Staying in shape while pregnant with twins

Being in shape has always been very important to me.  Well, maybe not always…but certainly for the past 12 years or so, and definitely all of my adult life.

Before becoming pregnant, I always worried about how I would keep in shape during pregnancy.  Since becoming pregnant, I have realized a few things:

  1. Fitness doesn’t disappear overnight, and fitness prior to pregnancy will definitely help in efforts to stay in shape during pregnancy!  I am currently 17 weeks pregnant with twins and I’ve gained 20 pounds already, and I honestly feel pretty fantastic most of the time in terms of bodily comfort.  I still walk at least 5 miles most days (sometimes it’s up to 10, when we’re on vacation!) and I do a variety of prenatal fitness videos.  I carry on with my normal life routine without much discomfort.  I have to wear larger clothes and I can feel stretching in my body and the random ache here or there, but I can definitely tell that my high level of fitness prior to pregnancy has helped my body cope with the changes of pregnancy pretty gracefully so far.
  2. My body is going to change in pregnancy, regardless of whether I work out, so I might as well embrace that fact.  My thighs (always my struggle!) have definitely increased in size, even if it is only noticeable to me.  My slender waistline is thicker.  At times I think my face looks fuller (and very red!).  Perhaps I could starve myself to prevent areas other than my stomach from changing, but that would not be good for me or the babies, of course.  So I have come to terms with my changing shape, whether it is temporary or permanent.
  3. Even though I have reduced my exercise volume and intensity, the body works harder during pregnancy, so it all kinds of evens out.  I did not blow up overnight when I stopped running.  It is rather nice to have an excuse to take it easier for a few months.
  4. I care less about having the “perfect body” during pregnancy.  See #2.  My body is changing and I can’t really control it, but it is for a beautiful reason and would I really trade twin babies for slightly thinner thighs?
  5. I have gained a longer-term perspective on fitness.  When I am running every week, it is easy to get caught up in mileage and calories and never want to run fewer miles or burn fewer calories one week than I did the previous week.  It is easy to always set my expectations on doing more.  Now that I have been forced to back off, I see fitness as more of a lifelong pursuit.  I will certainly work hard to get back in shape after I give birth to these babies.  But it’s not a huge rush, and it’s not a competition, and (God willing) I will be alive for quite a long time so there is plenty of time to lose and sculpt and tone and create a new normal.  There is plenty of time to run and I think it’s interesting that so many women decide to take on the marathon after they have children.

 

So, how am I keeping in shape during this pregnancy?  As mentioned before, I walk, a lot.  I walk in the morning before work, I walk as much as I can throughout the work day, I walk after work.  I aim for at least 5 miles a day, 6 is more typical.  Unless I do workout videos, in which case I will generally walk less.

I have also taken advantage of NOT running all the time to engage in more strength training and varied cardio.  There are many prenatal videos online for free or very little cost.  Two series that I particularly enjoy is BabyFit by Amy (YouTube) and Gaiam: Summer Sanders’ Prenatal Workout (Amazon).  The first one is free, and the second one can be purchased for less than $10.  I enjoy the focus on taking care of the body and the importance of strengthening all parts of the body to deal with pregnancy, delivery and recovery, but without overly stressing the body.  It’s fun to try out new workouts and not worry about burning a certain number of calories or achieving a certain intensity!

I am grateful for the chance to step back and regain focus on what fitness is truly about–literally, being fit for what’s required.  Pregnancy is a great strain on the body, a twin pregnancy is an even greater strain, and my focus now is on having a body that is fit for the challenge.

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On not running

My running journey began during the summer before my junior year of high school, when I decided to join my high school’s cross country team.  Now that I no longer was required to take gym, suddenly I wanted to run!  (Go figure….teenagers.)  Although I ended up injuring my knee before I could even compete in my first CC meet and had to sit the rest of the season out, and although I was the slowest one on the team, I was hooked.

In the first few years, my running would ebb and flow.  It wasn’t a strict routine, just something I did in spurts and at times I would take weeks or even months off.  But I would always come back.  And by the time I was in college, running was officially part of my weekly regimen.  I was more alone than I ever had been before, and I needed something to occupy all of the free time I suddenly had.  My eating disorder–which had developed in middle school and came and went throughout my high school years–also reared its head more powerfully once I suddenly had no restrictions.   Running felt like a way to keep myself in check and give myself some structure.  I decided to sign up for a race and followed my training plan as perfectly as I could.  I spent hours in the gym that I suddenly had access to, running speed workouts on the treadmill and then lifting weights and then going to a “Yoga for Runners” class.  I ran my easy runs in the morning before class (the only time I have been an early morning runner!).  I ran long runs every single weekend without fail, finally culminating in a scorching 9 mile run at my parents’ house which exceeded all of my notions about how far I could run.  All of my training must have paid off, because I ran 8k in record time (still haven’t beaten that record) and placed first for females in my age group (which was, admittedly, small).  Running had officially become an integral part of my personality, and I set my sights on longer distances and more races.

