Week 24: Fitness While Pregnant
I’ve never been a fitness junkie. I’ve never been someone who craved going to the gym or out for a run or willingly subjecting myself to sweating profusely in the name of exercise. I always knew it was good for you, but that wasn’t enough motivation to get me moving.
Part of it is due to attention span. Running bores me. Walking on the treadmill bores me. Going to the gym overwhelms me. The process of exercising was not enough to motivate me to do it. The results took too long.
What has worked for me over the years has been direction. If I have someone walking me through an activity for an hour, modeling what I should do, what it should look like, and setting the atmosphere for this to happen, I’m game. Which is why, I’ve loved yoga since I first started taking classes in 2004 at a community college. I tell this story all the time, but the two things that stand out to me about my first experiences with yoga were these: (1) My yoga instructor was pregnant and by the end of the class, very pregnant. Seeing her move, stretch and contort her body into all sorts of inverted, bendy positions was very motivating. If she can do it so can I. I admired her for overcoming her pregnancy to get into these poses (realizing that she was a fit yogi before pregnancy and simply continued to be a fit yogi throughout pregnancy did not come to me until I recently). The other thing that stood out about that class was (2) many of my classmates were off-season college baseball students who were forced to do yoga by their coach to teach them to stretch. One day, when our instructor demonstrated the camel pose with her own very distinctive camel hump, one of the baseball players said, “That baby is going to come out with a six pack.” My take-away in that moment, and why I am repeating this story, her fitness benefited baby.
This isn’t a blog about how to be a good mommy. This isn’t a how-to or advice column geared towards pregnant women so that they care for their bodies and minds with the ultimate goal of making good, healthy babies with six packs and strong immune systems. If that is the result, among other things, great. The intention though is finding ways to utilize the time in pregnancy to better the self. And I can say, speaking for myself here, that in my pregnancy, one of the ways I’ve bettered myself most has been making my fitness practice a norm in my life.
The things that have worked best for me won’t work for everyone. With that said, I think the way I’ve approached being more fit could benefit people who relate to the struggles I've had with exercise as detailed above. If you relate and, like me, prefer direction. Read on...
How I Determined the Fitness Path that Worked for Me
Ultimately, what has made the most difference for me has been self-awareness, guidance, consistency and convenience.
Self-awareness has been key for me. I know what I am willing to do and what I, even if I “want” to, will not do consistently.
I will go to an event if I am paying for that event. If I am enrolled in a membership, with endless possibilities and options and that is never-ending, it is easier to ignore the one class this week that I wanted to try.
I know if given the choice between relaxing on the couch after dinner and going for a walk outside, I will choose to relax on the couch after dinner if I’m already on the couch. I know that after I go on the walk, I am grateful for the walk and sleep better.
I know that I am a visual person. A monkey see, monkey do sort of girl. I cannot follow even the simplest step-by-step verbal or written instructions without a visual to go along with them. No offense to this very pretty guide to the perfect butt, but this is not an effective tool for my fitness goals. This is why classes and exercise videos work better for me. I can watch it be done by a professional, imitate, and repeat. The professional sets the pacing for me, keeps time, and all I need to focus on is what is most important, what I am doing and how my body is responding/engaged.
It’s important to know what works for you, not necessarily what you think will yield you the best results. Just because the 30-Day Fitness Challenge is what is working for other people and you see results happening seemingly over-night for your friends evident in their social media pictures, doesn’t mean that you will be motivated to succeed in the same way they are. Everyday mini challenges don’t work for me. Self-guided workout regimens I can easily decline. It is rare that I will really want to sweat in my living room with a dumbbell in hand or holding a plank.
Knowing that I have been most successful in the past with direction in the form of classes (see: yoga) and instruction (with visual real-time cues or modeling), the best decision I made was choosing to work with a personal trainer. To be completely honest, I didn’t spend time soul searching and end up coming to this conclusion that way. I sort of was pressured into personal training by a 24 Hour Fitness representative who offered a free assessment/consult that turns into a sales pitch that rivals those Time-Share Breakfasts at vacation resorts. I plunked down a good chunk of change (that I didn’t really have at the time) and committed to one month of personal training at the gym (3 sessions a week). This is how I met my personal trainer, Julianna. We worked together for a month at 24 Hour Fitness, and during that time, I was also going to Spin Classes, Body Pump, and Yoga all while having 60-minute one-on-one training sessions. I felt great and with the guidance of a trainer, I was confident in what I was doing even on the days I wasn’t working with her.
This method worked great for me. We made a schedule, I followed it. I saw her three times a week which kept her on top of what I was supposed to be doing (and held me accountable). I was convinced she could monitor how often I went to the gym so it made me more likely to go. At the time, I wasn’t working, so I had free time galore to really commit myself to this fitness routine.
Once the month with my trainer ended, I continued going fairly regularly by attending classes and reusing some of the fitness routines I had learned with her. Then, I had a pre-planned surgery, which had me off my feet for a couple months. Then, I went back to work. The trainer I had worked with had decided to leave 24 Hour Fitness and do personal training independently. With all of these changes and set-backs in the routine I had created, my fitness once again was pretty much nil.
