**This post has been recently edited, as I have become even more immersed and educated in coaching this demographic, sharing my personal story, and confident in the professionals I collaborate with. Growth is beautiful.**
I’ve changed my perspective on training during pregnancy and postpartum quite dramatically within the last year or so. This has come from research, networking with women’s health professionals, coaching a variety of women, and using my body as an experiment and hard learned lesson.
I felt empowered during pregnancy, which all women should. I promote that and think it does incredible things for a woman’s changing body and mental health. What isn’t ok is the invincible attitude, which I had. I believed that my body was changing, but that I could maintain “most” activities because hey, I was doing this before pregnancy, this weight isn’t heavy for me, I was healthy and so was my growing baby. It was instilled in me to listen to my body and I did! The fitness, in particular, the high intensity interval training culture promotes women training through their pregnancy and positively (usually, anyway) promotes and glorifies a “bad ass” mama. This is great to keep women healthy and engaged in a supportive environment, social media included. More and more women are connecting via the #birthfit and #crossfitmom hashtags and it’s awesome! However, here’s where I’ve seen the biggest problem…just because you see another pregnant woman doing something, does not mean it is appropriate or safe for your pregnant body. Being a bad ass only lasts so long. I see women (directly or indirectly) one upping each other just to see who can get a cooler picture/video of themselves doing a muscle up, PRing on a squat or doing double unders on their due date.
What does this prove? That you’re a bad ass? Sure, you most definitely are. You are fitter than most non pregnant people, and so far you are healthy and so is your baby. However, when you stop and analyze it from a physiological and biomechanic perspective (which I have, a lot, with some of the best PT’s, practitioners and women’s health professionals in the nation), it may be safe for you and your baby during pregnancy, but it’s potentially setting you up for some challenges during labor (a chronically contracted/tight pelvic floor that is unable to fully relax and pass a baby), Diastasis Recti (interabdominal pressure causing the already stretching linea alba to further separate from “heavy” lifting, breath holding and continual spinal flexion), and for many women, incontinence or pelvic prolapse (repeated impact and added pressure/jolting to the pelvic floor, AND THEN having a vaginal birth). There is a way to continue training the way you love, it just requires a better strategy. This is NOT just my opinion. I’ve spent the last year and a half searching for answers, gathering research, educating and informing those around me. In my world of other pre and postnatal coaches and PT’s, we constantly say, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should during this unique chapter of training. Yes, even you, high intensity interval training mom, runner mom and yogi mom.
Ok, so now what about postpartum chapters? On a personal note, there’s a lot that I would do differently. I waited 8 weeks to workout, which is longer than many “go-getter-I’m-totally-fine” athletic women. I literally couldn’t walk more than 50 feet without pain after I got home from the hospital…and I was in shape! Obviously this was due to a pretty traumatic delivery, ending in an emergency c-section. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I hadn’t been healthy during pregnancy. Many of the women that come through my programs and so many of the consults I do, have had a Diastasis, incontinence or some kind of dysfunction postpartum- the severity is what differs. For some, they experience no real symptoms, for others, they have a weak core, “mummy tummy,” back pain, pelvic or hip pain, which effects their movement patterns and overall core strength. Often times, women will create even more of a dysfunction (myself included) postpartum because they never allowed themselves to heal. Mommy bootcamps anyone? And that’s where knowing what to do and not do postpartum and during pregnancy is essential to long term recovery.
– no sit ups or any crunching motion/spinal flexion, even kipping
-no box jumps or other high impact movements
-no heavy lifting (Valsalva manuever) or using a weight belt
-no over stretching the abdomen (overhead squats, back bends, snatches, thrusters)
To clarify, these exercises CAN BE DONE AGAIN, just not immediately after or in my opinion, avoided during the second half of pregnancy.
It’s not so much about what you’re doing, as it is about HOW you’re doing it. Are you jumping, running, lifting with your pelvic floor health in mind? More often than not, my athletes are clueless to what this means. The good news is, there’s a way to do this!
If you haven’t healed yet, these movements will prolong your optimal recovery, health and performance. regardless of how strong and healthy you consider yourself. Smart training and recovery are essential to long term function. Pregnancy changes your internal structure and there’s so much happening internally during the postpartum phase (4th trimester, people!) that requires patience. Take your time. Learn from my mistakes.
