Dear Fitness Expert,
I'm 5-weeks pregnant and I run track. Will it harm my baby if I continue to practice 5 days a week?
Firstly, congratulations! At five weeks, you are feeling strong! The good news is you are probably in good condition. I wish I knew a little more about what kind of track event(s) you are involved in but it is safe to say at 5 weeks, you are good-to-go!
In the months to come, you will experience many changes. But I want to tell you from the start that your number one concern in elite training is heat. Remember that as you sweat, your baby has no way to sweat. It is important that you not exceed an internal temperature of 101° F.
Particularly with track athletes, as you are running sets, your body heat begins to rise without you realizing how hot you really are. I've had the opportunity to interview Olga Appeal, world champion/Olympic marathon runner as well as race walker Michelle Rohl, a 2x-world champion and Pan Am record holder; gold medalist sprinters Gwen Torrence and Evelyn Ashford and hurdler Sandra Farmer Patrick. All of these women were diligent about training hard and drinking plenty of water until about the 4th month. Then, the group divided.
Because Ashford, Patrick and Torrence had never been told about checking internal temperature, the champions stopped training. Because this was unchartered waters for them, they wanted to be safe and stopped. Although all came back to win gold, they have admitted the return to sport was difficult.
Olga Appeal and Olympic long-distance runner Vicki Huber were able to continue relatively stress free because they would literally leave the track, run to a bathroom and check their internal temperature with a rectal thermometer. Factoring in the fact that babies are 1 degree Celsius HIGHER than the mother, they made sure they never went over 101 degrees F. They continued to train throughout the pregnancy.
Your rectal thermometer can be your best friend. (Boy, you don't hear that very often.)
As you begin to experience morning sickness, you may not feel like training. Just remember to drink plenty of water. Although water may sound like the last thing you want during this uncomfortable time, it is actually the best thing to beat morning sickness. As you push past morning sickness (some never get it, some never get over it... there is no control over these factors) you will feel a resurgence of energy and may have the great desire to run like you've never run before...
Take it easy. Although you are strong, in great shape and have your trusty thermometer, you are now entering your second trimester and your joints are beginning to loosen. At this point, only you know how you feel. If a run feels great, do it. If it is uncomfortable or difficult, ease back.
I promise you, I have spoken to dozens and dozens of Olympic champions and world record holders who came back after child birth better and stronger than ever. Do not let yourself believe you are being left behind athletically. Nonsense. (I would suggest the book Entering the MotherZone in which race walker Michelle Rohl gives a very candid interview about how she believed she would be left behind and let this competitive feeling overwhelm her, endangering herself and the baby. (Contact Pregnancy.org for more information.)
Once you reach the second trimester, you have to work out for you -- not for a team, for a time, for a coach. You can still run, train and have fun but do not push yourself as you have in the past.
In the last trimester, you may feel extremely slow and out of shape. Guess what? You are still in great shape but the physical routine must change because you have changed. Too many times, competitive athletes see they are lifting lighter weights with less reps, running slower times and think it's all slipping away.
Again, nonsense. Because your baby is drawing more from you, your training regimen has indeed changed. You know the saying, "Work with what you've got." This is exactly what you are doing. As long as you are enjoying the workouts and are feeling reasonably strong, this is your only goal at this point. You will be amazed how quickly you rebound.
On a personal note, I was squatting 360 pounds and running 20 MPH at almost five months pregnant. I continued to workout throughout my pregnancy -- was in the gym the day before baby #2 -- but I was only squatting very light weights and no longer running (I was doing sprint training on a stationary bike). Eight months after having the baby I was running 21.3 MPH and stronger than ever. Before I was pregnant I had never broken 20.5 MPH.
This was a long answer but I always want to emphasis a few points:
Alexandra Allred is a former member of the US Women's Bobsled team, is an accomplished martial artist, and continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She has interviewed hundreds of athletes, models, actresses, trainers, doctors, and health/fitness experts as she sought to find answers to her own questions about working out while pregnant, arranging breast-feeding around a training schedule, diet when pregnant and breastfeeding, and encouraging her whole family.
Alex is the author of ten books, including Atta Girl! A Celebration of Women in Sports and Entering the Mother Zone: Balancing Self, Health & Family. We're excited to have her on board!