Long story short, the guidance for me is key. Without it, I lose direction. I began working with Julianna again in May 2016. By the time I found out I was pregnant, I had been working out with Julianna consistently twice a week for about seven months.
3. Consistency and Convenience
I rely heavily on schedules and routine. As a Gemini, half of me loves it, the other half resists it. But, when something is set, I can commit to it. By working with a trainer, I have cemented a routine in my schedule that I typically have to live by. I can expect that on Mondays and Fridays, I have a training session. Once I found a way to fit it into my work schedule, and was able to get through it a few weeks without fail, I knew it was a realistic addition to my life. If I cancel at the last minute, I pay for it. I don’t want to pay for a cancelled appointment, so I am going to go. I’ve heard it takes three weeks to make something a habit. But, I think more importantly, finding a way to make something work within your already fixed schedule is key.
If it is convenient enough, you’re more likely to continue doing it even when things get busy or you have to take a break for a week or so. If it’s convenient, you’re more likely to come back. For me, convenience also had to do with location.
My training sessions are located on the way to my work. It’s about halfway between work and home. On days that I don’t work but have a training session, I still am not driving too far. I’ve planned my training sessions to take place at times that are realistic for me. Going during my lunch break, for example, would not be realistic. Getting up too early (I once did a 6 am session), is too hard when I work 10-hour days.
The yoga studio I eventually settled on was within walking distance of my work. I knew that I would be more likely to go to a yoga studio close to work than close to home. Once I am home, its easier to stay home. I always have to leave work, so if I can commit to yoga once or twice a week, I am more likely to attend after work. I found a class that was right at the end of my work day and did not get out too late, and the studio had a weekend class I didn’t mind driving to on my day off.
Simple Fitness Rules to Follow
Now would be the time that I'd typically share some examples of exercise that I've been doing throughout my pregnancy. I'm not doing that though. While Pinterest and Google make it plenty easy to find "pregnancy" workouts, I noticed in my searches that many were suspect (based on the limited things I know). I'm not a trainer which is not to say that people cannot exercise without a trainer. But, it takes some know-how and time to sift through the not-so-great advice. What I do know is this:
1. If you want to have a fit pregnancy, it's best to start getting fit BEFORE pregnancy
So many times my health care providers, trainers, etc. asked what I was doing exercise-wise before pregnancy in order to determine what I could do during pregnancy. Since I had my training sessions and did yoga somewhat consistently for about a year prior, there was no concern over exerting myself or getting my body to do something new during pregnancy. Basically, if you were not doing half marathons prior to pregnancy, you shouldn't start during pregnancy...but, within reason and with some adjustments, you should be able to maintain a similar regimen during pregnancy as you had before.
2. Listen to your body
If you are feeling lightheaded, breathing too hard, in more pain than you are used to...stop. Don't compete against your body. You will pay for it later. Plus, pregnancy is almost a year long. No point in having to tap out early because you overdid it in the first trimester.
3. As is always the case, nutrition and exercise go hand in hand
If you are committed to staying in shape and getting strong during pregnancy, you need to also be as committed to what you are eating. Even more so than before pregnancy, I've noticed that what I eat the meal before a workout really dictates how I feel during and after a workout.
4. Hydrate...A LOT
I’m sure that this is not entirely true but, essentially, I have felt like I can never have enough water while pregnant...especially on a workout day...especially if while in my third trimester…in the summertime…in Southern California.
I bought this water bottle on Amazon and have used it throughout my pregnancy. I am one of those people who can forget to drink water. I have to make hydrating intentional or I just don't drink enough in a day, especially when I get busy. This water bottle apportions how much water you should be drinking each hour of the day, making it easy to keep track of where you are throughout the day. I cannot recommend it enough! It also comes with stickers to track each week of your pregnancy which has made for a cute addition.
5. If you have not worked out in a long time or ever and are pregnant (see #1), do not start by going to one of those group classes available through your gym membership
This is entirely subjective, but in my opinion, those classes move very quickly if you are a newbie and they are usually so full that the trainer does not have time to walk around and correct poor form. To avoid injury or essentially doing a pose incorrectly over and over in a one-hour period, I’d recommend starting with beginner YouTube videos over this setting.
6. Enjoy your natural surroundings
Hikes on local trails, neighborhood and beach walks and bike rides (earlier in pregnancy), and swimming pools are all ways that I, as a non-fitness junkie, have incorporated being active in my pregnancy without getting too bored. If there is an outdoor activity that you enjoy doing and is still considered safe during pregnancy, have that be your go-to on your fitness "off" days. Even a short walk each day will make a big difference versus doing nothing. Getting outside also provides some much needed quiet time to either think about pregnancy and baby, or just space out and NOT think about those things. Every time I get out of my house and spend time outdoors, I tell myself I need to do it more. I don't ever regret it, but don't do it enough. If you're like me, and want to do it more, using your pregnancy as an "excuse" to get out and moving more is a convenient way to make this activity a habit in your life.