On Sunday, I will be racing in my first triathlon in almost exactly two years to the day. I started sports when I was 6 years old with swimming and soccer. I have always been fairly competitive in my athletic events and though I do not feel that I am very naturally athletic, I have always worked very hard at training and racing and have always loved both aspects.
I competed in swimming until I was 18 years old and then started training and racing recreationally in various types of events. Since I was a fairly good swimmer, triathlon was a fairly easy transition for me as many people have trouble with the swimming portion. I just had to teach myself to bike and run a little better. I did my first triathlon at 21 and loved it. Each year after my first race, I would compete in various 5ks, half-marathons, a full marathon, bike rides and triathlons. I would plan my race calendar and would take my training pretty seriously.
Finishing my first triathlon in 2002 and yes, that is a mountain bike!
As the years went on, I started to get into my career, bought a house and got married so I started to race less and less but was always doing at least a few each year. It was my thing. My hobby, something to plan for and challenge me. I knew that having kids would make training and racing much more challenging but I did not want to give up racing once having kids but, wow it is hard. Once I learned how to do the whole mom thing with Caleb, I was able to get back into a fairly good routine. I like set schedules, especially when training for a race. I also like training with a set schedule from the beginning. I like to be organized and rather strict with my training for an event. I like to know what day I am swimming, how many miles I am running etc. Most mornings, I would get up early and train before work while my husband stayed home with Caleb. I was able to race a few times before I got pregnant again with Madelynn. Though I know many moms continue to race recreationally and compete early in pregnancy, I always chose not to. This is a personal choice as I know myself and know I have a competitive edge and always thought it would be best not to. I never wanted to push myself beyond what I felt was safe for myself or my baby and I did not want to go easy either so I just decided not to compete at all. So once I was pregnant again, I knew it would be at least 18 months before I would be ready to race again.
One of my goals this year was to compete in a sprint triathlon and multi-day bike ride now that I am not pregnant or nursing anymore. (Side note: I have trained and raced while nursing and it is completely safe but I found it challenging to train for endurance events as you maybe need to get back from the long workouts to nurse or pump.) I had some major concerns about being able to train and race again now that I have 2 littles. When was I going to possibly find the time?
My husband’s job changed within the last two years and he has to leave by 6 am every morning so if I want to workout before he leaves, I would need to be getting up at around 4:30 AM to get to the gym and back home by 6. Ummm, not happening, especially since we have had plenty of sleep regressions with Madelynn and though it has taken me years to realize this, but because I am consistently very physically active my body needs sleep more than a workout 99% of the time.
So how I am finding the time to train for endurance events while working full time and 2 littles?
- I am literally training whenever I can. As I mentioned, I used to love to have a strict training schedule such as swimming on Monday and Wednesdays, cycling these days, lift these days and I would DO anything I could to not vary that schedule. Thinking about how structured I was, makes me laugh as it is not like I was training for the Olympics, but my training and racing used to be a very large part of my life. It was something I could control. Now, it is still part of my life but obviously not nearly as important. Some days I train in the morning, often it is during my lunch hour and with the support of my hubby it is early morning on the weekends.
- I am being flexible. So now, though I kind of have a regular routine, there are many days I have to be flexible with work and the kids. And be flexible with my body and how I am feeling. If I was up with Madelynn at night and did not sleep well, then maybe getting up early to work out is not happening or if I have not recovered from a hard run or ride then maybe I do an easy swim vs. what I had planned.
- Having a supportive husband. This is really crucial for me. My husband knows that racing is important to me and I want to do these races. He is very supportive and has the kids during my early morning weekend workouts. However, because my time is also precious with the kids and I cherish my time with them during the evenings and weekends, I am only racing in 2 events this year. I do not feel the need to do more. But I am also not going to feel guilty for pursuing these events as the training is over a short time period and continuing these events is important to me and my identity.
My typical schedule for the last 6 weeks looked kind of 🙂 like this:
Monday: Core/Lift/Swim or Interval Run (60 min. total)
Wed: Ride (45-60 min.) and teach strength class (45 min.)
Thurs: Active Rest, teach Metabolic Conditioning class (45 min.)
Fri: Swim (about 1500 meters) or Run (3-4 miles)
Sat: Run (3-4 miles) or Rest if riding the next day
Sunday: Long Ride (20-30 miles)
I know this might look like a lot of training to most but with the exception of the longer rides, I am never working out more than 60 minutes which for an endurance athlete is actually relatively short. And this is A LOT less than I used to. However, I am only racing in a sprint and have a good base so this worked for me. I am also only working out once a day or only one discipline a day (with the exception of Wednesdays). This again is a rarity for endurance athletes but if I wanted to accomplish this goal, I knew this was all I could and really wanted to commit to. Now, if one of my clients wanted to train for a triathlon I would probably recommend training a bit more, doing every discipline at least twice but for me this is working right now. And I truly believe it is better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.
