Runners are a different breed. There is a mindset and intention that runners possess that makes the distance something longed for, something to settle into, something to conquer. They train their bodies for speed and repetition—it’s almost a meditative state. Runners tend to create an identity with running that “runs deep” within them.
Everything seems to change, however, when runners become moms. When a woman becomes pregnant, she must deal with not only physical challenges, but also a mental and emotional shift. During pregnancy all the structural changes and shifts that come with each trimester cause an adjustment felt almost day-to-day, stride-by-stride. The challenges continue (and sometimes amplify) once the baby is born. Helping your clients navigate this time of life is an incredible gift.
There are so many known benefits of exercise during pregnancy to mom and baby. It’s an amazing time to be training prenatal women, as research shows that exercise during pregnancy is not only O.K., it is, in fact, recommended.
Why exercise during pregnancy?
- Reduce backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling
- Boost mood and energy levels
- Improve sleep
- Prevent excess weight gain
- Promote muscle tone, strength and endurance
- Potential to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (Mayo Clinic)
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2002), “The guidelines advise that pregnant women who habitually engage in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., the equivalent of running or jogging) or who are highly active can continue physical activity during pregnancy and the postpartum period, provided that they remain healthy and discuss with their health care provider how and when activity should be adjusted over time.”
There are a few basic things to keep top of mind when training women who want to continue running, or start running, during each trimester.
Heart-rate monitoring is out. As far back as 2002, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that monitoring heart rate is no longer a recommendation during pregnancy. The recommended methods for measuring intensity is the ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) or the “Talk Test.” A pregnant exerciser should be able to speak a few sentences during her runs.
It’s time for maintenance. Women should not exceed pre-pregnancy distances or speed. During pregnancy, runners should be focused on maintaining their usual distances and speeds. This also means no adjustments in grade as well. For the woman who wants to start a running program during pregnancy, your main role is to start her conservatively and progress slowly.
Watch for uneven surfaces. Because of weight distribution shifts and hormonal changes, a pregnant woman’s body tends to become more and more unstable as pregnancy progresses. The main hormonal change to keep in mind with regard to balance challenges is relaxin. Relaxin causes ligamentous laxity in all joints and levels begin to rise soon after conception. The combination of relaxin along with the weight distribution shifts that occur as the baby grows, makes a pregnant woman susceptible to balance challenges. Keep her on stable and even surfaces to help avoid potential falls.
Stay cool. One of the amazing feto-protective mechanisms during pregnancy is heat dissipation. During pregnancy, a woman is better able to dissipate heat than before she became pregnant, which helps to protect the baby. Even though this is a known phenomenon, it’s important to be smart about good thermoregulation. Find locations either indoors or heavily shaded, especially on warmer days.
Following are general recommendations after six weeks postpartum and with a physician’s clearance:
Her body has changed. Once the baby is born, a woman is running in a new body with some potential gait changes. Her hips have widened during pregnancy and could remain that way postpartum. This new body could feel unstable and foreign when she starts running again, and her old routine simply will not work the same exact way… and that is fine. Coach her to be open to looking at her gait, and even speed, differently. It’s not bad, just different.
Focus on pelvic floor rehab. Whether or not a woman has had a vaginal delivery, her training regime needs to include pelvic floor strengthening. The weight of the baby in utero alone can cause her pelvic floor to drop up to an inch. Pelvic floor weakness could affect speed, intensity, back pain and comfort when returning to running.
Running with baby. A woman’s life changes so much once the baby arrives, and quite often the baby becomes a part of her daily activities. One of the best ways to incorporate her baby into her running routine is to run with a stroller. Stroller running, while convenient, can pose some challenges with length of stride and arm swing. Encourage her to practice a slightly shorter stride and to swing an arm occasionally.