long as you are expecting. What you could do in that case is to start with Aquajogging, Nordic Walking or to use a cross trainer.
- Listen to your body! Our body is able to give us rather reliable signals for what works and what does not. Active people usually have particularly good body awareness. Listen to the signals from your body (heart rate, temperature, well-being, etc.) and act accordingly. In case of bleedings or contractions of the uterus, stop the current sporting activity immediately!
Running training during pregnancy
Experienced runners may continue with their training as before, provided they consider the following points.
High intense training in the anaerobic zone is not recommended, as this firstly prevents the baby from getting enough oxygen, and secondly, the concussions on your body might be too heavy.
Amount of training
As long as your running feeling and recovery are good, there is no reason for you to reduce the amount of training hours from before pregnancy. However, pregnancy itself is already a physical stress for your body and can be compared to light endurance training. Generally, I have reduced my training load a little and in the beginning of my pregnancy I did not have the energy to do long runs. I did not start doing them later either, because with my weight increasing, running was becoming more exhausting than swimming or cycling.
Running in the first trimester
In the first trimester it is all about gaining trust and feeling what is still possible. If everything else feels good, you can continue with your usual running training, as long as you adjust the intensity. I was tired a lot and I often had troubles getting myself to put on my shoes and to go out running. But still, after training I always felt better.
Running in the second trimester
In the second trimester many women are very vivid and this should be taken advantage of. Towards the end of the second trimester, running training has to potentially be reduced due to the growing belly. Shorter runs or single trainings should then be replaced with Nordic Walking, Aquajogging or a cross trainer. As opposed to the other two sports I usually do (swimming and cycling), I could really feel my increased weight when running. I reduced the length of my base runs to 40-45 minutes towards the end of the second trimester.
Running in the third trimester
The baby belly is growing and now, at the latest, people start staring at you when they see you running past: a woman, pregnant, running?! It is still possible to run even in the third trimester, as long as it feels comfortable. Some are able to run right until the end of their pregnancy. I was still running for about 40 minutes two to three times a week by the 35th week of pregnancy. I especially focused on a smooth running style, so that the extra weight would not lead to incorrect loading or other injuries. In addition to that, I did a running training in the water (Aquajogging), which was a bit longer than my ordinary running sessions.
One day, the moment might come when you realise that it doesn’t work anymore. This can be in the first, second or even third semester and it is really individual. Sometimes it might help to alternate running and walking or you might just try another day. I stopped my running training when I started to repeatedly feel my lower belly going hard when running. I changed to the cross trainer, which, in addition to Aquajogging, turned out to be a good alternative.
Strength training is a must!
Strength training in relation with running training gets ever more important in the course of a pregnancy. The additional weight is extra demanding for your body and the stress on the pelvic floor is enormous. Further, the hormone relaxin loosens tendons and ligaments and it can lead to instability.
My ten pieces of personal running advise for expecting mothers
- Trust your body feeling, but use a heart rate belt at times after all.
- Do only take part in competitions if you are able to control yourself and run according to heart rate. This is why competitions were a taboo for me.
- Generally, and especially with an ongoing pregnancy, running works better in the morning than in the evening. The bladder is empty and not yet strained from everyday life.
- Allow for possible toiled breaks in your sessions. The concussions emerging when running often made me feel like I had to pee.
- I hardly felt my baby moving while jogging. She probably used to fall asleep then, she was always very active after. .
- Be careful with your gear: Your sports bra should fit well (your breasts might change during pregnancy) and your running shoes should not be worn out already.
- I don’t have any experience in this myself, but others have told me that it helps to wear an abdominal belt and that this makes running more comfortable.
- Don’t run on an empty stomach and bring a small snack – almonds did the job for me.
- Drink enough after training and, if necessary, already during training.
- Healthy and balanced nutrition is important during pregnancy in general and for active women especially
I wish you all many nice running moments, even when pregnant. Keep on moving…
Our Gold Coach Stefanie Meyer is a passionate runner and Ironwoman. She lives her passion for sports through her profession as a sports scientist, sports teacher and running coach. She left Switzerland in summer 2014 and has been living in London since then. Being a mum herself, Stefanie runs a blog www.sportymum.net about sports during and after pregnancy. Since the birth of her daughter she has been regularly taking part in competitions again.