Training for Two
For many triathletes, life revolves around exercising and training for peak performance. So it comes as no surprise that the average pregnant triathlete wants to exercise more than the average pregnant woman. Yet finding information that speaks to just how much one can safely exercise without putting mom or baby at risk can be challenging. Information is hard to find, outdated or tailored to the general population.
There are various guidelines that speak to the recommended amount of exercise for pregnant women. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada ( sogc) and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology ( csep) recommend exercising three to four times per week for 15 to 30 minutes ( plus a warm-up and cool down) while staying within the recommended heart rate target zones. They also recommend using the Talk Test (ensuring that one can carry on a light conversation) and the Rate of Perceived Exertion (not exercising beyond “comfortable hard”) to monitor an appropriate intensity.
Although such guidelines may suffice for the more sedentary woman or recreational exerciser, this may not be the case for the triathlete accustomed to a higher level of training. Before making any decisions about exercising beyond such guidelines, however, it must be noted that there is little research on the outcomes of women exercising beyond such parameters. The athlete, her doctor and coach need to understand the associated risks including overheating, dehydration and inadequate blood supply to the fetus, and take the necessary precautions.
In light of the above, perhaps one of the best pieces of advice for a pregnant athlete (and her growing baby) is to make it a priority to listen to her body. This also means accepting the fact that she is no longer in control of her body during this nine-month period.
“As athletes, we are accustomed to being able to control how our bodies perform and how our bodies look; pregnancy is the one time where we need to let go of this control,” says Sharon Donnelly, four- time Canadian champion, Olympic triathlete and mother of two. “If we can do this, our pregnancy will go much smoother.”
Heather Lowe, a two-time Ironman finisher who was accustomed to challenging workouts and pushing her body to the limit, had to learn to adjust mentally and let her body take the driver’s seat.
“I found it very frustrating that despite my high motivation to exercise, my body sometimes had other plans,” Lowe says. “My frustration lessened once I decided to let my body win and gave myself permission to skip the workout on such a day.”