Keeping active during pregnancy is important – for both mother and baby – but pregnant women are also told not to push themselves when it comes to working out. So it can be pretty confusing to know what’s safe and what’s not.
The reality is, it’s different for every woman. It all depends on your fitness levels prior to falling pregnant, how you feel during pregnancy and how far along you are.
While pregnancy is not the time to train for a half marathon, or start the sport from scratch, it can be part of your fitness routine while carrying a child.
We caught up with pre and postnatal running coach Chris Betteridge, at We Run (we-run.co.uk), to get the low down.
Regular runners should continue
“If we are regular, strong runners – and by this I mean someone who runs once a week and doesn’t suffer from recurring injuries – then we can be confident that our bodies are conditioned for that discipline,” Betteridge says.
And being ‘strong’ doesn’t have anything to do with distance or speed. “You can be a strong runner even if you PB is a 40 minute 5k.”
He adds: “I wouldn’t recommend running to someone [in pregnancy] who is not a regular runner, but for those who are, there is very little else that can rival it.”
The health benefits are huge
“The physical benefits of running with good form are almost endless: strength, bone density, cardiovascular health, joint strength, and muscle tone – all of which, you will continue to benefit from when pregnant.
“I strongly urge women to not aim for weight or fat loss during pregnancy, but it is worth noting that regular exercise whilst pregnant can control the weight gain often experienced,” he says.
“It also helps to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, back aches and swelling whilst increasing energy levels and improving posture. There is even evidence to suggest that it can help the mother cope with the process of labour and get back into shape quicker after the baby is born.”
It’s good for the mind
During what can be an overwhelming, anxious time, looking after your mental wellness is also key.
“For me, the real difference with running over other forms of exercise lies within the mind,” says Betteridge. “If you run every week, the chances are you love it. It becomes more of a release than a workout, and an escape than an exercise.
“It builds confidence, a meditative sense of freedom and space – and at times during pregnancy, this is what is needed most.”
Watch your posture
“I would get your technique checked as early as you can,” he suggests. “Postural strength is perhaps the biggest factor to affect the mother’s experience of pregnancy. Running with poor technique and/or posture is an easy fix and massively reduces your risk of injury.”
Choose flat ground
Your biggest risk does not come from running at all, but from falling, Betteridge explains. “If you run through trip-hazard countryside, down mud-hills, or running on country roads with no pavement then you are taking a far higher risk than is necessary.
“Run with company, run at a pace that you can enjoy and run mindfully – if you are running without paying full attention to your body, you will end up injured.”
Accept that your fitness levels will decrease
For anyone who is used to aiming for improvements in their fitness levels, pregnancy is a particularly strange time. As the baby grows, your ability to keep even the same level of fitness will decrease – everything simply becomes harder – but any physical activity you can still do will be beneficial.
“The most appropriate advice that I can give pregnant women is that their only fitness ambition should be to maintain their current level of fitness and strength for as long as you can – no PBs for a while,” says Betteridge.
“Right from day one, my advice would be to reduce your ambitions to simply ‘enjoyment and attendance’. Regular, maintenance distance running is far more beneficial than PB hunting.
“Finish every run thinking that you could have done an extra 20%. If you finish a run thinking, ‘Thank goodness that’s over!’ then you’ve done too much. Be comfortable from start to finish and enjoy it.”
Adjust depending on your trimester
The first trimester for many women includes sickness or extreme tiredness, but otherwise your body might feel just as capable as before.
Betteridge suggests trying to keep your workout routine relatively unchanged. “Just be aware that this is the time that your blood pressure can drop – this is why you might feel dizzy and nauseous. So be sensible and don’t push it.”
Lots of women love the second trimester – you may find you have a little more energy and feel less sick.
“Continue to be sensible,” he says, “and be aware that the closer to your third trimester you get, the less you may be able to do. Keep listening to your body, be prepared to reduce your max distance some more. Remember it’s maintenance only, regular, comfortable running.”
By the third trimester you might not want to run at all, but if you do, there are a few important considerations.
This is when you’ll have more of the hormone relaxin in your body – it helps your joints adjust to allow the baby to be born, but can end up affecting your other joints too, so if you experience any pain or discomfort running it’s important to stop.
“In general, it is OK for women to run in their third trimester, but speak to your health professionals and listen to your body to determine when is right for you to pause,” Betteridge says.
“And don’t panic, given time you can get back to where you were.”
Check out the We Run Virtual Running Club at we-run.co.uk/virtual-running-club.