Confession. Last night I had my first proper pregnancy meltdown. I’d been up since 5am, worked til close to midnight with next to no breaks in the middle, fuelled by my impending holiday, and completely forgot that 31 August marked the halfway point in my pregnancy. Not only did I realise I missed the occasion to celebrate my wee baby growing to the size of a mango, I was also distraught because I’d spent no time with my dog Murray and he was on the first ride out to his doggy daycare/holiday boarders in the morning. I cried. Somewhat hysterically. If I couldn’t be a good companion to Murray, how on earth was I going to mother my mango?!
I made it 20 weeks in without letting the hormones get to my head, but as it transpires exhaustion can derail even the sanest, healthiest fit pregnancy. Which is why I want to take this opportunity to share my pre-natal feelings and experiences so far. There are a multitude of physical, physiological and psychological changes to contend with during pregnancy, so it’s completely natural to feel a little overwhelmed.
I’m still learning as I go, and I’m fortunate to have some incredible clients and friends who are superhuman mums willing to share their own experiences with me. Hopefully (by simultaneously reminding myself that I’ve got this), I can equip you (assuming you, reader, are pregnant, or can mentally transplant yourself into the position of outstretching even your stretchiest leggings) with some useful tips and soundbites that stick with you when you need them most.
1. Pregnancy is an opportunity, not a disability
Straight away, there are a few no-gos when it comes to pre-natal training. Lying on your stomach is out, for a start. Getting too hot is not advisable either, so scaling back the intensity and avoiding exercise in heated studios or during the hottest part of a summer’s day is wise. There are mixed views about inversions, but unless you’re solid as a rock on your head/hands, those are probably out too. That means a time-out in my gymnastics training for a year or so, but aside from that I’ve made relatively few adaptations to my training in the early months. In fact, I have loved working with new parameters in my training and approaching pre-natal workouts as a new challenge rather than an impediment to my wellbeing. In many ways, I may be even healthier for it.
Many of my usual fitness priorities have received extra attention as a means of counteracting some of the potential strains of pregnancy. I’ve always tried to age-proof my spine and counteract years of sitting on my ass typing away to deadline with ample butt-boosting workouts. The glutes play a key role in preventing Lordosis (an exaggerated curve in your lower back) during pregnancy, so squats, deadlifts, bridges, step-ups and lunges remained centerstage on leg day. Catch up on my recent glute training guide if you haven’t already seen it.
Strong upper back muscles also help to keep your chest open and maintain excellent posture when you start slinging baby around like a kangaroo. Including lots of pulling movements like rows, pulldowns, pull-ups and flys means Baby Joey won’t be busting your back when you’re on his or her beck and call.
Here’s a round-up of simple pregnancy modifications to help you rule out the few pre-natal training no-nos while still maintaining an active lifestyle.
2. Strong abs make for killer cramps (and quiet signals)
I’m yet to experience any serious kicking from my future athlete (no pressure, piglet), but one consequence of beginning pregnancy with a six pack (now long gone) is a serious case of second trimester cramps. The softening of ligaments around the stomach causes painful cramps, and the tighter your muscles the bigger the impact. I certainly don’t regret the hard work I put in developing a strong core over recent years, but I’m trying to listen to my body when it subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) tells me that piking and planking are best done in moderation as my abs morph into a mango-sized human.
3. There’s no relaxing about relaxin
Speaking of softening ligaments, the hormone behind this response is called relaxin, and we get it in droves from early on in pregnancy. As well as ligaments, it softens the tendons connecting muscle to bone. As a consequence, it can be far more challenging to maintain the same tension in the body during weightlifting. I can feel my back and hips soften beneath the bar when I take to the squat rack, increasing my risk of injury if I push it too hard. Squatting throughout pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for your lean muscle mass, metabolism and pelvic floor, but this is the time to begin dropping weight and focusing on high reps with excellent form.
4. Your two perky new assets can be rather pesky
Always between two rather modest cup sizes, I can safely say I’ve never experienced breast pain during impact sports. Until now. I’m still between two sizes, but they’re certainly not letters with which I’m familiar, and the bounce factor when I don’t properly support my assets is astonishing. I’ve sized up in my Sweaty Betty sports bras and am opting for more supportive models paired with more moderate exercise so I can continue to enjoy the burn, without the bounce.
