Exercise, pregnancy, Third Trimester

Exercise and Pregnancy: The Final Months

I’ve spoken earlier in my pregnancy about my exercise routine and how I’m incorporating that into my pregnancy. I managed to continue going to barre class about twice a week until the end of October, when I was about 34 weeks pregnant. Since then, I’ve continued to walk most days, and have tried to make time to do some yoga every week. I will admit, I did find it a bit more difficult to motivate myself to exercise since I stopped having the accountability and scheduling of the barre class. I mentioned in my weekly update that my doula has lent us a copy of the Spinning Babies Daily Essentials DVD to use for the last few weeks of my pregnancy and it’s definitely helped re-invigorate my workout routine.

So the first few weeks of November, when I officially cancelled my gym membership, I gave myself permission to be a little lazy. I mean, I still had to walk a fair amount, since I walk about 50 minutes, round trip, to get to and from work four days a week. And I tried to make sure I got in at least one more day per week of walking, usually our weekly trip to Vigilante Coffee. So I was still averaging over two miles per day of walking, though it was more like 3.5 miles five days a week, rather than a couple miles every day.

But after I got the Spinning Babies DVD, I made more of an effort to work on stretching and strengthening exercises from that DVD. The difference between that and my workouts before is that now I definitely see my goals as explicitly preparing for childbirth, rather than for general fitness. My doctor has even reminded me to walk for a half an hour every day, so I’m trying to make sure to fit in some walking time every day, even when I don’t walk to work. It helps that we have some lovely walking trails nearby.

And then, I do yoga and Spinning Babies exercises. I can do the full 35-minute Daily Exercises routine or the 28-minute yoga flow from the DVD when I have the time and energy, but I try to do a little every day, even if it’s just my favorite 3-4 exercises. And my Hypnobabies course actually recommends doing a small set of exercises everyday. So I do my pelvic tilts, squats, and butterfly stretch every day to keep my body supple and ready for childbirth, while windmills help release the lower back pain that has crept up as I’ve gotten bigger. Unfortunately, I had to stop doing forward-leaning inversions when my acid reflux got bad. But I notice that my body feels better when I do these exercises more consistently. Plus, I can still do my weekly lunchtime yoga class at work, since the instructor is a coworkers of mine and the class is small enough that she can tailor it to our needs.

In this way, I’m helping keep my body flexible and supple, and my mind quiet and prepared for the rigors of childbirth. I’m not going to be running any marathons soon, but I am preparing for the next endurance event on my schedule.

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Exercise, First Trimester, Second Trimester

Exercise and Pregnancy: The First Twenty Weeks (or so)

Over the years, I’ve generally been a pretty active person. When I changed jobs and started working downtown, I found myself walking for 40-60 minutes 4-5 days a week in addition to what I considered exercise. So when I got pregnant, I wasn’t too concerned with staying active. But then first trimester nausea hit me pretty hard and I had to give myself permission to ease off. Now that I’m past the nausea and past the first “half” of pregnancy, I thought I’d talk a bit about how I’ve been handling exercise, at least up to this point.

I would say that the mainstay of my pregnancy exercise routine is the decent amount of walking I do most days. I can roughly track my walking using my iPhone Health app, and it says that, right now, I’m walking about 3 miles per day on average. Now, that takes into account days when I walk more — such as when I walk from my gym to my office, which is a longer distance than from the metro station to my office — as well as days when I might not walk much at all. I work downtown four days a week and telework one day per week, so my commute doesn’t come into play, but I try to walk places near my house when I’m staying home.

In the first trimester, I put my gym membership on hold for a month so that I wouldn’t worry about the sunk cost, which meant that I never had my 40-minute walk from the gym to the office, and I wasn’t walking from the metro to the gym on the weekend. Of course, I still had to get to work somehow, but occasionally, when I was feeling truly terrible, I would work from home one extra day per week. This meant that my average daily walking distance went down. At my lowest average daily mileage, I was still walking about 2 miles per day on average (that was during May). Since then, I’ve worked my way back up to about 3 miles per day (although that went down during the two weeks I was sick with that damned cold). I’m hoping I can maintain 2-3 miles per week for the rest of my pregnancy, and I’m hopeful that the weather will actually make this easier, as we move into autumn.

As far as “actual” exercise goes, outside of my walking, I used to run a few times a week, go to barre a few times a week, and do yoga when I felt like it. Unfortunately, first trimester nausea pretty much put the damper on running, and since I came out of my nausea right around the time the weather started getting hot, I decided not to try running while I was pregnant. At this point, I haven’t been running in several months, and I think it would be awkward (to say the least) to try picking it back up now, with 15 extra pounds, mostly concentrated up front. So I’ve been focusing on the strength and flexibility afforded by barre and yoga.

I’ve talked before about my prenatal yoga routine, so I won’t get into that again, but barre is a workout that I’ve come to love over the past two or so years I’ve been at it. I started looking at barre classes when it became apparent that my new commute downtown made it more or less impossible for me to continue with my regular evening adult ballet classes, but I still wanted that type of a workout that built long, flexible muscle, as well as balance and coordination. I found some classes that fit my schedule at a gym near-ish my office, and found that, among those classes, one instructor in particular really fit my idea of what I wanted. Kathryn’s classes have been bright spots in my week for nearly two years now, and I currently go three times a week, although schedule changes means that one of those classes is now with a different instructor.

