2018 was intentionally a big year for me. Squeezing in an ultra marathon (and 2 half marathons and a marathon), a middle distance triathlon, a few cycling events, and a mountain race as part of a climbing and adventure holiday in Italy before the end of September.
The reason? My partner and I had decided we wanted to embark on one of life’s ultimate adventures: having a child. So, I became pregnant in September 2018. Here are a few of the things I've learnt and reflections from the first trimester.
I like getting an early night as it is, but I was falling asleep at 9pm and could sleep for over 10 hours every night. I had to come to terms with the fact I could rarely get up early enough to get to the pool for a pre-work swim, but I realised I could fit in a 5km run. So that’s what I did. The fatigue was like no other I felt. It wasn't just lack of sleep or physical exhaustion, it was a whole new kind of fatigue. I hadn't really appreciated how much it affected me until I was over it, and I probably could have cut myself a bit more slack.
I had read that my blood pressure would drop and I would feel tired in the first trimester, but when my running speed hit an all-time low I really thought that might be the start of the downward slide for the rest of the pregnancy. However, when I got past 12 weeks, my body adjusted and there was enough blood in my veins to adequately deliver oxygen to where it’s needed, so I got the spring in my step back and my speed went back up! Workouts felt mentally and physically less of a chore too, but I am so glad I stuck with it in those early weeks as I benefited further down the line.
Risk vs Reward
Cycling: I continued to cycle to work every day for the first 12 weeks (28km round trip to central London). It was hard at times when it was dark and I was tired, but I knew I would miss cycling when it came a time I wouldn't feel so comfortable doing it, so I tried to continue to appreciate the fact that I could cycle to work. After 12 weeks, the weather became very wet and cold, so I’d cycle when it wasn’t so wet and slippy.
Mentally, cycling keeps me happy which is good for the baby, but I also had to weigh up the risks of cycling through London. I stopped cycling when work broke for Christmas; I was 16 weeks pregnant.
Climbing: I was bouldering and climbing throughout the first trimester and just doing easier routes and used it as socialising time with friends. My fatigue was really tough on some of those days. After a day at work and commuting to the climbing centre sometimes I would spend a lot of time sitting on the mats! But for me, as long as I got enough sleep, it was better to be there with friends than be at home on my own.
Variety is the spice of life
It was a real bonus that I have several different activities that I enjoy: swimming, cycling, running, yoga, Pilates, climbing, outdoor boot camps, and using the gym. It meant that there was always something I could do depending on my energy levels, the weather, work/life demands, and my mood. It helped me keep my fitness up, reduce stress, and cope with the many changes I was going through physically and mentally.
Symptoms and side effects
I’ve only written about the fatigue as something that affected my training as this really was the one big thing I had to work through. I was very lucky in that I didn't feel nauseous and do feel for those women that do! Being active throughout the first trimester probably helped (or I am just very lucky!) Nevertheless, it helped me feel a little more in control of myself and my thoughts.
The big secret
I didn't tell family or work until I had my 12-week scan which was tough but I’m glad I waited. I had to make up a reason to my boss as to why I couldn't attend a Les Mills trainers’ course (the course leader said it wasn't suitable for pregnancy), and I would get caught out when someone asked what my next fitness goal was or invited me on a ski trip! But you get used to the little untruths you have to say in those 12 weeks. It was worth it and it felt like such a big relief after that 12 week scan and when I could announce the happy news!
First trimester pregnancy training routine
- 5-12km run x 1-2
- Outdoor bootcamp x 1
- Climbing x 1-2
- 5-2km Swim x 1
- Strength based gym session x 2-3
- Cycling to work 28km x 5
- Occasional spin class
Pregnancy fitness tips
- Everyone is different and everyone has different pregnancies, share experiences with friends but don't compare.
- As long as your GP says there are no reasons why you can't exercise, you can keep doing what you've been doing before you got pregnant in your first trimester. However, you may feel like you want to make adjustments and you may feel you can't deal with the intensity. Listen to your body and take each session by session if you need. There are some very risky activities to avoid such as scuba diving.
- Knowledge up! Begin to think about arming yourself with some knowledge about training in pregnancy. Talk to someone with a Pre and Post Natal Exercise qualification. I have this qualification myself and it gave me confidence to keep training. Or read up, I have the book The Pregnant Athlete by Brandi Dion and Steven Dion.
- Find the right balance between: a) cutting yourself some slack and being kind to yourself as you deal with some big changes and emotions Vs b) not wasting those 12 weeks in bed or on the sofa, losing fitness and strength that you'll be thankful for towards the end of your pregnancy, birth and beyond, and losing out on all the mental and physical bonuses that exercise offers.
- Try to enjoy it, you won’t get this time back and you never know if/when you will be pregnant again. Take each day and add in manageable things that you enjoy. Remind yourself that your body is doing the most incredible thing!
