Eight years ago, I went through a special course as a personal trainer to become certified in teaching pre/post natal exercise classes. The health club where I work formed a strong, multi-faceted program for women wanting to stay healthy or improve their health during pregnancy and after. We added TRX, yoga, Pilates, water aerobics and stroller classes to our permanent schedule to teach women there are forms of movement all pregnant women could do.
When I went through this course, many of my friends questioned why I chose this certification since I have never been pregnant. The answer was simple. My passion to help guide people towards health, throughout their entire life, and the fact very few trainers specialize in this, made me almost obsessed with what I could do/learn to contribute to this population.
While I was teaching the prenatal TRX class a couple weeks ago, the entire class began to discuss cycling. It was no secret to the participants I am a cycling fiend (I have shown up to teach by bike in -20 temps). Many of the women in the class talked about how much they enjoy cycling for both fitness and the social qualities, but they were all very concerned about how safe it was to ride while pregnant.
As they exchanged concerns, my mind drifted to my mom, who spent the summer of 1974 (one of the hottest summers on record) bike commuting everywhere in Minneapolis while pregnant with me. She did so until two weeks prior to delivery with barely any discomfort and certainly no ill side effects. The only concern she should have had was the possibility of her producing a bike-obsessed child grew exponentially because of her riding. With my father racing my entire life, and my mom commuting by bike, I never stood a chance!
I was delighted the women in the class were interested in this discussion and I wanted to dispel the myths behind riding while pregnant. I also wanted to offer them tips for comfort and safety so they felt confident heading out on two wheels. Hopefully these tips will help others as well. I can’t wait to see more women with baby bumps out there playing!
I’ve broken these down into the concerns and questions I’ve heard and how to remedy them:
Is riding while pregnant safe?
Well, the NHS (National Health Service) says “yes” for women who have been given the green light by their physicians. Of course if you have health risks around your pregnancy, like preeclampsia, this might not be for you. Just make sure you break your riding style down to match your trimesters. In your first trimester, most of your energy goes into forming the placenta. It’s important not to overextend yourself or overheat—think about riding in the morning and working more in the aerobic zone vs. the anaerobic zone. The second trimester usually brings more energy—especially in the morning. During the third trimester, comfort is the thing to think about, which I will address below. The only other concerns are getting enough fuel so weight loss isn’t a problem and making sure you feel stable on your bike to minimize the risk of falling (I suggest riding a hybrid or town bike for this reason if you aren’t fully comfortable on a road bike) and choosing a lower traffic route or sticking to a bike path.
I feel uncomfortable being bent over handlebars when I ride. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?
This is one of the biggest issues I see with women in their second and third trimester. As we all know, some women carry high and some carry low. Also, the length of a woman’s torso can determine how comfortable she’ll be if bent over a bit (short torsos cause issues with acid reflux and difficulty breathing when in flexion). The first thing I steer women to is raising the handlebar stem and using flat bars vs. drops. This will make you more upright (which also makes you more stable), will open the chest cavity to assist in breathing and also prevents reflux since the stomach acid stays down. No, you won’t be as aerodynamic, but you will be far more comfortable.
My lower back and hips hurt after riding and while on the saddle, especially later in my pregnancy, how can I prevent this?
First, get a comfortable saddle. The pelvis will change while pregnant and you may need to switch your saddle during the second or third trimester. Remember, bigger and wider isn’t always better. These larger saddles can actually often cause more back and hip issues as well as some nasty chafing. Women’s specific saddles made by companies like Terry are a good place to start. Many bike shops actually offer test saddles to try out before buying. Also, I can’t stress a good pair of cycling shorts enough (once again, a bigger and thicker chamois might not be the best option for you). Doing regular core strengtheners several days each week (back bridges, planks and pelvic floor exercises) will help prevent low back and hip pain while riding. Finally, using a foam roller or tennis ball on the piriformis and between the quadriceps and IT band can go a long way in preventing hip pain.
How soon after delivery can I start cycling again?
The most important things to remember here is how you feel, what your OB says and if your bleeding has stopped. I usually suggest giving at least a month, but two months might be better. Besides, you’ll most likely be too fatigued to even think about riding during the first month. If there was any tissue damage during delivery, it is very important to make sure you have healed 100% prior to getting on a saddle. In this instance, a recumbent bike could be substituted since you are essentially on a seat vs. a saddle. Please keep in mind that exhaustion can make for dangerous situations if riding in high traffic areas.
I’ve heard I have to keep my core temperature down while exercising…does this mean I can’t ride when it’s hot outside?
This is a widely misunderstood topic. The answer is both yes and no. I do tell my pregnant clients not to do activities like hot yoga because the temperature change is so drastic (going from let’s say a 70-degree room into a 105-degree room without acclimation). If, however, you are used to being in a warm climate (as in you don’t sit around in air conditioning all day) and you take it easy and drink plenty of fluids, you can most likely ride throughout the summer if you don’t feel overexerted.
Some ways to stay cool during riding in hot conditions are proper clothing choices (wicking material), staying well hydrated, riding during the morning or evening instead of the heat of the day, riding when there is a slight breeze, and freezing a damp bandana and then tying it around your neck to cool the carotid artery. One of the best things about using cycling for exercise is you create your own breeze, and while moving, the evaporation of sweat from the skin is a natural coolant.
Why do you suggest cycling for pregnant women?
Cycling is a fabulous form of low impact exercise. For women who miss the intensity of running, cycling can often offer a similar feeling without the knee, hip or back pain. The physiological benefits that come from cycling are increased heart and lung capacity, increased circulation, increased brain function, a reduction in stress and anxiety, improved sleep, management of blood sugar, and management of weight…not to mention riding is just really fun! If you weren’t a cyclist prior to becoming pregnant, now might not be the best time to start (unless you choose to ride indoors), but for those who loved being on two wheels before, you shouldn’t feel like you have to give it up!