Running during pregnancy is a hot topic. Should you? Shouldn’t you? Over the years, the guidelines have changed, but now the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says staying active is of the utmost importance for a healthy pregnancy if there are no contraindications. Gone are the recommendations of keeping your heart rate below 140 bpm, although some physicians still follow that guideline. Be sure you have an open discussion with your doctor about exercise and running throughout your pregnancy.
Your fitness level
The first thing to think about when considering running during pregnancy is your pre-pregnancy fitness level. If you’ve been a runner for a while and would like to continue training during your pregnancy, it’s OK to do so. If you participated in vigorous exercise pre-pregnancy, the current guidelines say to continue your normal routines..
Listen to your body
Each pregnancy is unique. Just because your favorite Instagrammer ran through her pregnancy, does not mean that you should keep up with her. You may also find that running with baby number one felt great, but running with baby number two feels awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t force running if it doesn’t feel right for you and the baby.
Your training will look different with each trimester. As you progress in the pregnancy, your running speed will naturally slow down and running will become more challenging. Your heart must beat harder to deliver oxygen to you and your baby. That means running at a certain pace will now feel harder because your heart rate is higher. Your running form will change as your center of gravity shifts with the growth of the baby. It is important to focus more on running by feel than to go by your watch.
A training plan during pregnancy needs to be flexible and done at a level that is safe for mom and baby. Pushing at too hard of an effort increases the risk for injuries, especially in your hips and lower back.
During the first trimester, you may be able to continue to run at your usual level of mileage and intensity. Your gait has not changed, and weight gain is minimal during this time. The biggest obstacles are probably fatigue and morning sickness. When you have the energy and are able, you may continue to run as usual. Try to also include total body strength exercises during this time to maintain lean muscle in addition to building up your core strength and posture.
The second trimester usually brings relief from morning sickness (sorry if you are not one of the lucky ones!), although your energy levels may still be lower than they were pre-pregnancy. Your running gait will start to change as your belly grows. With this change, you may experience low back and SI Joint pain due to ligament laxity and hyper mobility. A good stability belt can help ease back pain as the band gently lifts your belly, taking some of the belly load off your back.
During this time, you may need to introduce more cross training into your weekly workouts instead of running. It may no longer feel comfortable or too awkward to run . Lower impact activities like swimming, stationary bike, walking or elliptical provide a workout with less stress to the body and lowers injury risk. Continue to strength train your whole body, including planks (if you’re not experiencing shoulder issues), hip strengthening exercises and stability ball exercises for balance and posture. You may also find a prenatal yoga class is beneficial for preparing your body for birth in addition to stress relief.
As long as running still feels comfortable, keep at it! However, you may find that running is really uncomfortable with your ever-growing belly. If so, a run/walk method or just walking may feel best Pool running is another great alternative during the third trimester, as some of the weight is taken off your joints by your natural buoyancy. The intensity of your workouts should still be based on effort. Continue with total body strengthening exercises that include core and hip moves.
Remember to always go by feel no matter what stage of pregnancy you are in. And as always, consult your own personal physician about running and exercise guidelines for your pregnancy since each one is unique.