About the author: Sophie Kennedy is a Sundried ambassador.
The first trimester was all about getting through fatigue, keeping the secret, staying fit and healthy, and trying to continue doing the things I enjoyed pre-pregnancy.
At the end of the first trimester, the exhaustion started to lift and I got the spring back in my step! I wasn't going to be getting any PBs (I was carrying extra weight and PBs were not my goal) but I actually had a lot more energy and felt I could push a bit more than I did in the first trimester.
A shift in training focus
I felt I had the energy and the need to plan my exercise routine better. After feeling a little lost in the first trimester with no sporting event to train for, I set some goals to help me train for a healthy pregnancy, birth and beyond. I would also love to do a triathlon before the end of the year, so the training also linked in with that.
Posture and balance
I started to go to yoga and Pilates and incorporated more of these movements into my own workouts. I didn't go to pregnancy-specific yoga and Pilates classes as the instructors I had were great and accommodating. I wanted to make sure the instructor felt comfortable with me there so I made sure I knew which exercises were good and not so good for me.
Pelvic floor and core training
I continued with pelvic floor exercises and practising ‘connection breathing’, and also put a lot more thought and effort into training my core in the correct way. Exercises focused on reducing risk of lower back pain, incontinence, and to help with birth.
Specific strength training
I definitely lost strength in some of my muscles, but I focused on working my back, core, and glutes in terms of function rather than max strength.
I maintained my cardiovascular fitness through running, swimming and indoor cycling. These activities were also vital for my mental health.
Move often and move well
I did some kind of exercise/movement every day and also importantly moved regularly throughout the day. Not sitting for extended periods at work for example, and active recovery days walking and stretching.
Adjustments for pregnancy fitness training
I delivered and participated in spin classes. I couldn’t hit quite the same gears as I used to but I would still give it a good try! The key is to wear breathable clothing and drink plenty of water.
I continued to go to outdoor boot camp sessions. I armed myself with a repertoire of alternative exercises I could do when ones weren’t appropriate for me. I also took a head torch as it was dark and I didn’t want to trip up.
I was still running by the end of the second trimester. Runs would be between 5-10km but I could still happily swim 3km, so I decided to swim further and more often, and just run as far as I felt like running on that particular day. I’d try to appreciate that I was still getting out there and not worry too much about time. I’d always take my phone with me in case of emergency.
I started to try some home workouts and circuits in my local park. I used mainly resistance bands to do 30-60 minute workouts. I know getting to the gym is not an easy option on maternity leave so I figured if I could start doing some home workouts now, it will be less tough to do once I’ve had the baby.
Pregnancy fitness tips
Doing some cardio and specific strength training is helpful. This will give you a well-rounded training plan but will also be valuable for birth. Do be aware that the hormone relaxin loosens your joints so be careful not to over-stretch.
Don't ignore things that don’t feel right. I definitely could feel the extra weight when running, however I was surprised that it was just harder and slowed me down rather than it being uncomfortable. But if something doesn’t feel right, you might need to reassess. I have turned back on a run because something didn’t feel right.
Plan and practise sleep and food. Getting to and staying asleep became more difficult and I need both of these to exercise effectively. I tried to have a bedtime routine, including listening to podcasts to take my mind off things, not eating too close to bedtime, and a u-shaped pillow helped. I had to eat well in advance of training sessions otherwise training was too uncomfortable as digestion is less efficient. Drink lots of water!
If you're unsure or worried, seek advice from a professional. The female body is amazing and a pregnant body can do a lot more than you might think! But you must look after your body now more than ever as it’s not just you anymore.
Think about why you are exercising. I thought of exercise as a way to keep me and the baby happy, and as a way to prepare me for birth and beyond. Yes I was still doing lots of the things I was doing before pregnancy, but I made some adjustments and additions to make it more relevant for what my body needed.
Take time to connect with your baby. For me, life has been busy with a full-time job, fitness routines, date nights, and friends to see before the baby arrives. When I’m out exercising I like to think of me and my baby as a team; I’ll look after us both and hopefully he’ll enjoy the ride!
Second trimester pregnancy training routine
· 5-10km run x 1-2
· Outdoor bootcamp x 1
· Climbing x 1
· 1.5-3km Swim x 2
· Strength based gym session or park/home workout x 2
· Yoga/Pilates x 1-2
· Occasional spin class
About the author: Sophie Kennedy is a Sundried ambassador.
If you’re reading this because you’re a mum-to-be, congratulations! In this article we'll be giving you tips to help you to stay fit and healthy and sharing how you can keep exercising safely while pregnant.
Exercising when pregnant
If you’re not yet expecting but would like to have children in future, rest assured that this huge life and body change doesn’t mean you have to give up your workout routine, in fact the very opposite will be true, as pregnancy-appropriate exercise will help both mum and baby stay healthy during pregnancy and beyond.