Nutrition is obviously another huge part of training and racing and I do have to adapt and change this a bit. Here are few ways my nutrition has changed while training.
- My appetite has increased A LOT. This amount of cardio is WAY more than I have done in probably the last few years and cardio tends to make me hungry. However, I am not eating for fat loss right now, I am eating for performance so I am eating more to fuel these workouts. I almost never lose weight while training for these types of events because the increase in exercise drives my hunger up. I also do not train for these events to lose weight.
- Eating before I workout. My overall eating changed so much after having kids with the major change being eating less meals overall. I am busy in the mornings getting the kids fed that I often do not eat breakfast until 9 at the earliest. I usually have 2 cups of coffee while the kids eat breakfast. However, now if I am going to be doing longer cardio, I need to eat something. Often it is 1/2 of a protein bar or my almond flour banana bread. Though, I do prefer to work out fasted and can think it can be helpful for fat loss for many people, my goal is performance so eating something helps me perform better in my workouts.
- More carbs. Oh carbs. Though both the high-carb and low-carb craze seem to be mostly over, I still think people seem to be confused about carbs. I try to get most of my carbs from fruits and vegetables (yes, those are carbs) but I definitely am not in the no grains camp either. I do eat bread and grains but try to keep these type of carbs limited in the evenings since I do not need that energy at night. However, if I know I am going to be getting up early to train, I will try to eat more carbs, often in the form of more starch such as couscous, quinoa, potatoes, etc.
So mamas if there is some type of sport you love whether it be 5ks, yoga, biking etc. make sure you make time it. We are all better moms when we take care of ourselves and still pursue some of our passions.
I am excited to race on Sunday. I am excited to actually see how I feel and perform compared to 2 years ago after only 1 baby and more training and to 4 years ago when I had no kiddos and way more time to train (To see how pregnancy can actually make you a better athlete, check out a blog I wrote about this topic here). I am excited to have my kids watch me and cheer me on and see what I have worked towards. I do this for me but I do it for them too. I am excited to feel nothing but gratefulness for my body that has done a hell of a lot in the last 3 1/2 years!
My frist triathlon 5 1/2 months after having Caleb in 2013.
If you are looking to change up your routine and commit to making healthy and easy lunches and dinners for Back to School and looking for some fast and effective workouts, join me and lots of other mamas in my FREE Back to School Challenge. We start next Monday. Sign-up here!
A lot of women I talk to and have trained talk about their pre-baby body and their post-baby body. I have also thought of my body in these terms. Your body is different. For me, I know my hips are a bit wider and I honestly think my rib cage expanded a bit unless maybe I was just into really short workout tops before kids as about half my tops seemed to be crop tops after having Caleb :). I will also probably never have a super flat stomach again (well, without being very restrictive on my diet and never having a glass of wine again, which we all know is never going to happen). My body looks like I had 2 children which I am very proud of. Pregnancy and birth are traumatic on your body, beautiful, but still fairly traumatic in terms of what your body goes through in a relatively short time period.
But often we hear about the negative side of post-baby bodies but what about the positive? Pregnancy can actually benefit your body in many ways. You can become even stronger and perform better athletically after having children. The body is always constantly amazing me.
We all know that exercise is good for our body. It is good for your heart, lungs, muscles etc. By stressing your body with exercise, your body becomes stronger. Pregnancy actually has a similar effect on the body that exercise produces in a non-pregnant exercising individual.
These adaptations are induced by the hormonal signals during pregnancy vs. the actual exercise in a non-pregnant women. These adaptations include increases in the volume of blood in circulation, the skin blood flow response, the size of the heart chambers, the volume of blood pumped each beat and the delivery of oxygen to the tissues.
So yes, just being pregnant is kind of like following an exercise routine! Score! But of course, I would never recommend to not exercise during pregnancy (unless doctor recommended) just because you are already getting these natural adaptions. By exercising during your pregnancy can reap even more benefits!
If you are not pregnant and exercising consistently and then become pregnant and continue to exercise, these adaptions are additive! , Dr. James Clapp, maternal exercise researcher and obstetrician, states in his book, Exercising During Pregnancy, “women who exercise regularly during pregnancy have more circulatory reserve, which improves their ability to deal with both anticipated (exercise, work) and unanticipated circulatory stress such as hemorrhage, trauma, anesthesia and so forth.” Though exercise during pregnancy might seem like more work with the extra weight and other changes, our body can actually deal with the stress better than a non-pregnant person.
Because pregnancy enhances left ventricular volumes, the amount of blood pumped by each beat of the heart is 30-50 percent greater than of a sedentary women. Blood volume helps contribute oxygen to your working muscles. The more blood volume you have, the more oxygen you have available which actually makes exercise a bit easier! I know exercise does not always feel easy when pregnant, but you are actually a crazy efficient machine when pregnant.
