Workouts and the Elite Pregnant Athlete

QUESTION

Dear Fitness Expert,
I wanted to know if it is safe to use the Elliptical Machine without the arm handles at the gym.

Before I got pregnant I would stay on it for 2 hours or about 13 miles. I am now 29 weeks pregnant and I do at least an hour now at the low intense level. I have asked 3 doctors at the practice during my appointments and everyone has a different answer. I don't know what I should do, and going to the gym makes me feel better and have been going everyday for 10 years. Is it safe?

Thank you,
Kat

ANSWER

Dear Kat,
Let me first say that you need first get medical permission before exercise. Because we do not know your medical history, you have to get clearance from your medical team. Now...assuming that you are cleared medically, let me set the record straight!

First, I'm impressed that you would spend two hours on the elliptical. You're a beast! Good for you. So, this tells me right off the bat that you have great endurance, you are resilient and are so acclimated to the elliptical that you are the kind of client I worry about because you will become bored and frustrated when you are told to tone it down a little.

Therefore, we need to find you alternatives that are both interesting but challenging. But before we get to that, let me first address your question about the elliptical. You may have gotten different answers from different doctors because they are basing their answer on what they know about YOU.

Again, I have to watch my clients who are too enthusiastic while working out. These are the ones who are more likely to injure themselves and WILL NOT tone it down when injured. When I get a pregnant client with your type A personality (which I secretly love, by the way!), I have to stay on top of her, making sure she doesn't get too intense. Why? Heat! Inner core temperature.

What too few doctors talk about is the inner core temperature. While I was training for the bobsled team, we did pay attention to my heart rate but because your baby does not have the ability to sweat and regulate his/her own heat, it is important that you do not become too hot. You do not want to exceed 101 degree F. But BECAUSE of your excellent conditioning, you will not realize just how hot you've become until there is a sudden spike in your inner core temperature. So, it is important that you get a rectal thermometer. Because of the time spent on the elliptical, you need to stop every 20 minutes, dash off to the bathroom and check your inner core temp.

Other helpful hints are to stay hydrated and drink even more water (I know this means more trips to the bathroom) as summer is upon us.

But exercise for an elite athlete -- and when you are on an elliptical for two hours, I put you in this category -- who is pregnant, common sense and a good rectal thermometer must be your guide. Exercise to feel. You are, at 29 weeks, at a point where you don't need to be thinking about or worrying about burning calories or losing muscle mass. I have written several articles about muscle memory and have interviewed that many more Olympic athletes who all testify to the fact that they did come back even stronger after childbirth. So ... exercise for enjoyment at this point but do NOT push yourself because you are afraid of missing a step.

Finally, with your intense personality, going to the gym is exactly the place you want to be. Inside the gym, the temperature is controlled, there are professionals who can watch your posture (this is important as your body grows, you won't realize how many adjustments you make in your stance/movement to get around your growing belly) and a bathroom to run to for inner core temp checks. Keep going to the gym but e-n-j-o-y those workouts. When you have your baby and are ready to really put things into second gear, we can give you a great cardio workout to lose that baby fat and let out your inner beast.

Let us know how things go.
--Alex

Alexandra Allred

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!