5. Find stillness wherever possible
Six months ago, stretch or yin based yoga classes would make my mind wander in every which direction except the one chosen for the focus of the meditation. Now when I’m feeling overwhelmed (which is often), I cue a slow flow YouTube sequence from Yoga With Adriene and let the world beyond my body, my brain and my bump melt away. The future has a way of getting pretty big and crazy when you’re about to be responsible for another human, so a bit of internal focus is sometimes the best antidote to the anxieties of pregnancy. As many yoga shapes become uncomfortable (like twisting and inverting), I am happily opting for balance and stillness.
As a side note, the stress hormone cortisol has the power to swing your pregnancy from a perfectly pleasant experience to a fraught year of fear, second guessing and sleep exhaustion. Taking the time to train your parasympathetic nervous system (in layman’s terms, the part of your body that chills you the f*$! out and offers clarity of mind) by slowing it all down is just as important as keeping up with the most active components of your wellbeing.
6. Movement is the best medicine
I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I can keep up with my busy schedule and rigorous exercise, but honestly I can’t imagine my first trimester would have been as plain sailing as it was without my early starts and constant movement. I didn’t get away nausea-free, but having client commitments distracted me from morning sickness and exercising during and outside of my classes ensured I had a constant supply of endorphins to get me through. At times I’ve overstepped (cue last night’s hysterics), and this is no time for sleep deprivation, but mindfully managing your timetable to include a bit of movement every day will give you the illusion of being in control. In reality, we’re never really in control. But what dream didn’t start with some form of illusion?
7. Athleisure is a maternity godsend
Aside from a couple pairs of maternity jeans, my wardrobe remains much the same as it was before pregnancy. Mind you, some of my more snug leggings are out and I’m favouring loose or open-backed tops over fitted vests and crop tops, but Sweaty Betty remains my go-to for day and weekend wear. In particular, the Power and Contour leggings are super soft and stretchy on bump, so I can feel as comfortable writing this blog as I do practising pull-ups in the gym. My Hey Jo’s with an adjustable waistband and high-waisted Figure Fit leggings have been generously forgiving, too.
8. Protein is paramount
While I can’t say I’ve been craving Marmite (sorry to the many enthusiasts among you, but yuck!) or sardines, one thing for which I do have a constant hunger is meat. As a growing baby uses up ample iron and magnesium stores, these recovery-boosting minerals need regular topping up. I’ve felt the consequences when I have too little protein; pregnancy DOMS is unlike any post-workout feeling I’ve ever experienced. I can’t advise on supplements as everyone is different and you should always check with your doctor before taking anything above and beyond your pre-natal vitamins, but getting a protein source into every meal will keep you moving less like a penguin and more like your pre-pregnancy self.
9. Vanity won’t cut it
I admire a set of well-sculpted abs as much as the next person, but my #fitspiration comes from a place far deeper than the Instagram selfie. I’m still not feeling particularly maternal, but I already know I want to show baby everything the world has to offer. That means having the strength to carry him/her to wonderful places, the energy to remain active without fatiguing and the endless supply of enthusiasm to laugh my way those long tiring days and nights when sleep is rationed and naps are shoe-horned between my duties as a new mum.
10. You’re on your own (and that’s OK)
Some people may be over-cautious… eg, my GP saying NO abs exercises or cardio for 9 months, with zero medical context or consideration for the fact that I’m strong, active and indeed qualified in pre and post-natal fitness. Some may be over liberal… I recently read a pre-natal training guide written by a CrossFit enthusiast that recommends burpees over a loaded barbell at 8 months pregnant. Because attempting to clear elevated metal objects at such a precious stage of pregnancy clearly sounds sensible, right?!
Accept advice with gratitude and take the morsels of wisdom that prove most useful, but also allow yourself time to tune out of the white noise (and there will be a lot of it) and tune into the best barometer there is: yourself. The process isn’t always joyful, your workouts (not to mention your body) won’t always look or feel the way you want them to, and the answers aren’t always immediately available. This is one journey that’s unique to you, and it must be accepted as such. I suspect the same will go for the next 20 odd years, but surely the best moments of life involve a little bit of winging it?
If you’d like to enjoy a fit pregnancy alongside me, there will still be a few weeks of Fit Brit Collective classes throughout September. My Oxfordshire fitness retreat in October is also open to pre-natal guests. I’ll be nearly six and a half months pregnant at the time, so I welcome the company from mums to be and their beautiful bumps, and will do my best to ensure this active and relaxing weekend gives you a little of the inspiration, energy and time you need to feel like the superhuman you are!