Dr. Clapp continues, “The same is true for competitive performance and maximal oxygen update after pregnancy, suggesting that the combination of exercise and pregnancy has a greater training effect than that produced by training alone.” This basically stating that exercising while pregnant can have more significant training effects than exercising while not pregnant.
“Many anecdotes from sports support the idea that the competitive performance of national-class athletes who continue to train during and after pregnancy is enhanced after having a baby. This is thought to be due to the changes in blood volume and hormonal levels during pregnancy.” YES! Having babies can improve performance. In more awesome news, these effects can last up to one year postpartum! “The increases in cardiac volumes and decreased vascular resistance persist to come degree for at least one year postpartum and maximal aerobic capacity increases. “
In my own non-scientific study, I often look at the fastest race times of the different events I participate in (triathlons, road races, etc.) and I often note that the fastest times are usually women in their 30’s vs. 20’s unlike many of the male fastest times which the opposite seems to be true. Obviously, I cannot say if these women have all had children but it is an assumption that many have and I often think of the studies that show that many women improve athletically after pregnancy. Another factor that I think has proven true for both my self and other athletes as they age, is that they often get smarter with recovery, training and knowing what works for their bodies. For me, I tend to take care of myself a lot better than I did 10 years ago. I know the importance of taking days off, proper sleep, nutrition, stress management. I cannot drink 3-4 nights a week and still perform well. I cannot overtrain and still perform well. I cannot forget to stretch and not perform restorative workouts and perform well. I eat a lot better than I did 10 years ago and I am generally just kinder to my body. So I definitely think I am a better athlete than I was 10 years ago for numerous reasons.
There are other benefits to your body after pregnancy. Here are a few non-athletic benefits that are still quite noteworthy:
-Pregnancy has been shown to help reduce the risk of both breast and ovarian cancers. The effects are greater the younger you started having children and with every pregnancy. One theory of why this might be the case is that ovulation stops during pregnancy and women who ovulate less are less likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer. Another theory is that breast tissue that never goes through pregnancy may be more prone to cancer.
-Breastfeeding has also been shown to lower risk of breast cancer due to the hormonal changes during lactation. These changes cause a reduction in lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen which can promote breast cancer cell growth. Shedding of breast tissue while breastfeeding helps remove cells with potential DNA damage also helping reduce risk.
-Many women report that their periods are less painful after the birth of their baby. Some believe that the stretching to the uterus during delivery might be the reasoning behind this.
So though I think it is often so easy to focus on the negative effects of pregnancy on our bodies but there are some really amazing changes that happen for the better. Have you noticed any positive changes since having kids? As always, I would love to hear from you!
- Exercising During Pregnancy, Dr. James Clapp
I cannot believe my baby will be 9 months tomorrow. Yes, it makes me a little sad as I feel like at times it has gone by fast but it is also such an exciting time to watch her try to crawl and interact with her brother. I still think one of the best quotes about parenthood is that the ‘days are long and years are fast.’ This past week has been super long and rough with both kids having fevers, and Madelynn having some major sleep issues. But as I have mentioned before, I never want to wish my kids are at a different age than they are. I try to enjoy it but as we all know when you are up at 3 am holding a sick, crying baby, ‘enjoy’ might not be the word that comes to mind.
I started thinking about being 9 months postpartum as this is the same amount of time I was pregnant (yes, I know it’s technically 40 weeks but the first month does not really count). Things are very different this time around with my recovery because it is my second child and because I am 2 years older than I was when I had Caleb.
I posted a quote earlier this week on social media about the “No pain, no gain” mindset and how inaccurate it is. But it literally use to be my motto! I mean I could have had a tattoo with that saying. I love to sweat, I love intense workouts, I used to love long workouts. A 30 minute workout? No way, what would be the point? Though I love yoga and have been practicing for over 10 years, I still gravitate towards the hard, hot type of yoga. Restorative workouts have not been my forte. Even if I try to swim to give myself and my body a non-impact workout, I find myself doing sprints. 🙂 Oh how things have changed. I do not have nearly the same amount of time I did before I had kids to dedicate to working out (and learned you can get a kick butt workout in 30 min or less) but I am also not physically the same.
Needless to say, I cannot keep up this type of workout mindset my entire life. Most people’s bodies will not handle it well. As I turned 35 a few weeks ago, I have been thinking about how my working out and recovery has changed as I have become older and since having 2 babies in the last 3 years. The most significant thing I have learned is how and what my body needs to recover. I just cannot recover like I used to when I was in my 20’s.
Here are the 5 most impactful things I have learned about exercising and recovering in the past 5 or so years.
