Whoa, I can’t believe how quickly time flies! I have just started my third trimester so it is time to prepare a new blog post about how I was getting on managing my fitness and health during the second trimester.
If you missed my first blog post in this new series called ‘5 Top Tips to stay in shape during the first trimester’, you can read the full article here.
How did I find the second trimester overall?
In fairness, I found the second trimester to be a much more rewarding and an easier period in comparison to the first one, for many reasons:-
- By the time I entered this new stage, I had got used to the idea of being pregnant and a baby coming in November. The initial ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ effect had worn off and was replaced by acceptance and excitement.
- My Hubby and I kept investing into our marriage, for example, we attended a ‘Focus on Marriage’ Day event at my church which helped us tune into each other’s feelings even more and got us thinking about becoming parents soon.
- It was such a nice feeling finally being able to tell our families, friends and colleagues about the pregnancy when I was about 16 weeks. It was fun planning out how to tell them, and a very big milestone for me because I did not feel so ‘alone’ carrying this knowledge any more; it became a ‘shared’ experience.
- I enjoyed the extra attention and kind words that I received from people as they started to see me change shape. I actually started to ‘glow’!
- Thankfully, I felt much better physically during the second trimester – the ‘morning’ sickness disappeared and my mojo and energy levels returned to almost normal. Therefore, I was able to resume my gym workouts, walks, and get into a routine of going at the same time each morning, rather than on an ad-hoc basis. I even had two hiking holidays in Switzerland and Iceland during this time. As a result, I was finally be able to ‘gain back momentum’ on my fitness, stopped binge eating and looking ‘soft’ like during the first trimester and even gained some muscle definition!
- Before becoming pregnant, I expected myself to feel uneasy about my body changing during pregnancy. I guess it was more down to the ‘fear of the unknown’, because the actual transformation itself did not scare me or upset me at all. On the contrary – it was really interesting to see my baby bump ‘pop out’ in just two weeks’ time during our Swiss holiday (when 4 months pregnant) and my athletic body type becoming much more feminine and curvy, like a ripe peach. (I am especially pleased that I can finally fit into my bras properly, they are not ‘hollow’ any more!) It was also nice to sometimes feel baby move like a little fish swimming in my belly and tickling me from the inside. Read my recent article about how I managed to stay ‘body positive’ during my pregnancy.
- By some miracle, I have managed to get away with only investing into two pieces of maternity clothing during this period (a pair of jeans and a pair of smart trousers for work). Even in the gym I could still wear my baggier tops and my running shorts under my belly comfortably and without looking weird.
However, obviously, there have been some challenges as well along the way. For example:-
- Even though I generally had more energy for daily activities and working out, it often felt like I had a very short supply of energy to last me the whole day, resulting in needing power naps to get me through the rest of the day. I often felt so shattered that I had to lie down straight away!
- Unfortunately, I started to develop haemorrhoids – I am going to spare my readers the finer details, but suffice to say that this really grossed me out! I did manage to stop it in its early tracks, though, so it did not get worse at least, but just something I need to keep monitoring. (On the positive side, this does not cause me pain or any limitations during exercising.)
- As my belly started to expand and my pregnancy progressed, running started to feel quite laborious when I reached 5 months, so I decided to stop. I knew this would happen at some point but it did not make putting my favourite thing in the world on hold any easier! I count myself lucky though that I was able to fit in a few races at the beginning of this year before I got to this stage (Victoria Park Half, Milton Keynes Half, Hampton Court Palace Half, Danesfield Dash 10k, Run the Rock 10k, Wargrave 10k). The hardest thing was seeing my Hubby ending up doing all the things that I wanted to do such as joining a running club, going out for group runs, entering fun races and so on. Yes, I did feel I was missing out!
- I was unable to put my mind completely at rest and feel more relaxed until I reached the midway point in my pregnancy. The truth is that if the baby is born prematurely before it reaches 24 weeks, it is very unlikely to survive. 24 weeks is called ‘viability’ date for a reason, because babies have a better chance of survival with significant support in the hospital after reaching this milestone. Secondly, you can’t be certain that everything is alright with the baby until you have your mid-pregnancy scan around this time (also called as ‘anomaly scan’ which is a more thorough look at the baby).
Proud race moments during my second trimester
In light of the above, I have come up with the following tips and coping strategies for maintaining (even improving) fitness and health during the second trimester. Like I said before, these articles in the pregnancy and postpartum series on my blog are meant to be an account of my own experience, my own highs and lows, rather than suggest that everybody else should expect to go through the same. As always, make sure to consult with your midwife and/or doctor and get green light from them for exercising during all stages of pregnancy. However, at the end of the day, it is your body, and only you can know for sure what feels good and right, and what doesn’t!
1. Modify your workouts but don’t stop challenging yourself
The second trimester is a time when baby starts growing exponentially. This was the period when my body really started to change! Aside from your belly growing bigger each week, there are many other things going on in your body that will have an impact on what forms of exercise feel good or not so good.
For example, the volume of blood in the body increases by a whopping 50 percent in order to help support the uterus. Accordingly, the amount of blood pumped by the heart increases as well. As a result, I found it uncomfortable to perform high intensity stuff such as running and HIIT. I also ruled out a few exercises where my belly simply got in the way such as jumping, lying on my belly, deep forward bends, downward dog position, glute bridges, and some others that are said to contribute to a condition called diastasis recti (which is the formulation of a larger than normal gap between your two rectus abdominus muscles down the midline of your body during pregnancy.) Thankfully, there were only a handful of these exercises I had to wave goodbye to, such as twisting/wood chopping movements, planking, crunches and some odd exercises such as triceps pushdowns on the cable machine which I felt was putting too much pressure on that area for me.
