Ep. 171: Pregnancy Workout Plan

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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On today's episode, I'm talking with listener Maggie about how to approach a fitness routine while pregnant!

Fed and Fit podcast graphic, episode 171 pregnancy workout plan with Cassy Joy

We're back with our 171st episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

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Episode 171 Transcription

Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. I am your host, Cassy Joy Garcia. And I am back today by popular demand. Y’all have been writing in, saying, “We want more reverse interviews!” {laughs}. I really have gotten several of these notes, and it’s very exciting. Because today I’m introducing you to Maggie. It’s one of my favorite names. I didn’t tell you this beforehand. But Maggie is joining us. She is an occupational therapist for an in-patient rehab clinic located out of Philadelphia. And I am so excited to welcome you to the show today, Maggie. Thank you for making the time to come on.

Maggie: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Cassy Joy: Of course! And for listeners, just know that we have a little bit of a delay. Bear with us, but it will all be good.

Alright, I will pass the baton off to you if you want to tell folks a little bit more about yourself and then we can start our chat.

Maggie: Sounds good. So, like Cassy said, I’m living in Philadelphia, PA. Right in the city, which is really neat. I’m 31 years old, and I’m currently going through my first pregnancy. Which is very exciting, and also very scary at the same time.

I’m very active on a normal day before being pregnant, and have been a longtime follower of Cassy and all the good stuff you're putting out there, so thanks for that. And I originally reached out to you, I guess during my first trimester, just because I was kind of hitting a wall when it came to exercise and kind of knowing how to navigate this new process. And you just kind of seemed like you had a really good balance. Kind of found a really healthy rhythm of staying active, and having a healthy pregnancy. So I’ve got lots of questions about that today.

Cassy Joy: Perfect. Well it’s a great conversation. It’s something I get asked about a lot. So I’m really thrilled to talk with you about it. How far along are you right now?

Maggie: I just started 21 weeks.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness! How exciting! {Laughs} Well, we have a video chat going. You're radiant. You’re absolutely lovely; it’s very exciting.

Maggie: {laughs} Thanks. It’s a little warm in here; I think that’s more the issue.

Cassy Joy: Isn’t that so funny? People talk about the pregnancy glow, and I was just like; I’m just sweating. I’m sweating. {laughs}

Maggie: That’s exactly it. That’s 100% it. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: I love it. Well you really do look lovely, and very beautiful. What are some of your questions to kind of get us started then? What’s the first thing you're wondering?

Maggie: I think I’ve been having a hard time finding the right information. Especially just for me, as far as there is just so much conflicting information out there when you go searching and hunting, to find reliable and valid information is pretty hard. And there’s just such a wide variety of opinions and advice. So just trying to find the right balance between exercise during pregnancy.

So I’m repeatedly told, “You need to take it easy. You need to turn it down a little bit. Go at a conversational pace.” Whatever that means. But then on the other hand, making sure you're exercising, making sure you're being as healthy and doing all the things you used to do is fine. Especially if you're body is used to it.

But being that I’m very active on a normal day, that’s just kind of a hard thing for me to wrap my brain around. Especially with a healthy mindset.

For example; I'm used to exercising 5-6 days a week. Doing a lot of different long distance running or HIIT exercise training. Swimming, yoga, spinning classes. And I live in a city, so I walk everywhere as my main mode of transportation. And I work in health care, so I’m on my feet all day long. So a normal day is a lot of activity. So just kind of wondering; how should that look now that I’m pregnancy? And finding the right balance. So any words of wisdom would be awesome around that. Knowing that, of course, everyone is different.

Cassy Joy: Right. Well, I appreciate all the information. Because yes, everybody is definitely different. But explaining where you're at as far as physical fitness and exercise; what you tend to gravitate towards helps a lot.

I would say one thing; the broad end of the spectrum is, let’s say folks become pregnant. And it is. It’s so confusing, because you do read exact conflicting headlines if you Google it, exercise during pregnancy, right? We’re more limber. We have that relaxin hormone flowing around in our bodies. And it makes our joints more prone to overextending. We don’t want to; pregnancy is not a time to focus on your 6-pack, right? {laughs} Pregnancy is not a time to do much of sit-ups. Because we don’t want to put extra strain on that piece of connective tissue that holds our abs together, and our midline. Those kinds of things constantly come up.

