Three Ways to Adjust Your Training During Pregnancy

May 23, 2021 by
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If you’re a pregnant athlete, you’ve likely been told to “listen to your body,” “do what feels good,” “keep doing what you’ve always done!” OR, “don’t lift over X amount of pounds,”
“Is that safe for the baby?!” 

It’s frustrating to have generalized or extreme advice when you’re already hyper aware of the changes your body is experiencing as an athlete. 

I get it. I get you. 

Your body and training are entering a whole new season as an athlete. It can be exciting and overwhelming, and I want you to feel informed about your training and confident in how to adjust it as your pregnancy continues!

Here are 3 adjustments to consider as a pregnant athlete:

Brain

Let me introduce the term I coined 7 years ago, “athlete brain.” “The “athlete brain” is the intrinsic motivation to challenge, pursue and perform. It exists on a spectrum, often characterized by how one identifies, and is often driven by competitiveness, fear, ego, anxiety, success, energy, routine and capability. 

Basically, we need to tell that voice in our head that tells us to go harder, push more and lift heavier to shut up for a while and learn to respect what we need to do, not just what we want to do. Ego has no place right now. 

Credit: Brianna Battles

There’s often a strong desire to maintain physical abilities in the gym, or challenge ourselves because pregnancy can feel like a loss or shift in ability, identity and aesthetic, and can make it hard to adapt the approach to training.

If we don’t address our mental motivations, as it relates to identity and ability as an athlete entering a new season in our lifetime of athleticism, none of the exercise adjustments or core and pelvic health considerations will matter. It will be overridden by athlete brain.

We must make the mental adjustments, so the physical and emotional adaptations can follow.

Body

Your body will change — it’s supposed to — therefore your training needs to accommodate those changes on behalf of your long term performance and pelvic health. It’s not about maintaining, it’s about adapting and shifting our training focus for what our body needs now, on behalf of later. 

This seems like common sense, but there can be significant motivations to maintain, or even push boundaries during this season.

“Can I vs should I” is a great check in question. Can I do this? Probably. Should I do it right now? Probably not. 

  • Risk vs Reward: What is the risk this exercise, intensity, load or volume has on my diastasis or pelvic floor symptoms, or potential creation of them? Is it worth it? We can’t control everything during pregnancy or postpartum, but we can control exercise choice and how it’s performed. 
  • Basically, if you’re a pregnant athlete and you’re second guessing if you should do something- you likely have your answer already. Learning to listen to the voice you’ve been trained to ignore is a super power. 

Common experiences like diastasis recti, hernias, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse or pelvic pain can be influenced by pregnancy and potentially by exercise variables.

The core system is changed by pregnancy. The abs, the vagina, the internal organs, and our structure adapts to meet the demands of a growing baby. This means, we need to adapt our tendencies to accommodate for those changes- exercise being one of those things. 

During the first trimester, energy and nausea may impact a “normal” training routine. That’s ok, and is usually temporary. Again, it comes back to being adaptable, not about maintaining every aspect of your abilities and routine.

Credit: Brianna Battles

In the second trimester, some adjustments to make would be:

Credit: Brianna Battles

In the third trimester, some adjustments would be:

Credit: Brianna Battles

Remember, you are not training for birth, you are already fit enough for birth. You’re training for your postpartum recovery and performance goals in the ways you can control.

Credit: Brianna Battles

Baseline

One thing I encourage all pregnant athletes (or ideally pre-conception) to do is take a baseline of your tendencies.

What are the things you do often — in exercise and in your daily life? Your physiological tendencies (a collection of your conscious/unconscious habits) are impacted by pregnancy. 

Here’s some examples:

  • How do you breathe during exercise?
  • Do you suck in your stomach all the time? 
  • Grip your buttcheeks when you stand, or at the top of a lift?
  • Do you pee when you jump or sneeze?
  • What are your lifting positions  and movement patterns like (and how will they need to adjust)?

Once you understand your baselines, you can leverage how you breathe, distribute pressure, tension and form/positions to assist in the changes to your core system during pregnancy.

TA/PF/diaphragm.

This seems like a lot to consider, but again, the goal is to feel informed. The confidence gained will come from the practice of this, not perfection. You’re already doing a great job learning more about your body right now. Having basic awareness beyond the generalizations mentioned above, puts you in a great position for training and enjoying your pregnancy. 

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