- Balance of workouts and less overall volume. This is very challenging for me. As I mentioned above I love intensity. In a perfect world I would lift fairly heavy 4 days a week, do a few interval workouts, go to hot yoga, maybe a hard kickboxing class and get outside for some type of ride or run. First, of all, who has time for that? 2nd of all, holy my body hurts. Getting older and having babies is hard on your body. Having a baby is often the most traumatic event that a women’s body will go through. Yes, there is a lot of pressure to ‘get our bodies’ back faster than maybe our body wants to be back. I put a lot of pressure to lose all my baby weight fairly fast with Caleb. This time around I have been much more forgiving as and it has been a lot harder. My back hurts, my hips hurt. Some of this pain could be from lack of core strength, some from not recovering properly but a lot of it is probably doing from pushing myself too hard. I have also come to the realization that more is not necessary better. I have dramatically cut down on the volume of exercise I do. This pain has intensified just in the last few months and I have forced myself to back off on some intensity. I am still nursing, my body is still healing, I have to balance the intense workouts with less intense workouts. Easier said than done for me but I have really been making an effort lately.
- Nutrition needs to be on point 80 % of the time. Now I love my sweets and wine. But as I have gotten older, my overall nutrition really makes an impact on how I feel, digest, sleep, and perform in my workouts. I love going out and indulging some but 80% of the time my nutrition needs to be loaded with vegetables, good quality protein and fats, fruits and quality carbohydrates. If I go more than a few days of not eating well, I do not feel well.
- Sleep. UGGG….this is the hardest one for me right now for obvious reasons. Someone in my house is always not sleeping. If Madelynn sleeps, Caleb has a bad dream, if Caleb goes down easy then Madelynn is up all night. If both the kids are sleeping, I swear the dog will wake me up. This is can be very challenging especially with small children but I have to make sleep a priority. For me, it means shutting down the computer and actually going to bed once the kids are sleeping or sneaking in a quick nap on the weekends.
- Down time/alone time. I think this is crucial for anyone regardless if you are a parent or how old your kids are. I think everyone needs down time. I often feel that I never have actual down time. There is always something that needs to be done. I really, really struggle with not doing anything. How is this related to exercise and recovery? Because it is recovery for our brain. Last week I was at CrossFit, I literally had so much on my mind about kids, family, work etc. that I was so completely unfocused and my workout pretty much sucked. I would have been better off taking that hour and going for a slow walk or meditating (HA! Me mediate for an hour? More like 5 min but you get the point) to clear my head. Yes, some exercise does help me clear my thoughts but based on the majority of my exercising (refer to #1) I need something very restorative to allow me to unwind.
- Use recovery tools more often. This includes massage, baths, foam rolling, mobility work,stretching, essential oil blends for muscle pain, restorative walking. I have taught group exercise classes for 13 years and though people know they need to stretch, a huge percentage of people still leave during the stretching portion of the class, even knowing how much they need it to help them feel better the next day. I have started to foam roll more, I get massages often as I make it a priority and am loving using small mobility balls to work into my hips, glutes and back. Even a few minutes of this type of work after a warm-up or workout can really make a differenceI am truly amazed at what our bodies can do and am so grateful and proud of what my body has done in the past 3 years. I have grown, birthed and nursed 2 human beings. I am working on being kinder to my body. I am working on not constantly feeling like I need to put in through the ringer day in and day out. I know as a fitness professional that most strength gains come during recovery, not during the workout. Learning to back off a bit is definitely still a work in progress for me but as some of my aches and pains have intensified the last few months I have really started to focus more on what I have learned about my exercise and recovery habits as I get older.
What have you learned about your exercise habits and recovery as you have gotten older? I would love to hear!
P.S. If you have not signed up for my monthly newsletter, sign-up here! I send out recipes, workouts, discuss struggles of trying to be a busy fit mom, offer tips, free challenges and more! I promise to keep them short. 🙂
Madelynn turns 3 months this week and therefore we are both through what many call the “4th Trimester.” This term is used for the first 12 weeks after birth as your baby transitions from the womb to the world. This is also a crucial time for mama as you are dealing with a huge hormone shift (birth) and many transitioning to breastfeeding (continual hormonal fluctuations).
I am truly amazed at what my body has done in the past 12 weeks. I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby, my body has mostly healed from the birth, I have started exercising again and have started to push myself a bit more each week. Because I wrote a blog every trimester with what I was currently eating, my workout routine and some challenges, I wanted to round out those blogs with a final ‘trimester’ blog on my current exercise and diet. I also wanted to touch on what is going better than I expected and what I am still struggling with.
As you may have read I returned to some form of exercise about week after the birth. This was very slow walking and then I started to add some very light weights and an occasional yoga class. I always tried to listen to my body and did not push myself too much as I knew if I did, I would actually slow my recovery process. I spent the first couple weeks trying to make sure I established breastfeeding, finding some movement and getting any extra rest I could. As the weeks continued and I started to get a bit more sleep I started to add more exercise and a bit more intensity. I have now resumed teaching fitness classes and am back to my normal exercise routine of 5-6 days a week. Now, I am not where I was physically pre-pregnancy and of course still have some strength to gain and some weight to lose but overall am starting to feel a bit more normal.
