Michelle Rohl on Walking During Pregnancies

Regarding the question about walking while pregnant: I've trained through three pregnancies, and each one has been very different. Knowing how different each of mine was, I certainly assume that other people's pregnancies are at least just as different. Therefore, I think it is dangerous to say "Well, this is how I (or someone I know) felt when they were pregnant, so it must be the way it is."

I think the crucial thing to remember is that you and your child are the important thing. The only goal of training while you are pregnant should be to allow for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child. This realization was a long process for me. I trained every single day of my first pregnancy up until hours before her birth. Mostly this was running, because during that pregnancy racewalking was often uncomfortable for me (it requires more abdominal strength, and I would cramp up). I trained daily, whether I felt like it or not.

After Molly was born I took a week and a half off, and started back at ground zero. I wondered why I had just spent 9 agonizing months trying to stay in shape, when now I could not even make it one mile at any pace. Also, I must confess that I felt very guilty after she was born at barely six pounds, that I had obsessed so much about gaining weight and needing to stay in shape while I was pregnant. I hadn't realized until after she was born how unimportant training during pregnancy really is, when contrasted with the health of my baby.

My second pregnancy was a bit more laid back. I was just coming off a great Olympic race (92), and I was in the best shape of my life when I got pregnant. I trained very regularly during this pregnancy, but I didn't feel guilty if I needed a day off. This time running hurt a lot more than racewalking did. Sebastian was a bigger baby, and the extra weight would cramp up by calves. Since I'm a toe runner, this got to be intolerable. I walked through most of this pregnancy with comfort, but in the end I could only do the stairmaster, or run in the pool. I came back, after a difficult delivery, in a fraction of the time it took me to come back after my first pregnancy. I was very surprised at this, because I felt I didn't train nearly as well during that pregnancy. My conclusion was that nothing you do during your pregnancy has much of an influence on how fast you come back. With that it mind, I took a very casual approach to my last pregnancy. I stopped training at a high level almost immediately. My doctor wanted me to gain more weight this time and I was all for it (I gained almost 30 pounds). I didn't worry about how much I gained, or how fast I would come back at all.

At five months, due to complications, I had to stop training completely. Being on bed rest was hard, but after that I really enjoyed the break. (If you have to take time off from training for any reason--enjoy it, it's easier than fretting over it.) During the last month of my pregnancy my doctor told me I could start doing some easy exercise again because the danger of miscarriage or premature birth had passed. I started swimming. At first I could barely make it one length of the pool without drowning, but I stuck it out until my due date, which came and went. After that I decided I would be pregnant the rest of my life so I gave up all activity and opted for vegetation.

Three days later Ayla finally decided to be born, almost eight pounds and my easiest delivery yet! I didn't have any plans of rushing back into training after she was born. I fully intended to take the full six weeks off, but I felt so good that I was getting antsy by two weeks, so by about 2 1/2 weeks I started training, and by seven weeks I was racing at a nationally elite level again (much to my surprise). The moral of the story is: Where training during and after pregnancy is concerned, if it feels good, do it (and if it doesn't, don't).

We are all different, and each woman has to decide for herself what is appropriate. Oh, and by the way, I don't believe anything anyone says about heart rate. My max heart rate is 220, and I can't even stroll at 140, which is what is suggested for pregnant women. I've been told that it is almost impossible for a person of my fitness level to put her fetus in oxygen deprivation. I'm not a doctor, but I do have three healthy, intelligent children. Again though, each person needs to make those choices for herself.

Michelle Rohl

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