Running while pregnant is a hot topic. Should you? Shouldn’t you? Over the years, the guidelines have changed, but now the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says staying active is of utmost importance for a healthy pregnancy—unless a doctor says otherwise.
The first thing to think about when considering running during pregnancy is your pre-pregnancy fitness level. If you’ve been a runner for a while and would like to continue training during your pregnancy, it’s likely okay to do so. There are multiple guidelines for all exercise while pregnant. Be sure you have an open discussion with your doctor about exercise and running throughout your pregnancy.
Your training will look different with each trimester. As you progress in the pregnancy, your running speed will naturally decline and running will become more challenging. Your heart has to beat harder to deliver oxygen to you and your baby. That means running at a certain pace will now feel harder because your heart rate is higher. Your running form will change as your center of gravity shifts with the growth of the baby. It is important to focus more on running by feel than to go by your watch. Pregnancy is not the time for personal bests.
A training plan during pregnancy needs to be flexible and done at a level that is safe for mom and baby. Pushing yourself too hard increases the risk for injuries especially in hips and lower back.
What workouts should the pregnant runner do each trimester?
During the first trimester, you may be able to continue to run at your usual mileage and intensity. Your gait has not changed and weight gain is minimal during this time. The biggest obstacle is fatigue and morning sickness. When you have the energy and are able, you may continue to run as usual. Also include total-body strength exercises to maintain lean muscle in addition to building up your core strength and posture.
The second trimester usually brings relief from morning sickness (sorry if you are not one of the lucky ones!). Your running gait will start to change as your belly grows. With this change, you may experience low back and SI Joint (a joint in the bony pelvis) pain due to loose ligaments and hypermobility. A good stability belt can help ease back pain as the band gently lifts your belly, taking some of the load off your back.
During this time, if it is no longer comfortable to run, you may need to introduce more cross-training into your weekly workouts. Lower impact activities like swimming, stationary bike, walking or elliptical provide a workout with less stress on the body and lowers injury risk. Continue to strength train the total body including planks (if you’ve experienced no shoulder issues), hip strengthening exercises and stability ball exercises for balance and posture. You may also find a prenatal yoga class is beneficial for stress release as well as preparing your body for birth.
You may find that running is uncomfortable with your ever growing belly. A run/walk method or just walking may feel best for you. Pool running is a great alternative during the third trimester to keep some of the weight off your joints. The intensity of your workouts should be low. Continue with total-body strengthening exercises that include core and hip strengthening.
Remember to always go by feel no matter what stage of pregnancy you are in. Now is not the time to push. Save that for the delivery! Stay away from workouts that will lead to overheating or falling.
As always, consult your personal physician about running and exercise guidelines for your pregnancy.