My current routine looks like this:
Tuesday: 30-45 min workout at home, usually involving dumbbells and some interval cardio
Wednesday: Sometimes CrossFit and/or teach a 45 min mainly strength class
Thursday: Teach 45 min cycle/15 min strength class
Friday: CrossFit or another workout at my house
Saturday: Cardio of choice, maybe yoga
I also try to add in as much walking throughout the week as possible. I am slowly starting to build up my endurance again and have actually signed up for a 10K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day! I wanted something that would challenge me and Caleb will join me in a ½ mile kid’s race. My schedule might change a bit over the next few months as I hope to get back to the gym and add some traditional lifting and cardio and a yoga class at least once a week.
My nutrition has not changed much, however it is a hard balance of trying to lose weight and keep up my milk supply. Though you can lose weight while breastfeeding (check out the blog I wrote on this topic here) it is hard to find the correct balance of enough calories to support breastfeeding and exercise and still lose weight at a slow pace. I really ate the same for the majority of my pregnancy and post-pregnancy with the exception of a little bigger focus on fats right now for my milk supply. I have also added more wine. :).
A typical day looks like this:
As soon as I wake up: Large cup of coffee with MCT oil and half and half and splash of natural flavored creamer.
Breakfast Post Workout: Protein smoothie with protein powder, my FAV Craving Cocoa, PB2, tons of spinach, almond milk and slice of almond flour banana bread.
Not-Post workout: Eggs with spinach and cheese, some type of low carb bread or yogurt with granola and fruit, sausage
Lunch: 90% of the time, leftovers from the night before and an apple with PB or huge salad with protein and apple and PB.
Snack: Protein bar or nuts/string cheese/jerky
Dinner: Protein of some type, green vegetable and some type of small amount of starch (potatoes, couscous, squash etc.)
After dinner treat: Mini homemade PB cups or Craving Cocoa drink, or small piece of dark chocolate, etc.
Again, this has not changed significantly and my milk supply and energy levels are fairly good and my cravings are not nearly as strong as I was pregnant. If any of these change, I will then look at my nutrition and try to make adjustments.
Now on to my challenges of parenting two kiddos. There are so many wonderful things about having young children but also so many days that I feel like I can barely keep my head above water with working full time, my multiple side projects, managing the household and trying to have a teeny bit of social life. Some days work really well like clockwork, some days are a complete sh$* show.
Below is what is going really well:
- Madelynn is a rock star night sleeper (and I am sorry for all those mamas whose babies are not good sleepers). Madelynn is sleeping from about 10/11 PM to 5 AM/6 AM which in my book is sleeping through the night. I am VERY blessed in this area as we all know that sleep can affect so many areas of your life.
- The morning routine is going a lot better than I thought it would. I guess I pictured myself trying to feed Caleb breakfast and getting him ready for school while Madelynn would be screaming and I would have an early morning conference call I had to be on. However, *most* of the mornings are calmer than I expected. I do all the mornings by myself as my husband leaves for work before the kids are awake. I was terrified of handling this every morning. But we are slowly getting into our routine and luckily, right now, Madelynn falls asleep very soon after her first morning feeding so I can focus on Caleb. Don’t get me wrong there are still days that are just a cluster but overall they are going better than I thought.
- Caleb is doing well with the baby. We have not (YET) seen much jealously, regression or rebelling. He is 2 so of course he is going to have his moments (or many) and tantrums but he seems to be doing well with the transition thus far.
There are some things I am still struggling with. Now, I realize some of these seem small and insignificant but I am just thinking of everything overall since bringing Madelynn into our family.
- Madelynn is not a good napper. She will take very small cat naps, 30 or 45 minutes, maybe a 1 hour. Again, does not bother me if she sleeps through the night as I would much rather have that but I sometimes worry she is not getting the sleep she needs during the day.
- We are having a hard time transitioning to the crib. Every time we put her in the crib, she will not sleep longer than 30 minutes.
- I am ALWAYS preaching about planning meals ahead of time Though I still plan every week, I cannot for the life of me start dinner (any sort of prep etc.) until it is literally 30 minutes before we eat. I am based out of my house for my work so you would think I could take 10-15 min to do some prep before I pick Caleb up from school…but for whatever reason I don’t. This is only creating more chaos for me in the evenings as I am trying to spend some time with Caleb, feed the baby and make dinner all at the same time. The evenings are a bit chaotic and I often just find myself wishing my hubby will walk through the door at any moment.
- This post-partum period has been a bit harder physically. I am not losing the weight nearly fast and I have had pain in my joints including my hips, knee and low back. I did not do anything different for this recovery and realize it is probably due to the fact that I am 2 years old and not resting and relaxing as much since I now have two kid.
- Sometimes I miss my old life. Now, PLEASE, I love my kids and feel so blessed and have so much gratitude for them but sometimes I miss being able to really do whatever I want, when I want. I miss travel…a lot. I think it is natural for everyone to miss a time in their life (college, young adult life without a lot of responsibilities, etc.) when their life is quite a bit different now. Now, with 2 kids, I feel that I rarely get time to just relax. This used to be after Caleb went to bed but now by the time we get him down, it is time to feed Madelynn etc. Now, again, I know this is part of being a mom and I would not trade it for the world but sometimes I miss my former life and when travel and alone time feel so far away, it makes the longing a little more fierce.