But at the same time, we also read; you really do. It’s really important to stay active and to have a really active lifestyle, and to get in moderate amount of exercise. So what is the answer? I would say, knowing what you’ve just said, 5-6 days a week is what you were used to before pregnancy. And what you enjoy, and you're relatively active. Sounds like you're a very fit person already.

When I think about that, I would think the approach during pregnancy is; and I don’t know if this resonates with you or not. I’m not an athlete. But I do enjoy pursuing a fit lifestyle, right? So I’m not somebody necessarily that my coaches have to tell me to slow down. {laughs} Does that make sense?

I think those are two distinct groups of people in any athletic endeavor. Right? There are the people who need to be told; you should really slow down a little bit and relax. And then there are the people who a coach looks at you and says, more times than not, you could do more. {laughs} and I fall into that camp.

So when I think about pregnancy; because I was also very active and pursued a fit lifestyle. I thought of it as; this is the time to put forth, I would say, about 80% effort in my workouts. And decidedly not go for any personal records. Right? I’m not going for any kind of a PR. This is not the time to perfect bridge pose, or any yoga pose, for that matter. This is not the time to try to shave off my minutes per mile during a distance run. This is the time to think; I’m a very slow distance runner. And I think that my best time was 10 minutes, 30 seconds when I did a marathon. This would not be the time to say; I’m going to hit that number again. Or I would probably approach it of more like a 12 to 13-minute mile. And I’m going to high-five myself.

So I would say about 80% effort. Maybe this is the time to phase away from those HIIT exercises. Because those are really meant to move the needle. To progress your aerobic threshold, and to really progress your fitness overall, right? All of those different capacities. I would slowly start to phase out those kinds of exercises, and look more to maintain fitness.

Maggie: Ok.

Cassy Joy: So this is the season to maintain where we’re at; not necessarily to improve. Is that helpful?

Maggie: Yeah. I like that idea of maintaining. Because that sounds a way healthier approach than working out for the sake of getting somewhere.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, exactly. And I admittedly, towards the end of my pregnancy, because I was working like a madwoman. And didn’t make it to the gym as much. And then with a newborn, I did not make it to the gym as much, and I wish I had maintained more, because gosh it’s hard to start over! {laughs}

And it’s going to be difficult coming back when you are jumping back in full swing of things. But what you're doing is you're essentially lessening that; what strength and endurance you might have. You're lessening what you might lose over the period. So yeah, I would definitely think of it as a maintenance period. Whatever physical fitness you come into pregnancy at, this is the time to maintain where you're at, not necessarily to push it or to improve upon it.

Maggie: Ok. That’s makes sense. I can work with that.

Cassy Joy: Sweet! And then, Briana Battles is one of my favorite references. Yeah; you're shaking your head. She has some great information out there. And if y’all are listening, and you have not heard of her, and you're curious about pregnancy and postpartum workouts. And an approach. I would definitely look her work up. Briana Battles is the name.

Maggie: Yeah, I’ve heard a couple of really good interviews with her before. So that’s definitely a good resource I should check out more.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, definitely.

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Cassy Joy: What else you got?

Maggie: Well, on a similar note. I feel like, where as this is starting to improve in the second trimester, I feel like on most days I’m having a hard time finding energy to really tackle what I used to be able to do. So I’m wondering; if my physical day to day is very active, and I’m constantly moving. For example, so far just walking everywhere. So far today, on my day off, is that enough physical activity, if I really don’t have the energy to be putting into it? Or is it still worth it to kind of push a little bit harder and get that; just maintain that exercise in. Or is that just kind of say; that’s enough. But is that big of a shift between baseline activity level versus now, is that unhealthy?

And I guess this kind of goes along with it. Emotionally; how did you wrap your brain around that mindset? Finding that shift?

Cassy Joy: That is such a good question. And I don’t have the right answer for the last question. Because I’m still working on that.

