How Will Pregnancy Affect Workout Routine for Sychronized Swimmer?

Alexandra Powell Allred's picture


I'm a competitive synchronized swimming coach and I found out today that one of the elite athletes I coach is 12 weeks pregnant. She's 20 years old, has always been diagnosed as somewhat underweight and under-muscled, and says she intends to continue university and her training.

Luckily her family will support her in this, and she will be able to keep her scholarship if she continues training, even if she misses a few minor competitions.

So my question is, what intensity of training can I plan for her? When does she have to reduce her training loads, and by how much? Typically in training we break things down into bite size chunks and only do the full routine every other day so it should be fairly possible to plan a gradual wind-down. I've broken our typical training into the various components.

  • Flexibility (Requirements are similar to those of rhythmic gymnastics)
  • Aerobic capacity
  • Anaerobic capacity (They compete 2-4 minute routines, with "intensity spurts". Heart rates usually reach 180 bpm)
  • Hypoxic resistance (60% of a typical routine is underwater)
  • Muscular endurance
  • Explosive power
  • Core strength (This is one of the most important factors)
  • Balance
  • Technique and timing.
  • Artistic and psychological factors

I have never been pregnant, and really don't know what to expect and the director needs her revised training plan for 2010 by next week. Any advice you can give me would really help.


The fact that she is underweight is only slightly worrisome. A great coach, good workout routine and conscientious athlete can make for a great combo for a strong pregnancy.

Read about inner core temperature on our website. Given her pool training, this will be less of an issue for your athlete but any work she does in the gym and any land cardio she does -- you will want to be aware of the inner core temperature.

I always recommend that a coach have the athlete keep a log of when/what/how she trains in the gym. Periodically (every 20 to 30 minutes) she needs to go to the bathroom and take her inner core temperature. She is going to make a face at you but you should explain to her that this is to ensure that her inner core temp does not exceed 101° F. Because the baby cannot regulate heat, we need to be sure that momma does!

I had the good fortune to interview Olympic swimmer Angel Martino while she was pregnant. She was able to continue her swim training in the pool. Initially, she was told by a doctor to not let her heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute and she was miserable. For a seasoned athlete like Angel, that was a very subdued exercise and eventually, she felt discouraged. Together, we learned that when she could raise her heart rate for a brief period, she was MUCH happier. She could continue a slow lap training -- but periodically could do a one lap sprint so that she could raise the heart rate briefly and still feel like she was digging deep and reaching ... then bring it back down and take some laps allowing her heart rate to return to a comfortable rate.

This is ideal because she is in the pool and you don't have to worry as much about inner core temperature. Additionally, it is low impact on the joints so she can continue this routine throughout the pregnancy.

As she comes to the end of her second trimester, as her coach, you will have to let her know that she needs to listen to her body. She will naturally begin to slow and that is okay. Elite athletes worry so much about missing vital training. The beauty is ... we now know from other Olympic swimmers-turned- moms-turned Olympic swimmers that muscle memory is a glorious thing. She WILL get her form back. Now, we just want to keep her strong and keep with the routine.

So, in regards to gym training, the log book and rectal thermometer are important. During my own training, I was able to work on explosive power (on land), sprint work and heavy lifting into the second trimester. I naturally tapered off the sprinting and plyos because of the high impact.

At this stage, her joints will begin to soften and shift in early preparation of child birth. For this reason -- and every athlete is different -- she will have to respect how she feels during training. Not getting lazy but she will know what is too much. As long as she is staying hydrated, keeping her log, checking her inner core temperature, putting in the pool time, it is also reasonable (again with doctor's permission) to have her continue to work balance, weights with limited explosive work.

By her third trimester, the balance becomes a bit of a joke and any high impact should be out the window. But by working with light weights, you are still working muscle memory and keeping her in shape for 1) child birth (so many young athletes under estimate what is required of the body for a 8 or 12 or 16 hour labor) and 2) post pregnancy workouts.

Please do not hesitate to get back with me on specific routines and how she is responding as she moves along in her pregnancy!