I still think one of the best quotes about parenthood is ‘that the days are long and the years are short.’ I know this is such a precious time and I never want to wish my kids to grow up any faster than they are but I also look forward to the days where I can go out with my husband, family and friends more often and travel again. For now though, I will try to focus on fitting in some alone time for myself but also enjoy these fleeting moments with my two amazing kiddos.
Reading to both kiddos before bed. Love these moments.
What is going well for you? What are you struggling with? As always, I would love to hear from you.
I am 6 weeks post baby and starting to get back into a regular exercise routine. You will find various answers on when to resume exercise after birth. Some say that you should wait 6 weeks for a vaginal birth and 8 weeks after a C-section to resume exercise if you have no obvious complications. This is often the norm for a vaginal birth because that is when most women’s post-delivery doctor appointment is scheduled. And most exercise plans/books/trainers do not want and will not recommend working out without a clearance from a doctor. However, many of the more recent books on post-natal fitness state that exercise can be resumed after a few weeks for a vaginal birth as long as there is no vaginal bleeding or other obvious complications. They all state to start out slowly and stop with any pain or bleeding.
My doctor knows me and my activity level and knew I would not be waiting 6 weeks. She told me to rest, recover and do not do anything that hurts. She was not going to give me a specific time frame. I completely agreed with her advice as I think every women is very unique in this area as it depends on if they had any complications during pregnancy or labor, were active before and during pregnancy and so forth. Some women might feel great a week after, some maybe need three weeks and some might want to wait a few months until they really feel like exercising. I think even small amounts of exercise such as leisurely walks as soon as a woman feels up for it can help with balancing hormones and hopefully baby blues.
With both my first baby and this baby, I did not do any type of exercise for a week. Just completely rested and recovered (which I know sounds silly to some since I just gave birth but I am used to doing some form of activity, even easy walks, every day). After a week, I started adding in some walks and light weights in my basement. Since then I have slowly started getting back into a routine. Right now I am going to CrossFit 2-3 times a week. I was still modifying everything at first but am now able to do most movements but am not even close to lifting the amount of weight I was pre-pregnancy. The other days I am working out at home either in my home gym with weights and some rowing/treadmill or simply doing body weight exercises at a field by my house. I hope to return to yoga but am not able to attend any classes since I have Madelynn with me all the time. (I am not good at doing yoga DVDs in my living room…I get too distracted.. “look a squirrel!” 🙂 ). I am still trying to stay away from a lot of jarring movements and have only added core in the terms of planks and some low back work.
I was thinking about how different this recovery feels vs. my first post-natal experience. After you give birth, your uterus will shrink back to its original size. This takes usually about 6 weeks to complete but the first few days it will shrink the most (and feels like cramping), especially during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding signals to your uterus to shrink, which I think is just one of the many amazing things our bodies does during and after pregnancy. I remember the cramping with Caleb during breastfeeding but the cramping this time around (not just during breastfeeding but in the middle of the night) was SO much worse. On the 2nd night home from the hospital I literally woke up moaning it was to so bad. However, it was then suddenly so much better. At times I think I feel stronger and that I am recovering a little bit quicker. However, at other times, I am not feeling quite as strong as I am having pretty bad headaches, carpal tunnel and my hip and knees ache. I will say the entire process seems a bit easier as I am not as stressed being a first time parent or constantly anxious about my newborn. However, I do also now have 2 children, one of which is a very busy toddler, which is no joke. So really this recovery is just different.
Even though I feel that I am recovering a bit quicker every workout post-baby kind of sucks. Everything seems to be jiggling or leaking :). Some of my joints hurt, my boobs are way bigger than normal, and I have absolutely no core strength which makes the majority of lifting difficult and makes many exercises just plain hard. I feel pretty weak all around and at times feels like I did not workout once during my pregnancy.
Completing a CrossFit workout last week.
