Training Tips for When You're Pregnant and Wobbly
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The hormone relaxin is just one usual suspect behind feeling unsteady. Learn how to work out despite it and others for nine-plus months of confident movement.
- Many factors loosen up your joints and ligaments during pregnancy in preparation for childbirth.
- Hormonal changes can make you feel less stable, and your growing bump may be throwing off your balance and coordination.
- Head over to the Nike (M) page for tons of motherhood support spanning mindset, movement, nutrition, recovery and sleep.
Read on to learn more …
*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your healthcare provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.
If your friend warned you that she felt like a noodle in sneakers when she was pregnant, don't think too much about it. Yes, there's a pregnancy hormone called relaxin that often gets the blame for the newfound sense of instability on your feet. But there's more going on under the surface, and understanding exactly what that is and adjusting for it can empower you to feel more "I got this!" in your workouts and daily life.
WTH Is Relaxin?
"Relaxin is a hormone present in all bodies, regardless of sex or pregnancy status. For those with a uterus, its levels rise after ovulation, then either fall when you get your period or keep running high through your first trimester if you're pregnant to support implantation and placental growth", says Natalie Crawford, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinologist. "But the hormone's greatest time to shine is on delivery day, when it relaxes (get it?) the ligaments in your pelvis so that your baby can come out into the world", says Crawford.
The Plight of the Scapegoat
Though relaxin contributes to that loosey-goosey–ness during these nine-ish months, it's not clear how big of an impact it has. "Pregnant people with higher relaxin levels aren't actually more likely to have unstable joints", notes research in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. "More likely, a combination of factors affect the joints during pregnancy", says Laurel Proulx, DPT, PhD, a pelvic health physical therapist in Colorado Springs and the founder of FEM Physical Therapy. "As your baby grows, your posture changes, you lose muscular control through your core and coordination is affected too", she says.
"The problem is, too often pregnant people get advice based on the idea that relaxin is the enemy. This causes many to believe that they're powerless against its effects and to sometimes restrict their training and athletic hobbies because of it", says Brianna Battles, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Eagle, Idaho, and the founder of Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism.
But you don't have to feel that way. These three tips can help keep you training more comfortably—and just training, period, without fear—despite the stability changes, so you can stay healthy during pregnancy and beyond.
1. Stick with what you know.
"The thought of falling can be enough to make some pregnant people skip activity entirely, understandably so. But relaxin itself is unlikely to affect your risk of a tumble", says Proulx. "What could", she says, "is your growing belly, which changes your centre of mass and thus your muscular coordination. Your muscles power through to support the centre of your body and keep it stable. During pregnancy, they no longer anticipate and react as they should", she explains. "That does not mean you will waver because you have a bump. It just means that you should be aware of, and potentially avoid, activities that pose a legit fall risk, knowing the change in coordination could make your risk even greater".
"These activities differ for everyone based on their experience, but the idea is to stick with ones you know and love or make reasonable changes", says Dr Crawford. "For instance, if you like to fly down the streets on a bike, move to a stationary one to cut the chance of a spill. Sports like downhill skiing, rollerblading and ice skating are generally not recommended after the second trimester for obvious reasons, though you should check with your doc if you're an experienced athlete and want to consider continuing. You may find that getting out in the fresh air on a hike instead is enough. And of course, trying low-impact exercise like prenatal yoga or strength workouts for the first time should be totally fine" (and may even be ideal—keep reading), says Proulx.
2. Rethink stretching.
"Even if you're feeling like an air dancer, pregnancy is not the time to actively work on your flexibility", says Proulx. "For most people, holding a stretch at its end range or sitting in one stretch for longer than 30 seconds, say, at the end of your workout, can challenge the joints that are already softened", she says. Not to mention, long holds might not feel so good either.
A safer focus? "Active mobility, or intentionally moving your muscles and joints through their range of motion, especially around the hips, spine and chest", says Proulx. She recommends antenatal yoga to feel more open and less tense and to improve your muscular control. (Remember the change-in-coordination thing?) "If you feel soreness or pulling in any joint when you're in a pose, skip it or take a modification", she says. Feeling like you're sitting too deep in a stance? Grab a bolster, block or any stable surface for more support.
3. Keep (or start) lifting.
"While relaxin won't necessarily make you unstable, it can make you feel as though you are", says Proulx. Same goes for that expanding belly of yours. "That's why strength-training your glutes, hips and core is so important: it can build a more solid foundation so you feel more supported despite the increased laxity in your ligaments and changing centre of mass", says Battles. "There's no reason to fear lifting now, but especially as your pregnancy continues, your hormones shift and your body structure changes, just don't push yourself to your limits", she says. In other words, no need to flirt with the heaviest kettlebell at the gym.
"Round ligament pain (discomfort near the hips or groin), pressure in the vagina or a cone shape around your abs are signs you need to switch things up", says Proulx. "Try taking deep inhales and exhales from your belly, not your chest; reducing the load and number of reps you do; and perhaps shifting your body position".
And if you do ever feel like a noodle in sneakers? Hey, at least you'll be an al dente one.
Words: Jessica Migala
Photography: Vivian Kim