In the end, I did not feel too limited in the gym at all, I could still perform a vast array of exercises and was able to get a really good sweat on 3-4 times a week. I was surprised to discover how much difference simple things such as sitting down or applying correct breathing technique can make to help you feel more comfortable during the exercises and to reduce the pressure on the abdominal area (more specifically, breathing out on the effort phase of the exercises). Also, I realised that just because certain exercises are low-impact, it does not mean they can’t challenge you and send your heart racing! (Say ‘hello’ to squat thrusters, kettlebell swings and one handed clean and presses!) I rediscovered the cardio machines (rowing, elliptical, stationary bike) and really grew to enjoy designing my own workouts on the gym floor and tweaking these as my body was continually changing week by week.
Follow me on Strava (@Timea Jones) to see what workouts I did in the gym during my first and second trimesters.
2. Reframe your thinking about the role of workouts
One of the key challenges I had to address initially was a psychological one. You would traditionally expect that through exercising your body will become leaner, stronger or faster – that there will be some kind of visible improvement. However, when you are pregnant, things are different. I am not saying it is not possible to make gains during pregnancy (because I did!), but it is quite likely you will notice some decline in your sports performance, like I did. In my opinion, this is unavoidable when most of your body’s resources are directed towards growing and nurturing your baby and you are only left with the crumbs. There is really no room for resentment over this, just accept it for what it is and do the best you can do.
What really helped me get over that phase was reframing my thinking about the role of exercising during pregnancy. In Rachel Pufall’s words (Breathe for Change wellness champion): “Imagine you are going to compete in a major athletic event. Think ultramarathon, Ironman, CrossFit Games, or whatever competition you think requires total beast mode. What would you do? You train – at least if you want to improve your outcome during the event and your recovery after. That’s one of the main reasons that it’s advised to continue or start exercising during pregnancy. The major athletic event? Labouring and childbirth. However, you are training for this with a body that’s continuously changing and completely new to you. This will require training differently – both physically and mentally – than what you would do in the above scenarios. You are carrying a growing baby inside you, but not long from now, you’re going to be carrying that baby all around with you, so you really want to train your body to have the stamina to endure it. However, you also do not want to do anything that could cause damage.”
Last run in Troyes, hitting the gym and my penultimate race
3. Find what works for YOU
As I said earlier, every pregnancy is different, even for the same person, therefore some women are able to exercise until the very end, whilst some need to take things really easy. On one end of the scale, some women can carry on with Crossfit, some compete at running championships at professional level, some lift monster weights. On the other end of the scale, some women develop severe pelvic or back pain, may need to use crutches to walk or resort to bed rest to get through their pregnancies. Most of us sit somewhere inbetween these two extremes.
I personally found it helpful to design my own workouts, having found traditional pregnancy workout videos and classes uninspiring, too easy, or too patronising. This way I could experiment and tune into my body to see what felt good and right. I guess I am lucky in a sense that I have a personal trainer qualification. If you can afford it, I would suggest that you invest into hiring a PT who can design a workout plan tailored to your pregnancy.
We are often given the advice to ‘listen to our body’ – at the end of the day, YOU know your body best. It is essential that you know what to listen and look out for which will give you the confidence to go forward or to slow down.
4. Even if you need to give up running for a while, you never stop being a runner
Although the current medical view on running through pregnancy is that it is generally safe during uncomplicated pregnancies, I decided to gradually cut back on running, simply because I no longer enjoyed it after 5 months. I firmly believe that pregnancy is the time to really listen to our bodies. There is no reward for toughing out running, if it does not feel good any more, even though technically you could still run!
It is during this period that I realised that even though I have stopped running, there are many things that I can still do now to support my return to running after baby is born. For example, I started to focus more on strength work in the gym to keep my ‘running engine’ in tip-top condition; I started to go along to my Hubby’s running club socials so I could at least talk about running with other keen runners; I have stocked up on running themed books to read during my maternity leave; I started putting together a new music playlist for future runs; I am considering volunteering at local parkruns and races so that I can still experience the atmosphere at these events in some shape or form!
Who knows, taking a few months’ break from running may even benefit me long term as my body has a proper chance to recover from vigorous training and racing, and is challenged and moved in different ways in the gym.
Beer night with the Marlow Striders (obviously, I did not have any beer ;-( )
5. Seize the second trimester for last minute adventures and ticking things off your bucket list
As I am writing this article, I have already started my third trimester and I am so glad I did go on two hiking holidays in my second trimester! Most women stop feeling nauseous and have more energy during the second trimester and the baby bump is not too big yet to get in your way and slow you down, so this is the perfect time to do some fun stuff. Hiking seemed to be the perfect form of exercise for me at the time, also somewhat compensated me for not being able to run in the great outdoors. Switzerland and Iceland are one of the most beautiful places on earth that I had always wanted to visit. I am sure these memories will help me get through tough times when baby arrives and I am consumed with Mum-duties around the clock.
Even though I am still at the beginning of my third trimester, I already feel I have entered a new stage in my pregnancy journey whereby I have slowed down and some niggles have started to appear as well. There is no way I could do as much hiking now as I did only a few weeks ago! I have learnt that when you are pregnant, things can change drastically in just one week – so there is no time to waste!
Feeling on top of the world in Iceland
Connect with me and check out my Instagram page to see what I got up to in Switzerland and Iceland.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article – please keep an eye out for the next one in the series in which I will share what challenges I am facing on the final stretch of my pregnancy journey and how I worked around those to stay fit(ish).
Did you workout or run through your pregnancy? How did you find it?