Maggie: There’s no magic answer? {laughs}

Cassy Joy: I wish there were. I really wish there were. As far as just being ok with the changes that are present, and that you're going to be going through, I think it comes down to having a conversation. I’m going to talk about the second part first. I think it’s going to come down to having a really honest conversation with yourself; exactly what we’re doing right now. And you may walk away from a conversation like this thinking; got it. Got a plan. And most folks feel a lot of unrest in knowing that things are different, and knowing that we don’t have the answers. There’s no person that’s going to stand next to you and say; yep. You're doing exactly what you need to do right now. It’s hard to find that person that’s going to wake up with you every morning and pat you on the back, and that’s what you really want.

There were times I told my husband; I was like, I don’t know what I need. But I think I just need you to tell me I’m doing a good job, and just put it on repeat. {laughs} My love language is words of affirmation, and I was like; that’s all I need right now.

I don’t have the right answer for that. Maybe it’s writing down a plan. Maybe it’s articulating it and knowing going in with a plan of action, right? We’re going to just maintain our physical fitness, and we’re going to listen to our body. Now, listening to our body; this is where some folks, the hair on the back of their neck stands up, and they get a little upset. Because when we talk about listening to our body, there are varying degrees to which people know how to listen. Does that make sense? How tuned in they are.

So, again, let’s go back to that conversation of very, very generally speaking. Let’s say there are two general groups of people who go to the gym. There are the people who need to be told to slow down when they’re sick. And there are the people who need to be working harder, because there’s no reason why they can’t do a little bit more. {laughing} And again, I fall in that latter category. But I think when it comes to listening to your body, you need to know where you're coming from if you're in one of those two camps.

Are you somebody who pushes yourself a little harder than maybe the average person? Then, if waking up and feeling tired, and going for a walk and wondering if that’s enough; chances are, that’s enough. Chances are, you're giving your body exactly what you need. The hormonal changes; I know you know this. Because you're a very well-read, educated person. But the hormonal and just endocrine changes going on in your body right now are exhausting on a molecular level. And there are some major things; major tides are turning. And it is completely normal and completely natural to feel tired.

And that energy level will spike and drop. And spike and drop, as time goes on. And you're going to figure out what works for you. You're going to figure out; if I eat just a little bit more of this kind of fruit, I tend to have a little bit more energy. Or, if I do a little of this. If I do a little of that. Or if I just sleep a little bit longer. Whatever it is, you're going to figure out a routine that helps you stabilize your energy. And then, towards the end of pregnancy, your energy will stabilize anyway. And you’ll get a burst coming up relatively soon, I think, if you haven’t already.

Maggie: I can’t wait for that day. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: It is like the clouds lift, sun shine comes through. The soundtrack for the Lion King starts playing. You’re like; I’m going to clean my whole house! It’s going to happen!

That day will come. And I think just be patient. Ride the ride that you're on. Because in a low of ways, pregnancy is, you’re strapped into a ride that you did not design. And it’s going to have ups and downs and some speedy parts and some scary parts and we are really just along for the ride. And we can be really good stewards of that experience, right? We can fasten our seatbelts. We can take our vitamins. We can eat all the good foods. We can try to stay active and stay mindful and stay rested and try not to stress too much. But at the end of the day, we’re just along for the ride.

So, I would say, just kind of give yourself a break. If you believe that you are tired. If you truly know that; trust that. And trust that your body, if a walk around the block makes you feel like; yup. That was energy for the day. That was my exercise. Then, be good with that.

Now, if you are somebody who looks; and I’m saying this like I’m speaking into a mirror. If you're the kind of person who looks for reasons not to go to the gym, and I identify with that. If that’s the case, and you know you're ending the day with a little more energy. You’ve got some angst, and you're just thinking; gosh, I should have done something but I didn’t want to because maybe I really need to be taking it more easy. Yeah, that’s it. I definitely need ice cream and I don’t need to go for a walk around the block. Instead I need to sit here and eat this ice cream.

I tend to lean on that side. And if that were the case, I would encourage you maybe just to do some moderate activity like a walk. I but I don’t think anything more strenuous is something you should feel bad, or question whether we should be doing that. Is that helpful?

