Written by Beckie Lough
In my almost eight years as a trainer with ASF, I have had the privilege of working with many women during their pregnancies and as they returned to exercise postpartum. Pregnancy and birth are major events in a woman’s life, physically and emotionally, and the strength and resilience of women will never cease to astound me.
Training during pregnancy and returning to exercise after giving birth can bring up a wide range of questions, and there are so many conflicting recommendations for expectant moms. How much is too much? Will I hurt myself or my baby? Will I be strong enough to give birth? I’ve been working so hard prior to pregnancy – how will I feel about the way my body changes? Will I be able to “bounce back”?
I knew I needed a better way to answer these questions, so I enrolled to become a Certified Pre- and Postnatal Coaching Specialist through Girls Gone Strong. This evidenced-based course was developed by trainers, physical therapists, OB-GYNs and other women’s health specialists to enable trainers like me to give pregnant and postpartum clients the level of care they deserve.
First of all, the human body is AMAZING. Wildly, improbably amazing. My mind has continually been blown by the radical changes that take place to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Take breathing, for example. To accommodate the baby’s needs, oxygen consumption increases by 30%, with the volume of air a woman breathes per minute increasing by as much as 48% in early pregnancy. Hormones affect the smooth muscle tone of the airways to reduce resistance, and Functional Residual Capacity (the air left in our lungs after exhaling) is greatly reduced, allowing for deeper inhalations. While this ensures the baby gets the oxygen it needs, this lack of reserve can leave a woman feeling breathless, even very early in pregnancy.
Practically, while pregnant and non-pregnant clients might have different needs, much of what I learned carries over into other areas of training. Learning to think about breathing as a way to connect the diaphragm and the pelvic floor opened up a new perspective for me on breathing in fitness, one that I now consider with all my clients. Movements that I use in training every day – deadlifts, farmer’s carries, squats – gained new dimensions as I visualized the lifestyle of a new mom: bending over to pick up the baby, carrying the baby, sitting down and standing up with the baby.Perhaps most importantly, I learned about the psychology of pregnancy, particularly as it relates to fitness, body image and self-esteem. Even women who are thrilled to become pregnant can experience a sense of disorientation as they encounter changes in their bodies and modifications to their training. Rapid hormonal fluctuations can intensify these strange feelings.
My role as a trainer is to help my clients move better, get stronger, and above all, feel good! That to me is the fundamental goal of fitness. This is especially true for new mamas and mamas-to-be. Focusing on feeling good means listening when your body is too tired to push hard, so you drop your weights back a bit. Maybe you even need a nap! This is a time to be gentle with yourself.
Feeling good can also mean really going for it when your energy allows. Pregnant women are not fragile! With proper breathing and form, many women continue to strength train, run, practice yoga and more throughout their pregnancies.
A good, satisfying workout – one where you fully drop into your body, truly embody the movements and get into a flow – can be a key to moving gracefully through the changes that pregnancy brings. Let yourself feel your heart beating, your breath flowing, your muscles burning. Experience it! Find the joy and pleasure in movement, without comparison to your former self. She may be different, but she is capable of incredible things!Our bodies are always changing, and fitness never stops. There is no end goal, no ideal body that you must work toward. So hold onto the longview, but enjoy your body in the present, during the brief but spectacular process of pregnancy, and into the recovery and growth of the postpartum period.