Remember that one time I ran the Chicago Marathon? It's been quite some time since I've talked about exercise, so why not bring it back?
Post-college, I've had an up-and-down relationship with exercising. I'll be really disciplined while training for a half marathon or the one full marathon. But when I don't have a specific goal in my future, I tend to slack off a bit. I'll let work, or most anything, be an excuse for why I can't make it to the gym or go for a run outside. Sure, I'd work out once or twice a week, but I know I function better when I exercise a few more times each week. And yes, I realize there's a balancing act between a legitimate rest day and a made-up-excuse rest day.
When I found out I was pregnant, I had another excuse in my arsenal: first trimester fatigue. Most days, my sluggishness and overall tiredness were legitimate reasons to listen to my body and rest. My doctor told me that the first trimester is "all about survival" and I totally believe it. But there were times that I used my pregnancy as a baloney reason for skipping the gym.
When I think about it, it doesn't make sense. Part of me is still a bit intimidated by the prospect of gaining the recommended 25 to 35 pounds. I know my body knows what's best for it. And I've even seen the breakdown of where all those pounds go: the baby, increased blood and fluids, fat and nutrient stores, etc. But weighing more than my husband isn't a very attractive thought. So you'd think I'd be more diligent in staying active while pregnant.
Once I entered the second trimester, conveniently during the holiday season, my energy started to return and I was motivated to get active again. During more recent prenatal appointments, my doctor continued to stress the importance of exercising while pregnant. She suggested getting some physical activity about 3 or 4 times a week. And of course while staying properly hydrated.
In talking with friends (and reading blogs) with new babies, I heard a common theme that exercising while pregnant helped with labor, delivery, and recovery. With that, I had a new goal: exercising for a (hopefully) easier labor and delivery and faster recovery.
As I'm sure you can guess, my pre-pregnancy exercise of choice was running. Some ladies continue to run while pregnant, but not this one. Even in the beginning, I found running uncomfortable. Even if running was comfortable, I have a bit of a psychological barrier. Back in June, I went for an easy, probably not even 3 mile, run. That was the day before I miscarried my first baby. Deep down, I know going for a run wasn't the cause of the miscarriage, but a little piece of me will always wonder. For now, I get plenty of physical activity just walking or using the elliptical machine.
Another pre-pregnancy regular was hitting the weight room. It was generally a combination of free weights, machines, and body work (squats, push ups, abs, etc.). I lifted a little bit during the first trimester and have made a conscious effort to continue strength training now that I'm in my second trimester. Emily over at Daily Garnish wrote a few posts about exercising while pregnant and I followed her strength training workout the other day. She put it perfectly:
"I have to be careful to not push myself too far, and always make sure to stop when I can feel my body straining too hard or tiring too quickly. The goal now is not to make it difficult, but rather just to keep my muscles engaged and body moving. While I have significantly reduced the weight I lift for each exercise, I’m still lifting enough that it’s keeping my muscles toned and my body healthy."One of the bigger changes I made to my workout routine was adding swimming. I started swimming in the summers around age 8 (as evidenced by the cute picture above) and swam competitively (i.e. year-round) from sixth grade through senior year of college. Once I finished my last event (the mile) at conference, I basically retired from swimming. That's when I picked up running. Since I wasn't running while pregnant, I was looking for a little variety. Particularly of the low-impact variety. Swimming became the perfect solution. If I thought I was walking slow, I'm now swimming at a snail's pace in comparison to my college years. But I'm taking it one lap at a time and listening to my body.
Overall, I can tell that being active while pregnant has been beneficial. I put on about 20 pounds (gulp!) in the first 20 weeks. Some of that may have been due to holiday over-indulging, but I know part of it also had to do with my lower activity level. Since exercising more, my weight gain has been much more gradual. Plus, my blood pressure is more normal. During the first trimester, it was a little bit high, though it could have been due to general anxieties of being in a doctor's office and wondering if my baby was OK.
Thanks so much for continuing to read my pregnancy- and baby-related posts! Are there any sorts of posts that you're missing? I'm currently brainstorming a DIY project to share.
Note: I'm not a doctor or exercise expert. Please consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine, especially if you're pregnant.