Maggie: Yeah. I think sometimes at the end of the day, it’s just a matter of; ok. I’m just going to stop at the gym on my way home from work, and I’m going to be there for 30 minutes, just move my body. And whatever I get is what I get. And hopefully that’s good enough. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: That’s perfect.

Maggie: And we’ll see what happens.

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Maggie: You kind of alluded to this a little bit; but, what did you find were the best resources out there for healthy prenatal exercise? I’m trying a lot of different things right now. And just because I feel like a lot of exercise has been feeling a little defeating, just because I can’t do it up to the speed that I’m used to. So I’m trying to kind of dabble in a lot of different things.

But I know you mentioned Briana Battles. But what are some good exercises to incorporate that you know are for sure safe? Thinking more specifically like weight training. Obviously, we talked about walking. But is there anything you’ve found that you’re like; yep. These are definitely safe moves. Or moves that felt good on your body, and didn’t necessarily need to make you feel like you have to pee every second.

I guess; what did you know that kind of made you feel like, yep this is safe. This felt good. And I feel like it’s healthy for baby, too?

Cassy Joy: That’s a really good question. And it’s definitely going to be individualistic for whoever is listening. So I would say the first activity that comes to mind; and this is not answering exactly what you asked. But the first activity that comes to mind is swimming. Is a safe one for folks to do. And it probably feels great, especially as you are further along in pregnancy.

Now, I was full term, essentially, in the dead of winter, and I had no interest in hopping in a pool. {laughs} But, if I were pregnant during the summer, that’s definitely something I would have gravitated towards. And that’s an activity. I would say, what also came to mind, is it can be very defeating to go to the gym and do a workout that you have “always done.” And you have your baselines, and you know what you can do, how you can perform in that workout. And then to feel all of a sudden like you can’t get there is mentally just such a trip. Because then you feel this; oh my gosh! I’m going backwards! What am I doing wrong? Something is wrong. It’s like a little bell that starts ringing in our head.

So I would say; let’s find activities or workouts that we can do that we did not do before we were pregnant. At least a routine that we did not do before we were pregnant. So for me, that would be swimming. I never swam. I don’t ever really swim. So jumping into the pool and doing regular laps is something that I don’t necessarily have a benchmark for beforehand. So that would be a really good one. It’s definitely easy on the body.

Other activities that I did, I would go to the gym and I wouldn’t follow the workout. I CrossFit, so that’s definitely my preferred form of exercise. Because I have a coach that tells me to go faster when I need to be going faster. {laughs}

But I would just not do the workout that they had. I definitely avoided anything where I saw that my belly would cone. If you're familiar with that.

Maggie: I had my first experience with that the other day, and I was like; this isn’t, this shouldn’t be happening. I don’t know what it is. But I don’t think I need to do this.

Cassy Joy: Good for you. That’s your gut mama instinct. So follow and trust that. What I would do; if you're thinking, I lack that kind of self-awareness. Then what you can do is you can watch your belly while you're doing an exercise, and if you notice, when you're looking down at your belly, along your midline where your belly button is. If in that flexed position of a workout. I’m thinking a sit up is a perfect example.

But times when you're flexing your abdomen, and you're probably not realizing, would be during a pull up. Especially if you're doing kipping pullups. During a burpee, of all things, like a plank. I would look down while I was holding a plank. And if I saw that my belly was forming more; instead of being nice and round, like an O shape, it was more of a V shape with a V pointing to my belly button. That’s when I knew I was coning and I was putting strain on my abdomen that I didn’t mean to put on it.

I also saw coning when I did pullups, when I was doing kipping pullups. So I avoided all of those, and instead would swap in other things. Or I would just really focus on not flexing my core. So I would do the burpee, but I would watch my stomach at every plank of the burpee. I would look down; I wouldn’t do the pushup part of it, I would do a standing. I’m doing a visual and I realize I turned off my video so we could have better audio quality.

But I would go to the top of it, and I would just look down and make sure that I would being very purposeful in how I was engaging my core. So I would do those activities.

Other “safe” swaps that I found that worked for me were things like, I could do American kettlebell swings pretty easily without having to strain anything. And granted, I wasn’t 40 weeks pregnant when I was doing these. But that was an activity that worked for me. My coach watched me, as well, and I asked them to keep an eye on form.

