Running during pregnancy has long been discouraged by health care professionals because of the changes the body undergoes. But what if you turned those physiological changes into an advantage to your prenatal and postpartum health? Running outside can significantly boost your immune system, it can help with high blood pressure, early signs of diabetes and osteoporosis. Because it keeps your arteries elastic and your heart healthy it can even lower your risk for a heart attack. On the emotional side it can aid in relieving stress and avoiding depression, and according to a recent article, running is said to be great for the brain, too.
Let me preface by saying that if you have never run as a form of exercise, pregnancy is not the time to start a rigorous regimen. Postpartum on the other hand, can be and I will get to that in a separate post.
But, if you are a runner and like to see improvements in your running, there’s an added bonus to running when you’re pregnant: imagine getting several months of altitude training without having to move anywhere? Because that’s a similar effect you get from running during pregnancy.
When elite runners do an altitude stint, they have to acclimatize to breathing being more difficult at elevation but they adapt and when they descend from altitude, their blood is rich with more hemoglobin and they can transport more oxygen which means they run faster with less effort.
When you get pregnant, you breathe harder because you put on weight but you also generate more blood plasma, which in turn transports more oxygen so after you deliver, there is a window of time when you are likely to see a boost in performance that will seem sudden or over night. The cumulative effect of shedding baby weight and reaping the benefits of heightened blood plasma levels can lead to a great increase in running performance postpartum.
So while we mostly talk about the risks of exercise in pregnancy and running during pregnancy as one of the biggest, it can be done and there is better fitness on the horizon to look forward to.
As with all exercise during pregnancy, please make sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider, but once you have their blessing, here are 6 tips to make running safe and enjoyable during pregnancy.
- Run by feel and not by time. If you are prone to tracking every mile and how fast you go, pregnancy will disappoint. You will be slower and you will most likely run less (far). Rather than focusing on miles, try focusing on time. Go for a 30 minute run and enjoy it.
- Forget about heart rate which is very unreliable during pregnancy and instead use the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). It is a 15 point scale, beginning at 6 and ending at 20, with level 6 being no exertion (i.e. watching television, reading) while level 20 represents a maximal exertion which could only be sustained for a short time (i.e. an all out sprint at the end of a race). The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians recommends that pregnant women keep their exertion level in the “somewhat hard” category which correlates to a 12-14 on the Borg RPE scale.
- Invest in a pregnancy belt to support your belly. Two suggestions that I have received from two amazing mother runners are the Gabrialla Maternity Support Belt and the Amon Maternity Behold Belly Support Band. They can help with round ligament pain and generally make the belly feel stable and supported.
- Stay hydrated, make sure that there are restrooms along the route and invest in body chafing cream (sorry, I went there). Your body needs water to form amniotic fluid to produce more blood so you need to drink up. But your shorts will also fit a little tighter (Vaseline on your inner thighs will help), apart from that extra weight pressing on your bladder. So make sure to plan for pit stops along your running route.
- Supplement the running with strength training and yoga. Carrying more weight means that you need more strength. Make sure to include glute-bridges, lunges and squats into your routine to keep your legs happy and running strong. Add in yoga to stay supple in the hips which can tighten up through running and especially as your pregnancy progresses and you start feeling achier and stiffer.
- Back off to walking whenever you feel the slightest discomfort. Pregnancy is not the time to set PRs and be competitive. Not in real life, nor online. You will see women running blissfully throughout their pregnancy, you will see moms gaining less weight and look different. However, this is the time to listen inward and back off whether it is during a run and adding in a few minutes of walking or throwing in the towel until you deliver your baby.
I know you’ll be back on the track in no time. Remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.