Every workout is also humbling. Because I love fitness and have worked in the fitness field for the past 12 years, I always stay in relatively good shape. Though I might not be racing or competing in anything, I always work out regularly and really have since high school. So now I am starting from a place of ‘getting back in shape.’ Though I am not a crazy good athlete, I work hard in the gym and therefore am always fairly fit. So for me to go to the gym and barely be able to complete a push-up or have to run really slow is humbling. I also do not think I am going to lose the weight as fast which is very humbling. Though I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight after about 4 months with Caleb, I do not seem to be losing any (or at an extremely slow rate) this time around after my initial large amount of weight loss. You will lose quite a bit the first few weeks with the weight of the baby, water weight and retention, the placenta all making up quite a bit of mass. I was looking at my pregnancy and post-pregnancy fitness journal with Caleb and started getting a little down on myself about how I am not losing as fast. I had to really check myself and my attitude as who cares if I am 5lbs heavier than I was at this time post-baby with Caleb? Who cares if it takes longer to lose the weight? I now have 2 kids and a newborn and a toddler! I am not able to rest as much since there is always something that needs to be done or if one kid is sleeping the other always seems to be awake. Maybe it’s because I am 2 years older? Maybe it’s combination of a lot of things. I write that I shouldn’t care or that those thoughts do not serve me in anyway but sometimes I need to remind myself that I just GAVE BIRTH and need to be compassionate with myself. It is also a hard balance of keeping my milk supply up (which is very important to me), trying to lose some weight slowly and the hunger than comes from breastfeeding and exhaustion. My point in sharing this is even fitness professionals who understand all the science between exercise and nutrition and might have all the tools still struggle with losing weight and the mindset that comes with it. Though it is very hard for me to share this, here are a few pictures of me post-baby body. One taken one week after, 2 weeks after and now, 6 weeks after. Though I have a hard time taking these, let alone posting them on my blog, I want to be real with my followers that though I have a home gym, teach classes and work in fitness, it is a struggle for me too.
Honestly, it is probably good for me to start from what feels like zero be able to relate to people who might be starting up again after an injury or time off or who have never really worked out before. I think it makes me a better fitness professional, teacher and personal trainer to know what it is like to start from the beginning again with some weight and body fat to lose and having to learn to modify exercises and workouts.
Every workout is gratifying. Gratifying because of what my body did to bring my beautiful children into this world. I know that I am incredibly blessed to have 2 healthy children. I know that so many people cannot have children or were not as lucky to bring home a healthy baby. So there is not one workout or day that goes by that I do not feel an immense amount of gratitude…not matter how much weight or body fat I have to lose or how hard the workout feels, I am grateful.
And finally every workout is awesome. First, it honestly feels good to move without my belly in the way. Second, my body truly amazes me. I was lucky to feel pretty good throughout my pregnancy and was active the entire time which I do believe helped me start working out and recover faster than if I had not worked out. I cannot believe I was able to grow a human, birth a human and recover from it and get back to my workouts. It feels good again to workout intensely without having to constantly worry about my heart rate getting too high or a certain pose in yoga that is not recommended for pregnant woman. It feels good to move.
So as I go along this 2nd post pregnancy journey I will try to embrace all the suckiness, humbling, gratitude and awesomeness of each workout.
Julie in Half Moon at 31 weeks.
I absolutely love yoga. I remember not loving it when I took my first class over 12 years ago. I was not very flexible and what kind of workout is just stretching? You don’t even sweat (or so I thought). Fast forward a few years and I was experiencing really bad insomnia due to what I think was the stress of being in graduate school, barely making any money in a very toxic work environment and living across the country from all my friends and family. I started taking yoga about once a week and really started feeling the mental benefits. The physical benefits were just a plus to the stress relief, and learning how to breathe and relax. I continued to practice and then discovered hot yoga and fell in love with that too! Honestly, I love all varieties of yoga and have continued practicing the last 12 years. I practiced throughout my first pregnancy learning modifications and what felt right in my body. I am still practicing now and hope to continue for the rest of my pregnancy. As I get further along in my pregnancy, I feel that there are less and less types of exercise that truly feel good. Through my 3rd trimester, my main forms or exercise will most likely be lifting weights, walking and yoga.
Yoga is an incredible form of exercise at any time but can be very beneficial for pregnant and post-partum women as this time can be very stressful for many women. Carrying a baby, giving birth and holding and feeding a baby are not exactly awesome for our body alignment. Though yoga can be very challenging, it also can be very gentle on our bodies.
Though I do teach yoga, I am very green compared to the other formats of group exercise that I have been teaching for more than a decade. Because I am so new to teaching yoga, I wanted to reach out to a few awesome yogi mamas for their thoughts and tips for yoga while pregnant and afterwards.
Julie, owner of Studio Love Yoga in Erie, Colorado has been teaching for 10 years and is the mom to three beautiful kids ages 4, 2 and 1.
Hilary is a yoga teacher and personal trainer in Seattle, WA (www.hilaryparis.com) She is expecting her first baby boy in early August.
Below is my interview with these beautiful mamas:
How long have you been teaching yoga? And what formats do you teach?
Julie: I have been teaching for 10 years and I teach power flow, yin, tone and any specialty type classes and workshops.
Hilary: In June, I will have been teaching yoga for eight years to people of all backgrounds, including pregnant women. I teach many different styles of yoga from restorative to power vinyasa.
Did you do yoga through all your pregnancies Julie?
Julie: Yes, on my first two I practiced and then went into labor within 3 hours.
When did you start again after giving birth?
Julie: I was back on my mat, moving and stretching the day after birth and at a class 2 weeks postpartum.
Do you recommend yoga for pregnant women and why?
