Is it Safe to Continue Competitive Sports While Pregnant?
Can I exercise while pregnant? Can I continue to partake in sports while pregnant? What activities should I avoid? Can I compete at a high level while pregnant? These are all very real questions that women think about when they learn the news that they are expecting.
The answer to these questions are very individualized and change depending on the person who is asking. Scientific research has shown that moderate exercise performed throughout pregnancy is beneficial to the mother while having no adverse effects on the growing fetus. Research has also shown that competitive athletes can maintain a more strenuous training regime than less active women during pregnancy. it is safe to train at the level you were training prior to pregnancy. There are many examples of high-level athletes continuing to compete at that same level - such as Serena Williams winning the Australian Open for tennis, Kerry Walsh Jennings winning a gold model in the Olympics for beach volleyball, Dana Vollmer swimming the 50-meter freestyle at a National meet, and many more.
However, you must be in tune with your body in terms of understanding what your level of competitive readiness was pre-pregnancy and be able to adapt to your body's changing needs. This means, that if you were a recreational runner, you can continue to run recreationally. If you were a competitive tennis player, you can continue to compete at that level. If you were an elite swimmer currently trying to make the Olympics, you can continue to aim to achieve that goal. You should not try to partake in any new competitive sports or a dramatically increased level of competition of your current sport while you are pregnant. You need to continue with slow, gradual progressions in training, and be able to decrease or adapt your training schedule depending on how your body is feeling. Below are some tips to follow regarding training while pregnant:
1. Monitor your heart rate and respiratory rate - When you first learn the news that you are expecting, you should immediately start tracking your heart rate and respiratory rate during your workouts. If you have tracked these rates pre-pregnancy, that is even better. You want to be able to know what YOUR personal training heart rate and respiratory rate is and continue to maintain those rates while training during pregnancy. If you see any large spike in heart rate or respiratory rate that you can adjust your current training to return to your normal active heart rate and respiratory rate. This rate will be different for each person but should be consistent within each person.
2. Stay within your normal activities - Do not try to pick up a new sport, a new exercise or a new workout routine. Stick with the routines that you have been doing previously and that you are comfortable with.
3. Be aware of your growing bump - as your bump starts to grow it will change your center of balance. This may put you more at risk of falling during your sport. Falling can have serious consequences on your growing fetus. Therefore, keep that in mind and if you start stumbling or have episodes where you find yourself losing your balance then you may need to decrease your training or stop that activity. If you start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe with your growing belly, then you should stop the activity at that time in your pregnancy.
4. Listen to your body - If you start experiencing any abnormal symptoms that you have NOT experienced previously with your workouts, listen to those symptoms and don't push through them. These symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, unusual pain, muscle cramps, unusual shortness of breath, and overheating. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, stop your activity and take a rest. Then when you return to activity, make sure to return at a slightly lower intensity level than previously and make that become your new normal.
5. Don't ignore red flags - If you start experiencing any severe symptoms such as swelling in your legs, uterine contractions, fluid leaking from your vagina or vaginal bleeding make sure to see your medical doctor immediately
6. Nutrition is important - Do not starve your body or try to "lose weight" during your pregnancy. You must make sure you are taking in adequate nutrition to feed both your body and your baby's body. You should continue to have regular doctor visits and should display appropriate weight gain for pregnancy. It is recommended that high-level athletes who are planning to continue at that level during pregnancy to have a nutritionist on their team.
7. Drink plenty of water - You are drinking for 2 now and will need to increase your normal water intake. A general recommendation is 12 fluid ounces of water a day. However, you should know what your normal water intake pre-pregnancy was during your trainings and double it.
8. Sports to avoid - There are some sports that just don't make sense while you are pregnant. Those sports include trampoline jumping, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, boxing, ice hockey, wrestling, diving and scuba diving. All other sports should proceed with caution.
9. Listen to your doctor - If you are advised by your medical doctor to stop your activities due to a medical complication during pregnancy than your doctor's orders should be followed.
10. Seek out the help of a physical therapist – Since your body is continually changing during pregnancy, numerous aches and pains may arise. It is recommended to have regular physical therapy visits during pregnancy for guidance and education on proper stretches, exercises and body mechanics to combat pregnancy related pain. A Women’s Health Certified Specialist (WCS) indicates that a physical therapist has the knowledge, skills and expertise in treating pregnancy-related issues in addition to other diagnosis related to women’s health.
You can find a physical therapy clinic that is right for you through the betterPT website and betterPT app. You can schedule a physical therapy visit today without a doctor’s prescription to help you safely through your pregnancy while participating in your usual sporting activities.
We wish you the best of luck during your pregnancy and are excited about the bundle of joy that is on the way!