Competition in Pregnancy
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of USA Triathlon Life.
By Jackie Haas
Athletics throughout pregnancy means healthy you and healthy baby!
Why should athletic competition have to cease when a woman becomes pregnant? A simple answer is that it does not. Whether the mom-to-be is a professional athlete or a competitive weekend warrior, taking a back seat to competition and athletics during pregnancy could be a hard adjustment to make.
Competing in my inaugural year of triathlon, I found out that I was not the only athlete registered under race number 636; I was accompanied (and beat in fact) by the baby in my belly! Competition and pregnancy may not be a usual pairing of words, but pregnancy is the perfect time to enjoy friendly, low-risk competition. Even though you may not be hitting your PR during those nine months, remaining physically active in non-impact exercise is certainly doable throughout the extent of your pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine, after consulting with your obstetrician or medical professional for clearance, recommendations of moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more on most, if not all days of the week, is a general guideline of training during pregnancy. Listening to your body is key throughout all stages of pregnancy, even in the most elite of athletes, and it is the number one rule to abide by while expecting.
For the more seasoned endurance athlete who wants to continue training during pregnancy, this is great news. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders, featured in Summer Sanders’ Prenatal Workout DVD, certainly falls under that category.
“Always remember that for nine months, it is not about you being in the best shape of your life. It is about you remaining active and healthy both for yourself and your baby. Eat right and work on things that don’t require you to reach the super high lactic acid levels,” she says.
As far as competition levels are concerned however, Summer recommends competing if willing to compete at 70 percent maximum. “I know myself well enough to know that I would race if I was in a serious competition. So, there are some fun things you can work on during a competition that don’t require 100 percent if it won’t hurt your status, rank or ego.”
Even though continued exercise is recommended, athletes must still contend with the changing physiology of pregnancy. The increased oxygen consumption of pregnancy will lead to a decline in exercise tolerance. Thus, pregnant athletes should stop exercising when they feel fatigued – they should not try to train through fatigue. Changes such as increased blood volume, increased cardiac output, increased resting heart rate and most notably weight gain, take place in order for a woman to support the fetus in uterus. Also, ligament and joint changes become apparent, changes in breathing patterns as well as the “center of gravity” shifting. Making sure to monitor your nutritional intake is also of extreme importance, especially when with child. The harder you work, the harder the baby works and the more healthy calories needed to be consumed.
With all of these things going on, one may perceive training in a new light, especially that of a triathlete! So, when it’s time to hit the gym, hit the trails, hit the pool…whatever your workout consists of, in order to continue safely and effectively for you and your baby, the following guidelines are recommended by Dr. Andrew Satin, M.D, Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center:
- Stick to what you’ve already been training in for workouts and those who are continuing to compete repetitively should seek evaluation and input from their obstetrician ensuring that there are no contraindications or conditions that preclude the activity.
- Remain well hydrated. Now more than ever, the expecting mother needs to have water always at her disposal.
- Keep expectations real. Even though mothers may run a marathon while expecting or perhaps compete in a triathlon during their first trimester, this is no time to set a new PR.
- Take care not to exercise at extreme temperatures.
- Honor what your body requests of you. Whereas prior to pregnancy, a coach might have advised to work through the mental block of being tired. Many athletes have trained themselves to work through pain, exhaustion or other stumbling blocks and it can be a difficult habit to break, however the prenatal athlete must be hyper-aware of what her baby and her body are telling her and to follow that internal advice.
- Wear good footwear and exercise on stable ground to avoid the risks of falling.
Being able to remain active and compete in safe events while expecting has benefits galore for the mother and baby. Whether you have a competitive and athletic nature or simply want to be the healthiest for you and your baby, keeping active throughout pregnancy is simply the best gift that you can give to yourself and your child. And for those of us expectant triathletes out there, I’ll leave you with this checklist that has made my experience that much more enjoyable!
- Recumbent/hybrid bike…when your belly and balance just may not be cooperating.
- Bella Band (or similar type of belly support) for those long runs when your back needs a hand.
- Tri laces, a must when you simply can’t reach down to tie your shoes anymore.
- Maternity workout tops/breathable T-shirts to give your body more support.
- Trainer, when you just have to get on your road bike, this is a way to safely do it.
- iPod – pregnant or not, tunes always help train.
- Best support maternity training/sports bra money can buy; this is nothing that you want to skimp on.
- Two-piece competition suit, single suits are a pain even without a belly!
- Gym membership – need I say more?
Jackie Haas is an expectant mother for the third time and lives a lifestyle of fitness. Being a collegiate runner and former pro wrestling WWE Diva and Total Non Stop Action Wrestling Knockout, she is currently a sponsored athlete through Team HMB, a certified personal trainer, business owner and nationally published writer and fitness model. She makes sure that her athletic goals are maintained day in and day out while her triathlon training still goes strong through pregnancy and certainly thereafter. For more on Jackie, visit www.JustJackieHaas.com and www.HMB.org.