Can I Do High Intensity Exercise During Pregnancy

Alexandra Powell Allred's picture

QUESTION

Dear Fitness Expert,
There are very few articles for the very fit, big exerciser, falling pregnant. Should one cut back? How much? There are stories about Russian athletes who were made pregnant just before the Olympics as women are strongest in their first three months of pregnancy... any news on those kind of stories. Advice for the super-fit rather than those trying to get fit?

That would be great.

Thanks.
Karin

ANSWER

Hi Karin,
I lived what you've described. While training for the US Women's Bobsled team, I got pregnant. At the time I was running competitive sprint times, squatting over 300 lbs, lifting, running, performing plyometrics and, in general, training like a wild woman. News of my pregnancy caused most teammates and coaches to wish me luck and show me the door. Most of the information regarding working out while pregnant was overly cautious and not even what I would have considered my warm-up. I was very nervous and didn't know what to do. Fortunately, the USOC helped turn me on to the leading researching in OB/GYN for pregnant athletes. For decades, he has been studying varying results of pregnant athletes, the most intense training being cross-country skiing and marathon competitors. When he learned I was doing sprinting, running stadiums and lifting heavy weights, he was thrilled and immediately put me in his study. Because he was far away, we made special arrangements for me to travel to his laboratory and he often came (with staff) to my hometown gym. I wore fetal monitors, heart monitors, EKG leads, oxygen mask, and a rectal thermometer. Everything was monitored as I trained. (All of this is documented in my book, Entering the Mother Zone which can be obtained through Pregnancy.org)

I learned that many of the Russian and Eastern Block Germans actually got pregnant just before the Olympics to get that hormonal rush that acts as effectively -- yet naturally -- as steroids. Most of those same athletes elected to abort shortly after competition. Shocking but true. And, that controversy continues today with other growing communist nations. As for me, when I entered the US National trials, the bet was I would come in somewhere in the middle. The last event of the competition was to push a 365 lbs sled 100 meters, scored by timing eyes. Who can push the sled the fastest? I ripped out a time that surprised even me. I felt power and energy I cannot describe. I knew I would do better than expected because I had been killing my training partners in our endurance and weight lifting tests but when I pushed off the starting blocks, everyone was yelling, "No fair! She's got TWO people pushing." It was extraordinary. Here I had been afraid I would be slow and cumbersome. I won US Nationals, was featured in Sports Illustrated and was named Athlete of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee. I was four and half months pregnant. The silver medallist? A woman named Liz Parr-Smestad who just happened to be three months pregnant.

Now, the history of the pregnant athlete is one thing. Safely applying your workout routine to your pregnant body is another matter. It is important that you consult your physician to get a clear bill of health for you and baby. Investing in a rectal thermometer is a must. It is icky to think about but may just be the most important training tool you will own. I would like to hear more about your training routine to make sure there is no unnecessary bounding and lifting. You must remember that no matter how strong your body is in the first trimester, you body does change. By my sixth month, my doctor and I agreed I should stop the sprint training on the track and I worked 'sprint' training on the stationary bike. Again, I was hydrated and kept careful eye on my inner core temperature. By my eighth month, I laid off on the heavy weights as joints begin to loosen and shift. Be kind to your body, do not push too hard in the last month and have confidence in 'muscle memory.' Please do let us know what your routine is but the overall message is, you can continue doing what you have always done, adjusting your routine as you grow.

-- Alex