This is a super controversial topic. I know. A lot of the concern usually comes from a very good place, but as a trainer, I sometimes don’t understand the expertise on my pregnancy and training regimen from other people, so I decided on putting down what I think of it all…
To start – I appreciate the concern, but working out, and that includes running if it’s been done before and if the pregnancy is with no contraindications – is considered safe. What is safe? Well, this is a loose term that really can’t be defined, because, truly, every pregnancy is different.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), in their guidelines, which have been reaffirmed in 2017 states that:
· Physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women, although some modification to exercise routines may be necessary because of normal anatomic and physiologic changes and fetal requirements.
· Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.
· Regular physical activity during pregnancy improves or maintains physical fitness, helps with weight management, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women, and enhances psychologic well-being.
In the ’80s ACOG came out with the guidelines for pregnant women that said they shouldn’t exceed a heart rate of 140 BPM, they should avoid possible overheating during exercises (body temperature above 38 degrees C) and the strenuous exercises shouldn’t be longer than 15 minutes. At that time, it was a progress, because for a long time pregnancy equalled almost bed rest. But now things have changed, more and more women are working out before pregnancy and as the guidelines stated – it’s great to do all that before, during and after pregnancy. Of course, considering, you are cleared by the doctor.
So, if you’re cleared by the doc and off you go to your workout – I would also ask you to carefully consider your self-awareness. Why? Because if you don’t have that – no matter how much you’ve worked out before, you shouldn’t work out now. Pregnancy will require you to make adjustments and you might not always have a workout you wanted. I have gone for runs that are 30 – 40 minutes with continues running, I’ve done bouts of running and walking, I have just power walked. I always leave the house with the purpose to run, but it doesn’t always work out that way and if you’re not self-aware, you might miss the signs. Also, as I reached my week 22 into pregnancy, I realized that even though I tried to run, it just didn’t feel good, so I knew it was time to stop and nowadays I just go for power walks.
What are the signs that maybe a run is not the most ideal thing for you today? In my training – I was watching my heart rate. Yes, the 140 rule might be getting old, but a heart rate is a good indicator. If you run at your usual pace, but the heart rate is higher than it normally is – something’s not happening or adapting. Walk a while and watch what happens – do you recover quickly and your heart rate drops back down to about 100 – 110 bpm? If you don’t recover – maybe consider a walking workout instead of running.
On the days when I went for a run and I saw that my heart rate stayed very consistent (and I try to be consistent at around 130 bpm) – I did a continues runs. If I saw my heart rate spike, but when I start walking it quickly went down – I did that – ran for 10 minutes and then walked for 5. And if I saw that my heart rate spiked and stayed higher than I’d like, longer than I’d like, those were the days when I just kept on walking, without running at all.
If I didn’t exercise my self-awareness, I know I’d try to push through every time I ran, because… Well… I came to run. That mindset is wonderful when you’re not pregnant, but while you are – remember that the baby is taking a lot of energy from you and it’s ok to not work out just the way you planned it.
As for the distance – it depends on how you want to structure everything. If I worked out longer than 40 minutes, I got hungry and I needed to nap afterwards. If I had not planned a nap afterwards – I kept my runs at around 40 minutes and since I ran, looking at my heart rate, the distance went down from 7 – 10K to about 4 – 5K, because my pace was slower to keep my heart rate in that 130 BPM range.
Why didn’t I run faster? Because I was running purely for getting out and getting the fresh air. I might’ve done longer bouts where I ran at 145 – 150 BPM, just for the endurance (that will be needed in labour), but overall, since I am not the biggest fan of running as an exercise, I just liked that it made me go outside more. I’d recommend, as long as you feel that you can take an adequate breath and nothing is pulling or hurting – you’re fine.
Also, I always ran, using a pregnancy belt. If I run down the street to catch a bus, I get a feeling that I want to hold my belly, with a belt – it’s doing that job for me. BUT if you run with a belt, you consciously have to remind yourself to brace your core. Don’t count on the belt to do the work for you, because if you don’t keep your core tight, during the run, your organs, baby and pelvic floor will feel all the pressure. If you’re not sure if you are bracing – try a couple of runs without the belt and try to do it while you run. If you can’t – I wouldn’t suggest using a belt or running at all…
And the food – I always eat something before I run. It might be a fruit (usually it was) or ½ slice of bread. Nothing much, because if I ate and worked out – I got the worst heartburn (and beware – that happens a lot more as the baby grows and pushes everything out of the way). AND drink a lot of water before you head out. I never took water with me, but if you know you’ll get thirsty – take the bottle with you. And hydrate yourself afterwards a lot. It will help you rehydrate the body and your cells, it’ll help you to avoid headaches and it’ll help your blood not to thicken which happens after workouts and when there’s not enough water in your system.
Remember – as long as you feel great during and after an exercise – it’s good for you and your baby!