In the years since college, I have raced and not raced, I have run consistently and more sporadically, but running has been a mainstay in my life.  This increased even more when I met my husband, who was just getting into running seriously around the time that I met him.  Part of our pre-dating and early dating included running together, and he inspired me to set my sights on a goal I never thought I could achieve (a half marathon!) and to push myself to run faster than was comfortable for me (he is REALLY fast).  Now it was not only a part of me, it was a part of US, and we became the “fit” couple who plan vacations around outdoor activities and, more recently, races.  Who plans where to move at least partially based on running trails available in the area.  Who plan early Friday nights during marathon and half marathon training so that we’re well-rested for Saturday morning long runs, and plan where to eat based on carbing up before long runs and refueling with protein after long runs.  His running ramped up more and more throughout our relationship, and it only seemed fitting that mine would, too.

I love running for so many reasons.  In the beginning, running was generally a way to punish and restrict my body, to keep it a certain size.  Now, it has the benefit of helping me maintain an athletic and slender physique, but its benefits are so many.  For example:

  • It makes me crave, and gives me a good reason to eat, healthier foods
  • It makes me feel confident in my skin and makes my body feel good
  • It makes me feel content and balanced
  • It helps me sleep better
  • It keeps me healthy and prevents me from developing a lot of preventable chronic diseases
  • It gives me a community and something to always work towards
  • It gives me an easy way to workout–if you’re training for a race, you’re going to do several different types of running which will improve your fitness in many types of ways
  • It’s something to talk about with my husband and gives me a special bond with him
  • Post-long-run meals are something to look forward to!  I look forward to going out to dinner after a long run more than any other meal of the week
  • Races are exciting and reinvigorate me for the rest of life
  • It develops endurance for tough situations (for about half of the year in New York, running outside is not very pleasant!  It’s either freezing, windy, raining, snowing, dark, humid, swelteringly hot, buggy, or any combination of these)
  • Running outside can be very beautiful and you can do it anywhere
  • It gives me some time alone with my thoughts
  • It is a constant in my life and provides some sense of stability even when everything in changing.  Throughout the 17 times I have moved since leaving my house after high school, running has always been there and is a familiar thing that I can cling to that preserves my sense of self.

And the list could go on.  Needless to say, running has been very important to me and even part of my identity.

I planned to run through my pregnancies.  Why wouldn’t I?  It’s the main way that I exercise and I’ve been doing it for so long that it wouldn’t be a shock to my body.  With all of the changes that pregnancy creates in the body, running would at least help me to maintain some sort of fitness and keep my figure in check enough that I wouldn’t have tons of weight to lose after giving birth.  Maybe I wouldn’t be running races, but not running for over 9 months (while my body expanded, no less!) was something I couldn’t even wrap my mind around.

The first time I was pregnant, I kept running.  I stopped for about a week or two at first, but then I started to think of all the fitness I would lose and started to run during the week, along with very long walks and long bike rides on the weekends to take the place of my usual long runs.  This time around, I decided before I got pregnant that I would run just 3 times a week to maintain my fitness, as well as walking and some prenatal strength workouts.  So after finding out that I was pregnant, I headed to a local gym with a free pass that I had and ran 5.5 slow miles on the treadmill.  I wouldn’t run 8-10 miles anymore on the weekends, but I would certainly run!

But that night, my heart stopped when I went to the bathroom and saw the faintest hint of spotting.  It continued for several hours, very lightly, and I cried myself to sleep, sure that this was the beginning of the end, once again.

Thankfully, it stopped the next day.  I placed myself on a voluntary bedrest that day, so terrified from what had happened.  It was a bit extreme, perhaps.  But I decided then and there that it was not worth it to put myself at risk to lose my baby (at the time I didn’t know that it was babies) just because I wanted to keep running.  Most likely it was not the cause of losing the first one, but I will never know.  Several people told me to stop running and seemed uneasy that I still was at the time.  Seeing that spotting made me realize that my vanity and desire for things to stay the same was overshadowing my concern for the health of my babies, and could possibly put them at risk.  And I thought back on the agony of waiting to get pregnant the previous months, and thought about the possibility of having to go through all of that again just because I could not stop running.

So I’m not running for now.  At first I thought I would just wait for the first trimester to be over, but now I have decided that I will not be running at all this pregnancy.  There are many women who run all throughout their pregnancies and have perfectly healthy babies, of course.  But there is nothing that says you have to run throughout this particular, delicate stage of life to be considered a runner.  I am still a runner.  I will run again.  And I’m sure it will be slow, and I will feel like I am kind of starting from scratch, and I may not run another half marathon any time soon.  It may be a very long time before I get to attempt any challenging running goals again.

It’s strange to not run for so long.  I miss sore legs, breaking a sweat when I work out, and my Saturday long run routine.  I miss feeling like a “runner.”  I miss being able to look for races and get excited about the next one.

But is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Ever since that one scary episode, this pregnancy has been quite uneventful, and I can look forward to one day having these babies in my arms.  My life will never be the same, running or not.  I will have two little kids to raise!  My body will never be the same, not even if I ran every single day throughout my pregnancy.  I am getting older and my body is being stretched to the limit.  Motherhood will change me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

I am still a runner.  But I do not have to cling to it so tightly.  I can let it go for now.  I expect to come back to it.  But there are things in life more important than running.