My girls are now 6 and 9 years old and I’ve always been active. Terrible morning sickness for the first 3 months aside (when I could barely move from the sofa), I knew that staying active would make the whole journey of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood easier; and both myself and my baby would be getting the benefits.
Unless you’ve been told by your doctor or midwife to avoid exercise for medical reasons, staying active during pregnancy will keep both you and baby healthier, often result in an easier labour, help prevent complications such as gestational diabetes, and reduce excessive weight gain.
If you were active before you became pregnant, there’s no reason to stop what you were doing, though some tweaks may need to be made – especially as you reach the 3rd trimester. If you’re not already exercising, now is not the time to start training for your first triathlon but introducing some activity gradually will really benefit you and baby. Being responsible for another human as well as yourself is a great incentive to start implementing some healthy movement into your life.
Working when pregnant
I already had a job that kept me on my feet most of the day with my first pregnancy, and standing or walking rather than sitting meant I didn’t once get backache because I wasn’t sitting hunched over a computer desk all day. I continued to walk as much as possible (to the shops, or just to go for a walk with my husband or mum), and took up antenatal yoga, Pilates and aquarobics. I wasn’t strength training at the time and knew these would be still beneficial while gentle enough to turn up to a class without the need to hire a trainer. Plus it was a great way to meet other expectant mums and share experiences and tips.
In both pregnancies I had no complications, simple births, and a quick recovery. I credit much of this to being as fit as I could manage, and since exercise is a powerful anti-depressant and mood booster, it helped me to deal with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with becoming a parent too. After both girls were born I got out of the house for daily walks with the pram as soon as possible for some fresh air, exercise and to clear my sleep-deprived head. In fact, even though they’re older, exercise is still my preferred way to spend ‘me time’, and it’s a daily ritual that well and truly keeps me sane throughout the challenges of motherhood.
A little tip; if in the early stages of labour it’s being slow to get going, going for a walk and staying active can really help get things get moving again. I stalled mid-labour at home with my second baby, Bella, and a deliberate power walk up and down the street had us heading to the hospital within the hour it was so effective!
The benefits of exercising while pregnant
By the time you reach 9 months that’s a big bump you’ll be carrying; one that will strain your back if you’re not strong enough to manage the weight. Strong core, back and glute muscles make carrying a baby and the surrounding water weight easier. Those same strong muscles will also come in handy during birth, when your body is tasked with creating contractions to push the baby out. If you’ve not yet experienced that then trust me when I say labour definitely gives a triathlon a run for its money in terms of strength and endurance needed! You become very front heavy with bigger boobs as well as baby bump, so a strong back, glutes and hamstrings are a must for holding up the extra weight.
Then there’s those pelvic floor exercise you hear about and should be doing (you’ll be thankful you did later). What you may not know is these can be incorporated into weight lifting as you brace yourself to lift the weight. An antenatal personal trainer should be able to show you how.
On that note, while weight lifting is excellent for maintaining strength, some lifts and positions may need to be adjusted as you get bigger. This goes for many other exercise types too, as your changing centre of gravity, growing bump, and looser joints (blame hormones for that one) means exercises should be adapted to fit your changing body.
How to stay active during pregnancy
Aerobic exercise classes are usually low impact and a good way to get your heart rate up without pushing yourself to extremes.
Low impact and puts very little strain on joints, cycling may only become more difficult once your bump becomes very heavy and your balance may not be as good.
Balance, strength, flexibility and posture are all helped with Pilates, which will help you as your bump gets big and heavy to carry. There are special pregnancy Pilates classes all over the country too, which double up as a good way to meet other expectant mothers.
You can continue running while pregnant unless your midwife tells you otherwise. Note that your joints are looser which may aggravate old knee injuries etc, so you could try knee supports while running to see if that helps if this becomes a problem. You might also get out of breath sooner as your growing bump pushes up on your diaphragm and lungs.
Weight training, body weight training and using hand weights and resistance bands all count. These make your muscles stronger which will really help you as your bump becomes increasingly heavy. Parenting is hard work and you don’t get much respite, so being physically strong will help you beyond the 9 months of pregnancy. If you’ve never weight trained before get some help from someone qualified to coach pregnant women. If you already strength train, most exercises can be continued but it’s worth finding out (either through an antenatal trainer, or find some decent resources online or from books) what may need to be tweaked slightly, especially towards the end when your bump is very heavy.
Low impact on (looser) joints, the water supports your bump, and you can go at your own pace while staying cooler in the water. Swimming is fab for expectant mothers, and there are antenatal swim classes in most areas of the country.
I recommend as much walking as possible to anyone and everyone; it’s free, sociable, can be done in most weathers, gets you some fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, and conveniently just outside your front door! Walking with the pram is an excellent way to get out and active once baby is born too.
