How to Stay Motivated to Run While Pregnant

prego with molly
This run with my sister inadvertently turned into a wet t-shirt contest. Baby won!

You’re pregnant – congratulations! As a Salty reader you’re probably aiming to maintain an exercise regimen during your pregnancy, but for anyone (pregnant or not), motivation can be hard to find — especially when hormones cause you to need multiple naps or puke unexpectedly. Ugh.

Here are a few tips to keep you on the fitness wagon during your pregnancy.

Know that running and exercise in general is considered safe and healthy during pregnancy for most women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states several benefits of prenatal exercise such as reduction of backaches, constipation and swelling. You’re a runner, so you already know about the mood-enhancing benefits! Running also provides benefits in endurance and strength which you’ll draw on during labor.

It gets better. The first trimester is notoriously tough with exhaustion and nausea but generally those symptoms subside in the second trimester. In addition, other symptoms such as back or pubic bone pain can make an appearance any time — but that doesn’t mean they’ll be sticking around. At 27 weeks, I slipped in some mud and pulled something in my groin. With a physical therapy plan, I took 4+ weeks off running and came back to log 14 running miles in week 35! I was glad that I had maintained good fitness before “tapering” for labor. Don’t let a bad day (or week) get you down!

Count duration of runs (or walks) rather than distance. You will undoubtedly get slower, so if you ran 30 miles a week pre-pregnancy that same 30 miles will take longer and be more tiring as your little passenger grows. Even the best of us switch to walking.  Instead, use duration of your previous workouts as a goal or upper limit. For example, 30 miles might have been 300 minutes weekly, so cap your workouts there.

Break up your running sessions. This is a tip for you ladies with all-or-nothing tendencies! It’s perfectly okay to sleep in if you need to and do “just” a 10-minute run. Maybe you’ll find another 20 minutes later during your lunch break to take a walk. There’s your 30 minutes! I used this strategy to motivate myself to achieve 5-10 minutes of Kegels daily but checking off a minute or two in a session.

Find a new running buddy! This is a great opportunity to have a run date with someone who is usually slower than you, maybe even getting your non-running partner to lace up his trainers. How about running with a mama friend pushing her running stroller? Or a buddy coming back from injury? Consider pacing or volunteering at a race to give back to the sport.

Check out alternative forms of exercise. Running during pregnancy isn’t for everyone. Walking is an obvious alternative (I cranked up the incline on my treadmill for more of a challenge). Yoga — whether prenatal or not — is another great option along with the elliptical, bicycle (stationary is safer), or even a Zumba class. I actually turned to the Wii for physical activity during my last few weeks of pregnancy once I was no longer comfortable or energetic enough to walk. Rule of thumb here is not to exceed your pre-pregnancy intensity and always check in with your doctor regarding your workout habits.

With a little cross-training on the Wii, this runner is all smiles.

You can continue to set goals. Many women have returned to competition after giving birth and performed faster! Kara Goucher ran her marathon PR at Boston 7 months postpartum and Ingrid Kristiansen ran the 5000m world record about a year after giving birth. At 11 weeks postpartum (and only 7 weeks after returning to running) I ran a 5k only two minutes slower than my PR — and that was with low mileage and minimal speed workouts. There’s some evidence that pregnancy improves your physiological ability to run fast, not to mention anecdotal reports of increases in mental strength.

Train your mind. Fitness includes both your physical ability and mental strength. Maintaining a workout habit of whatever intensity and duration is right for you will serve you well in the long term. In addition, pregnancy is a great time to refine your mind-body connection and really learn to listen to your body – knowing how hard you can push and when you need to stop. I thoroughly enjoyed doing a few tempo runs during my second trimester and got pretty good at picking the right pace for a 15-20 minute effort. I also learned how to tell when I needed a rest day. Both of these skills have been instrumental in my postpartum comeback.

Salty readers: What did you do for excercise while pregnant? Any motivational tips?

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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  1. This blog post is right up my alley!! I am almost 21 weeks pregnant with #5 and running strong! I just ran 6 miles this am with my local running group of friends and felt amazing! I have been lucky enough through this pregnancy to run a 10 mile race, a half-marathon, and a few 5k’s. I actually placed 3rd in my age group last Saturday in a local 5k. I think running throughout my pregnancy is empowering, like I have a superhero power. It keeps me sane (I have four young kids- 8, 6 1/2, and twins that are 4) with my busy life. I am taking it easy – I usually pace around a 9 min to 9 1/2 min mile for training runs and for the past two 5k’s I have ran, I have squeaked in under 24 minutes:)! I only run three days a week and usually take a couple spinning classes and lift as well. I can say that I have been blessed to be able to work out until the day I have delivered all of my kids and it certainly made the postpartum period and getting back into my fitness much easier! There are two items that I require with my runs and that is a maternity belt (really helps to support my growing belly and lower back) and I carry some form of hydration with me. This morning it was quite humid and I surprisingly drank all 20 ounces of water I carried with me during the 6 miles.

    1. Oh yeah, hydration is key! That and knowing that many symptoms were transient were the best bits of pregnancy advice my friends gave me.

      That’s so great that you’ve been able to run so consistently. I’d love to hear more about your experience getting back to running postpartum.