I wasn’t a bad ass, I was misinformed and didn’t know it because it was celebrated and supported. I thought I was fine, was told I was fine, saw others doing it too and “trusted” my body. What I needed was someone to guide me and progress accordingly much earlier on.
I needed someone who understood my athleticism, body and situation. At that time, NO ONE was talking about diastasis- I’ve brought this conversation to the high intensity interval training community and been very noisy about it. Core and pelvic floor health wasn’t talked about for the pregnant and postpartum athlete…it was all about how awesome it was and how fast I would bounce back. Is that really something to be celebrated?
Trying to start this conversation now is too little too late, for many. What we are seeing now, is videos and pictures of women doing movements that aren’t ideal for core and pelvic health during pregnancy, and then try to talk about healing a diastasis postpartum. That’s not how advocating for this training demographic works.
As a coach, I need to do better and know more in order to help the women I work with. If I’m going to coach a variety of high intensity interval training, strength athletes and women alike, I want to spread more awareness from a strength and conditioning perspective of what to do and not do during pregnancy and immediately after.
Here’s where I struggle to find a balance:
There’s enough fear mongering surrounding pregnancy and postpartum chapters. I absolutely do not want to add to that. I do want to bring about awareness so there’s a happy medium between training smart and recovering smarter. That way, it’s still empowering, but the ego does not interfere with long term optimal function. Your coaches should assist your progress, but at the end of the day, educate yourself and take the steps necessary to heal correctly and progress without limits! You are your only true advocate, here.
Find a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist to work with during pregnancy and IMMEDIATELY after. Most OB’s aren’t really involved in your care/healing once that baby is out. I spoke and was treated by every kind of professional in my quest to get answers- PT was the only one with answers and a game plan. My number one recommendation for anyone preganant or postpartum is to get familiar with Julie Wiebe’s work. She’s been in this game a long time and has made major strides in the women’s health and sports medicine world. Her Pelvic Floor Piston DVD is what I recommend to any of my remote coaching clients, as it really helps dial in cueing for breathing and our every day habits that can decrease the severity of core/pelvic dysfunction and heal it in the postpartum chapters. It has a made a significant difference for all my clients (and myself!).
I offer a variety of coaching services (local and remote) to help you progress through pregnancy, postpartum progression to the training you enjoy. There’s simply more to recovery than exercises like bird dog and heel slides! I can tell you that no one else understands this dynamic, this challenge, this recovery and desire to return to athleticism like I do. I paved this path because I HAD to, because no one else was.
Listen to your body, yes, but you have to know what to listen for! The extremes-even if it doesn’t seem extreme for you, will not serve your best interest during this chapter. There’s a smart way to continue this kind of training that doesn’t involved all or nothing thinking. There will always be someone who is better than you or simply different. And that’s ok. Pregnancy and healing is not a race…patience and self love is what perseveres.
Don’t measure your performance or weight loss or abs against anyone else. That feeds insecurity and sends the wrong message. Be proud of your body and what it’s accomplished, but believe and uphold the mindset that you are more than how defined your abs are.
Own it. Own your experiences, capabilities, changing body or forever changed body. No one has lived it the way you have. Your journey is individual and meant to be celebrated in a positive, uplifting manner.
Stay humble and set your ego aside. This is really hard for the athlete brain female. The sooner you can do this, the sooner you’ll be lifting heavy, competing and feeling confident in your body.
Your value as a mother is of far more importance than any physical capability and aesthetic feature. Learn how to be a mother before you try and throw yourself back into your previous life, nevertheless your workout routine. Your mind needs to adapt and learn just as much as your body does. The gym will always be there, a newborn will not. Focus on what’s important and what’s truly beautiful…hint, it has nothing to do with what you look like.
Thank you guys for sharing in my personal journey. I’ve tried to remain vulnerable in my attempt to educate and spread awareness. I’m clearly far from perfect and there are many things I regret. What I don’t regret is the path all of my mistakes and experiences have led me down because it’s allowing me to live such a rewarding life, doing what I absolutely love. So, thank you for the support. <3