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Running Considerations in Pregnancy

For all of you runners out there, this is for you!

I enjoy running (reasonable distances-ha!), but I learned pretty quickly in both of my pregnancies that running just didn’t feel great for me, so I found other options for substitutes. I’ve talked and worked with many women and some felt similar to how I did while others felt great while running in pregnancy.

Many women are told that it’s safe to continue the type of exercise they were doing prior to pregnancy. The trouble with this guidance is that it is just too broad and it doesn’t take individual experiences into consideration.

Just because you can (or did prior to pregnancy), does it mean you should continue in pregnancy? To answer this, we need to dive into a few considerations when making this decision.

First, regardless of what your pace is, running (and jogging) is high impact. In pregnancy, your pelvic floor has added stress to it. As your uterus and the baby grows, the contents (your organs) of your abdominal cavity shift around. The abdomen and pelvic floor are stretched and have additional pressure on them due to these changes and growth.

High impact movements like running and jumping put additional pressure on the pelvic floor, even when not pregnant. So when there is extra pressure from pregnancy, high impact movements will then put even more stress on the vulnerable tissue of the pelvic floor.

Generally speaking, repetitive impact on anything that has been weakened can lead to some issues.

Even if a woman ran multiple days a week prior to pregnancy, it doesn’t mean she is exempt from these (or the following) considerations.

Second, if you are experiencing [even just a little bit] of symptoms, that should be a sign that it may be time to switch to a different movement. As stated above, running places a lot more pressure on that vulnerable tissue during pregnancy which can then lead to the onset of symptoms.

These are a few of the symptoms that you will want to pay attention to:

  • Pelvic, back, hip, knee, etc. pain or discomfort

  • Vaginal or pelvic region feelings of heaviness

  • Leaking of urine/feces

  • Pulling or tightness in the abdomen

  • Pressure in the lower abdomen

*During activity and/or later on in the day or the next day.

Lastly, you have to consider what the risk vs. the reward of continuing to run is. This can be a difficult one because it can sometimes be driven by ego. (“My friend ran her whole pregnancy, so I can too…”)

Are you putting your body and the function of your core and pelvic floor in a compromised position by continuing (even if it “feels fine”)? Typically, as pregnancy progresses further, the risks tend to outweigh the benefits here. It can be a difficult decision to make, but knowing that it’s not forever, just for now to help you long term can be helpful.

Okay, so now let’s look at each trimester and what I would generally recommend.

In the first trimester, you are likely fine to continue running. The biggest things to consider at this point are if you are experiencing any nausea, fatigue and low energy, and hormonal fluctuations. Knowing that you don’t have to run if you just aren’t feeling up to it is totally okay!

I wouldn’t necessarily suggest signing up for a local 5 or 10k (or more), but if you enjoy it, going for a light run can help give a nice boost in mood and energy for some women.

In the second trimester, some of the nausea and fatigue may be lifting, but you will start noticing more physical changes at this point. You may likely be okay continuing some lighter running or jogging earlier in this trimester, but choosing manageable distances (that don’t create symptoms) will be beneficial. Because of everything growing and the extra pressure put on the pelvic floor later in the second trimester, you will likely want to start backing off of running.

In the third trimester, you will experience even more physical changes as your body is preparing more for birth and you likely just won’t have the stamina that you had before. This is a good time to switch to some other movements that support your evolving body and your desire to perform an exercise that supports running (without the impact) that I will outline below.

*Note that this “timeline” will need to be adjusted to fit your individual needs. You may be fine running into the second trimester, or you may need to switch to something else sooner. You have to base it off of the feedback that your body is sending you and not what your friend is doing.

Just because one woman ran her whole pregnancy doesn’t mean she isn’t having issues or that it was the best option for her. But by thinking of the long term big picture, you will be setting yourself up better for a stronger postpartum return to exercise.

There are many other great forms of exercise that are more appropriate during this chapter that will also set you up for your return to exercise after having your baby.

Here are some of my favorite options:

  • Uphill walking

  • Sled pulls or pushes

  • Any type of a carry (farmer’s, suitcase, front-loaded, etc.)

  • Biking

  • Rowing

  • Step ups

  • Marching (can increase the difficulty by adding a mini band around the feet for some additional resistance or holding a weight in a goblet position)

But remember, this should not be a black and white list; some of these options may be great substitutes for one woman, but they may elicit symptoms or not feel great for another woman. Learn HOW and WHAT to listen for and make adjustments (if you haven’t yet, read more on how to make adjustments to exercise and what to listen for in pregnancy HERE).

As a reminder, it’s not forever, just for now to set you up for long term athleticism, function, and strength.

Want more info on what strategies will be best for you and your journey? Fill out this form to schedule a FREE call with me to discuss how you can best navigate exercise in pregnancy!

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