Like Pilates, yoga is great for posture, strength and flexibility, and also has a big mental and psychological aspect to it using breathing techniques, making it great for relaxation and calming any anxieties you have. Tell your instructor you’re pregnant in case any poses need to be adjusted for you.
Considerations for exercise during pregnancy
Always tell your class leader or personal trainer you’re pregnant, even in the very early weeks, in case they need to give you an alternative exercise to do.
Listen to your body, if you get too hot, feel faint, or something hurts, stop until you feel better. If it keeps happening, tell your midwife and consider whether you’re pushing yourself too hard right now.
Don’t lie on your back for long periods after 16 weeks, and avoid stomach ‘crunch’ exercises and sit ups.
Always carry a drink with you to sip regularly, and don’t let yourself get too thirsty or hot.
High altitude exercise (e.g. mountain climbing) is not advised for anyone who hasn’t trained for these conditions, and this is especially important when pregnant.
Be careful if you are doing exercises where you could lose your balance, such as cycling, horse riding or skiing.
Avoid contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, football, judo or squash (though if you’re in a team you can still continue to do any non-contact training).
During pregnancy, joints become looser and are more prone to injury, so be aware of how your joints feel while exercising and if something hurts, stop and seek advice. It may be as simple as wearing a support garment while exercising, or slightly tweaking some of the exercises you do. Hips are particularly susceptible as they expand to make room for birth.
D-Day and Beyond
Pregnancy and labour experiences are different for each mother and not everything is in our control. But by having a strong, fit body you’ll be as prepared as you can for any challenges that you face. A healthier body is better able to cope with sleepless nights and you’ll have more energy to enjoy time with your new-born. While those early days can be a bit of a foggy whirlwind, especially if it’s your first baby, making time for a 10-minute walk round the block each day then working up to doing some more structured exercise, even if it’s just a few yoga poses at home in your pyjamas each morning, really will help make you a happier and healthier mum. Once your little one is a bit older you can have lots of fun together making a game out of exercise and instilling active living into their daily life too. There’s a place for exercise at every stage of life, and thankfully, that includes pregnancy too!
About the author: Polly Hale is a personal trainer who specialises in training mothers and people with children.
You may well have heard people talk about being "double jointed" or brag about how flexible they are, but being "double jointed" doesn't really exist - just try to imagine someone with two elbows or two knee caps... it doesn't make sense! When people claim to be double jointed, what they really mean is that they are excessively flexible, which is a symptom of hypermobility.
What Is Hypermobility?
Hypermobility is a very common condition in which the joints can easily and painlessly move beyond a normal range of motion. However, contrary to popular belief, being overly flexible is not a good thing! Common symptoms of hypermobility include pain in the knees, ankles, and hips, as well as an increased risk of developing conditions such as arthritis.
Am I Hypermobile?
There is a simple way to check if you are hypermobile. Place your hand flat on a table and stand over it so that your arm is straight vertically with your shoulder above your wrist. Can you twist your elbow almost 180 degrees? If so, you are definitely hypermobile. You may also see people who stand with their knees bent back so that the legs appear to bow outwards, this is also a symptom. There are varying degrees of hypermobility, with some people who can bend their fingers all the way back, or people who are just more flexible than normal. This is a condition that must be treated with great care, especially when you are very active and engage in sports such as running and weight training as you are more prone to injury.
Hypermobility In Pregnancy
Hypermobility also affects pregnant women. When pregnant, a hormone is released called relaxin which makes the muscles and joints more flexible. The body does this to take the pressure of the body while pregnant and to allow an easier birth, but when women realise they are more flexible than usual, they might push themselves too far and this is when they can end up popping a hip or breaking a joint! Women always have more relaxin than men, which is why they are generally more flexible. Never push your joints too hard as you could really injure yourself.
How Hypermobility Affects Training
If you are hypermobile, you need to be very careful when you are training as you are more at risk of injuries. If you are a runner, you may feel pain in your knees, hips, and ankles while you run. If you are a weight lifter, you may feel pain in your shoulders when doing the bench press. The ligaments are more lax which means that ankles and shoulders are more prone to becoming sprained.
What You Can Do About It
Hypermobility is a genetic condition and doesn't have any negative medical implications, you just need to be careful. Isometric exercises (exercises where you don't move like the plank or wall sit) are good for those with hypermobility as it allows you to strengthen your muscles without extending and contracting your joints. Proprioceptive exercises (exercises where you feel the space around you) are also good, such as balancing exercises. If you are a runner, focus on your running form and make sure it is perfect at all times, and when you become fatigued make sure you don't let it become subpar. If you train at a gym, make sure you do not over-extend your joints while you are training. A common example of this is over-extending your elbows at the top of a press up. Make sure there is always a slight bend in your arms and legs while you are training.