Swimming is great exercise for all ages and all abilities because it is so adaptable and low impact.
Exercise and general fitness are especially important during pregnancy. As you gain weight, it’s easy to invent excuses for eating junk food and becoming sedentary. Don’t do it!
Should you swim during your pregnancy? Absolutely! If your doctor gives you the green light, the pool is yours!
The pool can be intimidating, but don’t let it be. Allow me to share my experience and some general tips and help you maintain your fitness for an easier post-baby body recovery.
During the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy (first trimester), your daily fitness routine may not change significantly. Despite being tired, I logged some great workouts! I did my farthest and fastest run this year, four miles in fifty minutes (don’t laugh triathletes). Plus, I had some swims: a 4:12 400 yard free and 1:01 100 IM. I’m no longer an international athlete, but for someone who swims 3 times a week, not bad. I also maintained my weightlifting and participated in a Les Mills Body Combat class once a week that included punching, jumping, kicking, running, and core exercises.
Things to watch out for in this early stage of pregnancy would be fatigue or feeling lightheaded. Take breaks as needed and be honest with your body and mind. As a long time athlete, I know the difference between over-tired and just plain tired. I also know when I’m out of breath or lightheaded from exertion versus over-exertion.
My swimming was still going well. As expected, my heart rate accelerated more readily. I continued swimming with my club team without falling too far behind. During sets of 12 x 100’s on 1:20, I managed to survive within reasonable limits.
I continued to lift weights at least once a week, focusing on moderate weight and higher repetitions. If you’re after an aerobic lift, try for 20 repetitions of any given exercise with moderate exertion. For example, I repeat 30 repetitions of tricep pushdowns with 50 pounds on a machine. I continued with my Body Combat class, although some jumping became uncomfortable.
Running was still an option, but I shortened my runs to two miles, and eventually transitioned to an elliptical running machine and stationary bike.
By month five, I stopped swimming with the club team, and began swimming with a masters group, and was still able to log 3000 meters in 75 minutes. Flip turns were uncomfortable, so I used a sloppy (but happy) form- instead of rapidly flipping in a tight little ball, I spread out. Butterfly was my friend, but backstroke and breaststroke were fine. I’m still riding the elliptical runner, typically 30 minutes at a time and burning over 400 calories while keeping my heart rate right at 140.
I still rode 20-30 minutes on the stationary bike, post elliptical depending on how I felt. My weight training remained unchanged. When done correctly, weight training can be a great exercise all the way through pregnancy.
Body Combat was no longer fun. Some kicks and jumps weren’t achievable, so I substituted it every other week with more elliptical/bike/weights.
Challenges? Dealing with muscle stretching cramps. They hurt and didn’t go away! Deep full belly breaths and overhead stretching helped, but sometimes I needed to stop and reset or just stopped entirely. Does it stink to stop when I was still motivated? Absolutely, but I learned to balance my enthusiasm with realism, making the best choice for my baby and I.
As I approach the third trimester, I read advice about keeping your heart rate below 140 beats per minute. I worked with doctor closely to decide on a safe heart rate. It’s very important to monitor heart rate, because it increases and causes you to reach greater heart rates at your customary pace.
I planned to swim 2-3 times per week. I accepted that I may not be fast and it may not feel awesome. I would do flip turns until I can’t. I would continue biking and elliptical running at an acceptable heart rate. If I can’t keep it there I will lower the intensity level of the machine and not berate myself about it. I will lift weights weekly and attempt to make no changes to my routine.
I swam 3 times a week. I loved it, but my slower speed was frustrating. During a 3000 meter time trial, I was glad to clock 44 minutes. I slacked on the elliptical and the bike, but I didn’t fault myself.
An unfortunate car accident earned me an 8 hour hospital visit and a totaled car. Thankfully, my baby was fine. I did sustain a new injury and was advised to take it easy for 3 to 4 weeks.
After that, I never really resumed my elliptical or bike training. I continued swimming and walking the dogs. Those muscle stretching cramps were killer, and grew worse every week – but my “reset” technique got me through it – stopping and stretching (or sitting perfectly still) for five minutes and try again. It worked almost every time.
My last swim was Friday, November 19th, and I enjoyed the weightless comfort of the pool and thought about my induction- scheduled for November 24th.
However, our baby boy chose Sunday, November 21st for his birthday. Amid tornado warnings and a swim meet that his daddy was running, he made his debut after 15 minutes of active labor and two pushes.
Caleb Edward Milak was born at 4:35PM, weighing 6 pounds 14 ounces – and we’re all doing fantastic.
I recommend swimming for everyone. As your pregnancy progresses, the simple feeling of weightlessness in the water can be a welcome reprieve. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Swimming for 30 minutes easy back and forth is an excellent way to keep your muscles healthy, even 20 minutes, even 10.
I have heard from many nurses and doctors that women who swim regularly typically have easier deliveries. After two babies, I have to agree, so find a way to your local swimming pool and get active!