Julie: Yes, you get all the benefits that exercise offers but the most valuable thing you gain from yoga is awareness, of how you are when your body is changing, uncomfortable and experiencing constant shift.
Hilary: I recommend a regular yoga practice for women in all stages of pregnancy, but it will feel different for everyone. My experience will be completely different than everyone else’s, so keep that in mind. Additionally, there are so many types of yoga out there. Finding the class and instructor that is right for you is so important. It all depends on your activity level. For example, for someone who has never taken yoga before, or for someone who is sedentary, I would not recommend they go straight to a vinyasa or heated class. I would suggest that they take a prenatal yoga class first, and as they feel ready, they might want to dabble in some other styles of yoga. It is a practice, however, so she should attend classes regularly instead of just once in a while. Just like strength training, the body needs time to progress, respond and build muscle memory.
What do you believe are the benefits of doing yoga while pregnant?
Julie: Yoga gives you access to the tools to cope with all the changes that are happening. Yoga helps keep you present, present to the fact that this is 40 short weeks and you can make it through with beauty, strength and grace!
Hilary: For women trying to conceive, yoga can be very effective. Often times, women can experience frustration while trying to conceive, causing even more stress and raising cortisol levels. Yoga, mindfulness and meditation have been consistently reliable methods to lower stress levels. Once a woman becomes pregnant, a regular yoga practice can be very helpful to put her mind and body at ease. Healthy and stress free mommy = easier pregnancy and labor. Prenatal yoga is a great way to prepare her body and mind for labor and motherhood while relieving many pains and discomforts of pregnancy. Prenatal yoga helps strengthen the muscles that support a growing belly and changing body. Yoga also relieves tension caused by soft and hard tissue changes. Some of the strengthening poses challenge the body and mind to prepare the pregnant woman for the challenge of labor.
What are some contraindications for doing yoga while pregnant? Are there specific poses pregnant women should avoid?
Julie: Deep, compression twists and laying for length in prone or supine positions are the only contraindications. The body is amazing at guiding itself if we are listening, if it doesn’t feel right, adjust or stop.
Hilary: It is important to never practice in a room that is set to a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, I would not recommend a Bikram class, where the classes are set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I found 75-90 degrees to be very pleasant while practicing. I also took all of the jumping out of my practice, and took it easy on any supine core work.
First Trimester: Again, I can’t stress this enough: listen to your body. Meditation, pranayama (breath work) and restorative yoga will be the best thing a woman can do for her body during this time. A regular prenatal yoga practice will help with all of the fatigue that comes with the dramatic hormonal changes in her body. With women who experience nausea or vomiting, any forward movements or big backbends might make it worse. Women should avoid any deep, closed twists starting now and throughout the pregnancy. Open twists from thoracic spine are fine, keeping the shoulders over the hips. It is important to let the body “do its thing,” rather than forcing it into a pose. Focusing on the natural gravity of the body can feel really wonderful.
Second and Third Trimesters: This is when most pregnant women start to feel improved energy levels (yay!), but as their bellies get bigger, certain poses become harder. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Take the legs wider in forward folds, chair pose or any other pose that feels like it needs to be modified. Although she may feel more energy, and perhaps stronger, the hormone relaxin, which softens ligaments and tendons, is still being released. This can lead to overstretching, leaving a feeling of soreness. She should only go to her “edge,” again not forcing herself into a pose.
Backbends may start to feel uncomfortable during this time, as the skin around the abdomen can become tighter. Deep backbends should not be practiced. Think of opening your chest more, rather than leaning into your back. Also, any prone poses will feel rather odd. If you have a regular vinyasa practice, coming to hands and knees during chaturanga might feel better. With pretty much every pose, it’s best to scale back. Now is not the time to prove to the world you are a yoga champion.
Avoid any supine core work, but single leg lifts (with one foot on ground) and bridge pose are ok at a slow pace. In general, it’s best to avoid inversions, but it really depends on the person. Towards the end of the pregnancy, no mama should be upside down. I know they’re fun, but It’s only a couple of months… handstands can wait. Always consider gravity… the baby will be coming out through the pelvis, not the head. Using props really helps during pregnancy. Blocks, bolsters, blankets and straps really help.
During the third trimester, mama’s belly will start to reach its fullest capacity, making forward folds rrrrreally challenging. Listen. To. Your. Body. If you have made it eight to nine months with a regular yoga practice, you should be a pro at this by now. I like my third trimester yoga students to really focus on their breath. Lengthening the breath, and breathing in through the nose and out of the mouth while keeping the shoulders soft can be very relaxing. Taking a 10 second breath while silently counting is very meditative and calms the nervous system. Practicing Ujjayi breath can help prepare the body for labor as well.
In general, expecting moms are the experts on their own bodies. Everybody is different pre and post pregnancy. Try not to compare yourself to others during this time. Yoga should be a healing practice during this time, not a competition with others and especially not with yourself.
Hilary in Dancer’s Pose.