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Adjusting Workouts During Pregnancy: It’s okay to feel bummed about not being able to push yourself

Mom guilt starts earlier than anyone talks about. From working out too much, to not enough - if you’re like me, you questioned (or are questioning) everything you did, ate, cleaned with, applied to your skin, and everything you didn’t do or forgot to do. You did/do this every second of every day since the day you stood over the sink in your bathroom at 5AM and saw those two pink lines form!

Working out has been my therapy (I know, eye roll, but it has), medicine and overall just part of my routine since before I could legally drive a car. I love the feeling of pushing myself and seeing myself hit a new goal or personal record. I love seeing my efforts pay off in my mood and my body composition. I also just love a good sweat session.

The first couple months of pregnancy, not much had to change, except that my goals were now suddenly about maintenance and staying active, rather than pushing for a new PR or changing body composition.

That first mindset shift was challenging enough, but became even more difficult for me as my body started changing (in quite the opposite direction than ever before). Add to that, the need to start shifting types of workouts, lowering weights, adding more steady state cardio, pelvic floor activation and breathwork, and my workout world was flipped on its head.

It was no longer about me. In fact, almost no decisions I’ve made for the last few months or will make for the next couple of decades would be.

For the next several months at least, no more gains in strength, no PRs, no trying to do more pullups, no high-intensity sweat-dripping sessions…

Right now, it’s all about a healthy baby, a healthy pregnancy and birth, and avoiding anything that could compromise either of those in my workouts.

I’d become very used to pushing myself, and it has been really difficult to roll that back.

It brings up feelings of not being or doing enough. I sometimes feel like I’m lazy or not pushing myself hard enough because I’m not out of breath after a weight training session, or because the weights are getting lighter, not heavier over time. I sometimes feel inadequate. I can’t lift as much or go as hard for as long. I’m short of breath after one set and have to stop and rest to make sure baby girl is getting enough oxygen. It doesn’t matter that I ‘could probably push through’. I could, probably. But I shouldn’t. I can’t just do any old workout in my memory bank. Certain movements have to be modified for the safety of the baby and my changing body.

I’m used to seeing physical progress when I am really consistent. I’m used to seeing muscle definition and feeling good when I move often and eat well. But now, I move often and eat well, yet body parts are growing larger and getting softer.

I know this is what is supposed to happen - of course I shouldn’t see abdominal definition, and I’m perfectly fine with that. It would be absurd. But it’s still hard to wrap my head around that concept, when exercise has always been tied - in some way - to body composition, for me.

I don’t mean to say I don’t work out for health, and to generally feel good - that is mostly why I do it. But because I’m quite consistent, I also do see body composition results. It would be strange not to. So I conflate the two. I’m used to them going hand in hand.

My goals have shifted from growth and gains to maintenance, pelvic floor strengthening, breathing exercises, different core exercises for core strength, and lots and lots of walking.

The shift has been a struggle, but I think ultimately this will be really mentally healthy for me, and I hope all the other mamas and mamas-to-be recognize the same. Shifting focus from self-only with an emphasis on image, to a focus of a healthy baby and healthy pregnancy, is a huge step in healthier thoughts around exercise. While I have mostly made this shift, and helped clients do the same - if I’m being honest with myself - there has always still been a hint of working out to look better.

That perspective shift is something we can take with us postpartum, bringing it back to health first. Health, so that my baby girl sees mom moving her body because it gives her energy and strength to play, because it strengthens her endurance to take care of bb girl and all the other mom and adult responsibilities all day long, and because it keeps her organs functioning optimally, so mom can stick around for her for a long and healthy life.

  • I want her to see and imitate those behaviors with a goal of feeling her best and being her most healthy, not to attain some arbitrarily “in-style” body type that happens to be in vogue in her teen and early adult years.

  • I want her to associate glute exercises with a strong core and strong legs that help her move well, lift heavy things and be capable and agile, NOT to have some ideal proportions of waist to butt.

  • I want her to associate planks and russian twists with a strong core for balance and pelvic floor health, not to show abdominal muscles with an insufficient amount of body fat to keep a healthy a menstrual cycle.

  • I want her to see hiking, walking, biking and kayaking as ways to experience the most out of life and see nature, not ways to add up cardio points or steps on an fitness watch to hit some arbitrary goal.

  • I want her to see eating lots of whole foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, and pasture raised meat and eggs as a way to nourish her body to be able to do all of these amazing things, and not as a way to keep calories low to create a deficit.

This is not to say that I will abandon goals to improve my health. I will have new stregth goals after pregnancy. I will want to see my body composition change as muscle increases and excess fat decreases. I will want to improve my endurance once again. I will be eager to get back to pull ups and push ups because they make me feel strong and badass. I will begin to push myself to my limit again once I’m medically cleared, because I believe it is so important to challenge ourselves regularly.

I will do all of this once it’s safe again, but going through this pregnancy and shifting my perspective means I will do those things to be healthier, stronger and more in touch with nature. I will do those things, to be an example of the even cooler and healthier badass my daughter will surely become.

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