Other than the fact that I love to stretch, I think my favorite part of Kathryn‘s barre classes is the fact that she makes it very clear that your barre class is what you make it, and she never guilts anyone into working harder than they feel they can on any given day. She constantly reminds us that each day is going to be different and not to push ourselves beyond our capability today, even if we could do more yesterday. That has been particularly helpful during my pregnancy, as I’ve discovered things changing about my body that I didn’t expect (pro tip: if you are lazy with your form during curtsy lunges while pregnant, your round ligaments will tell you). She’s also been great about helping me as my abilities have changed throughout pregnancy by offering me a sort of library of modifications that I can try, while giving me the ultimate decision on how to handle my own workout. Lately, I’ve decided to stop doing ab exercises while laying flat on my back, and it’s nice to have options to try, rather than just trying to modify the specific exercise she’s doing at the moment.

The other nice thing about barre is that I feel like it helps me build and maintain functional strength in a way that helps me maintain my stability. As my body has changed, I find myself readjusting to differences in balance and center of gravity. Barre helps me work my abs, yes, but not in a sit-up-crunch-plank way only. Every exercise we do relies on the stability of the abdominal muscles, so even if I skip the focused “ab” exercises, I’m still working my core muscles for stability. And I have had to back off on a lot of focused ab exercises as I’ve realized that things like planks become a lot harder to do right when you have to hold in not only your abs, but a growing uterus pushing behind them as well.

So that’s how I’ve been handling exercise the last 20 weeks or so. Of course, I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, personal trainer, or anyone with any actual training or expertise in giving advice, so I’d encourage you to find your own path. But hopefully reading about how I’ve handled my own personal pregnancy workout plan will help you figure out yours. And I’ll check back in later in pregnancy to talk about how this routine changes as my body continues to change.

Exercise

A Changing Body: How Pregnancy Has Taught Me More About Yoga

I started practicing yoga over twenty years ago when I found a copy of B. K. S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga on a sale cart at a local bookstore. I’ve been practicing, at various levels of commitment and in various styles, since then. In fact, when Dan and I first became friends, one of the first things we did together was to start going to a yoga class together on the weekend (he fell over in downward dog during that first class!). So I’ve been practicing yoga for more than half my life now, and through my practice I’ve not only gained flexibility and strength, but also a deep understanding of my own body.

As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed my body going through changes. I’ve lost some flexibility. As I’ve grown softer with age, certain postures have changed, and I’ve found myself more willing to embrace props and assistance. I’ve also noticed changes in yoga culture in the States (why does no one do hands-on adjustments anymore?). But pregnancy has given me even more to ponder as I learn about my rapidly-changing body. It is an odd paradox that pregnancy simultaneously makes certain parts of your body more flexible, while restricting your mobility in other ways. For example, I’m very careful when I do side stretches these days but I can’t do as deep a forward fold as my growing belly gets in the way.

That said, I’ve found that yoga has been one of the best ways to keep me feeling good during my pregnancy. Even when my nausea was bad, I would modify my way through the weekly class a colleague of mine teaches at my office because I knew I’d feel better afterwards than when I started. And since my nausea has abated and my energy has increased, I’ve started looking at ways to modify my own home practice for pregnancy. While I typically do a blend of Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga that I’ve developed for myself over the years, I no longer feel the desire to do strenuous vinyasas or standing poses, in addition to the general prenatal yoga guidelines of avoiding closed twists and positions that compress the belly. So I’ve started looking around for guidance on prenatal sequences.

That was when I found this sequence from a blogger I follow. Apart from the graphic just being adorable (I have a poster print of it to hang in my yoga room), the sequence is a lovely blend of restorative, but still effective. I already walk a fair amount and have even started up my barre classes again, so I don’t rely on yoga for aerobic exercise, or even rigorous strength-building, but the suppleness and mobility is key for both keeping my body limber as it changes, and preparing me for labor. Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so I don’t just do this sequence.

The first time I did Tris’ sequence, I realized two things: one was that I did not focus as much on warming up in my yoga practice as this sequence allows, and the other is that I would prefer to do things in a slightly different order. Plus, I missed lunges. So I tweaked the sequence a bit to arrive at my own prenatal sequence:

  1. Hanging forward fold
  2. Neck release (Right & Left)
  3. Arm cross (R & L)
  4. Squat
  5. Cat/Cow (10 rounds)
  6. Melting heart
  7. Low lunge (R & L)
  8. Lizard pose (R & L)
  9. Half monkey stretch (R & L)
  10. Downward Dog
  11. Side stretch (R & L)
  12. Reverse side stretch (R & L)
  13. Downward dog
  14. Seal
  15. Squat
  16. Half butterfly (R & L)
  17. Straddle
  18. Butterfly
  19. Ankle stretch
  20. Cat pulling tail (R & L)
  21. Swan (R & L)
  22. Child’s pose

I hold each pose (on each side, if indicated) for ten deep breaths, which takes me about a half an hour or so. I generally use a couple blocks as props, especially for the lunging sequence (I do low lunge, lizard pose, and half monkey stretch as a sequence on each side before switching to the other). The sequence requires very little space to do and I can even roll out a mat in my office and do this sequence during my lunch break when I feel creaky. If I have the time, I like to set up my bolsters and prop up into a supported reclined bound angle pose for five minutes at the end in lieu of Savasana. If not, I just hold Child’s Pose for as long as I need to close my practice.

I think the best thing I’ve learned from pregnancy is echoed in this sequence: I’ve learned to listen to my body and back off when I need to. I don’t always need to push and excel and sweat to feel like I’ve done something good for myself. Sometimes I just need to gently stretch my body and then have a nice cup of tea and a rest.

NB: I am not a certified yoga instructor and cannot give advice on your yoga practice. This post is intended as a description of my personal practice, which you can use to build your own practice, but if you’re unsure or new to yoga, please talk to a qualified teacher first.