And an American swing; excuse me. A Russian kettlebell swing. Am I getting this wrong, Maggie? Do you know? Can you correct me?

Maggie: I don’t know the difference, but I know kettlebell swings.

Cassy Joy: {laughs} I’m confusing myself. Anyway, it was the kettlebell swing, where I’d swing it up and the kettlebell is right in front of your eyes. Instead of over your head. So I would do those swings in front of my eyes, and that proved well for me. Box step-ups proved really well for me. I could do that and feel really good. Wall balls; things where you're holding a wall and doing a bunch of squats. Squats did really well for me.

So, those kinds of activities worked well. I would say, find a coach that you trust. If you can’t think of one; maybe hop in the pool. Maybe look into Briana Battles. Birth Fit is another really great resource out there. I never dug into Birth Fit myself, because I just went back and forth between what Briana coached and then my own coaches to watch my form. But there’s a lot of great resources out there right now.

Another surprising activity that I found I needed to start avoiding was rowing. Because if you are rowing; at least me, with my form. When I would go all the way back, and I would extend to the top of the row. Rowing towards my chest. When I leaned all the way back, I didn’t really think about the fact that I was engaging my entire core at that time. And I would look down and I would see coning then, as well. So it just changed. I was able to keep rowing, but I had to be much more mindful, again, about how I was engaging my core. Is that helpful?

Maggie: Yeah, definitely. Especially after I thought it was what I was thinking the other night at the gym, and I was in plank pose, just like you said. And I was like; what the heck is this. {laughs} It’s good. My husband actually was trying to encourage me to go swimming with him today. So maybe I need to take him up on those offers.

Cassy Joy: There you go. Yeah!

Maggie: Get in that bathing suit and do it.

Cassy Joy: You got it girl! There’s nothing cuter than a pregnant woman in a bathing suit. Maybe a baby in a bathing suit. {laughs}

Maggie: {laughs} We’ll take one step at a time. Well that’s awesome. I mean, those are my questions. It just seemed like you had a really healthy balance of it, both while you were pregnant and now postpartum. So it’s nice to be able to ask advice from someone with a similar activity level. And be able to pick their brain. Because everyone is so different in this journey. So thank you.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely! Thank you for making the time to come on the show today. I really appreciate it. And these are such great questions. And I think the conversation is going to help many. So I really appreciate you making the time, Maggie.

Maggie: My pleasure. Thanks Cassy!

Cassy Joy: Of course! I wish you all the best. Don’t be a stranger. Keep me posted. I wish you; what was it? I loved it. Someone wished me a very boring pregnancy. {laughs} And I thought that was the …

Maggie: That is the most wonderful thing area.

Cassy Joy: Isn’t it? So Maggie, I wish you a very boring pregnancy. {laughs}

Maggie: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: May it be very routine, and lovely. And not a headliner. I trust you're going to be wonderful. Keep me posted on everything. Again, you look lovely. Enjoy the pool. Enjoy those exercises. And remember that at the end of the day, trust your gut. You know what’s best. Not necessarily Google. And the endless amount of information that’s out there.

Maggie: Yes. It really is endless.

Cassy Joy: It is. It is endless. Thank you everybody for joining us on today’s call. As always, you can find a transcript over at www.FedandFit.com. And just like always, we’ll be back again next week.


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  1. Kate says:

    Great discussion. This caused me a lot of confusion during my first pregnancy and a lot of time researching! Working out is a big part of my life and I love intense exercise, but I didn’t want to do anything that would put my baby at risk or cause injury to me. Personal trainers will tell you one thing, OB/GYN another and midwives another… plus the endless amount of information on the internet. I listened and learned from what everyone had to say, but at the end of the day it’s important to pay attention to how you are feeling and use commonsense. I completely agree with Cassy that pregnancy is about maintaining a certain amount of fitness and strength, not improving. One thing my trainer did have me do more of when pregnant is work on my balance. I was able to workout right to the end of my first pregnancy and I believe it really helped with the later part of pregnancy, delivery and recovery. I’m now 6 months into my second pregnancy and have a lot more confidence in my workout plan.