Kugelfisch

I’ve always been a cardio lover. There’s nothing like the sweat dripping from your pores, the panting for air, the lactic acid flushing your muscles, all combining to give you that feeling of being alive. Favorites over the years have been running (depending on the phase of the planets), spinning, kickboxing, Zumba, and swimming. There’s always been swimming.

Now that I’m pregnant, I’ve rediscovered my love for swimming. Shortly after we moved to Frankfurt, I found a pool close enough to ride my bike to. Initially I didn’t understand just how nice swimming can be for the pregnant body. Now that I’ve gained considerable girth (so much that I purchased my first-ever sport bikini because that’s just so much easier), I love the buoyancy the water provides. And being in the water helps relieve swelling in your feet and legs. Double bonus!

I haven’t had to modify much. I’m a big freestyler, and that works really well with a baby belly. Backstroke was never a favorite of mine, aside from the fact that you can’t keep as careful an eye on what co-swimmers are doing to make sure they keep the their flailing arms and legs away from your precious cargo hold as it slices through the water. Breaststroke, the non-granny kind where you dip your head under with each stroke to avoid too much pressure on your lower back, works well too. I just get bored with my lack of speed after a while. Butterfly seems like too much effort for my cardiovascular system, so, while I will dolphin kick a few laps, I never do the full-on stroke.

A big question I asked myself recently was whether or not flip turns are still a good idea. There are a lot of great discussions in the U.S. Masters Swimming forums. From what I can tell, the standard advice goes here too – if it feels good, do it; once the belly is too big, you won’t want to anymore anyway. I’d been flip-turning away until just this week, week 34, when all of a sudden it became obvious. There’s just no more space to roll into a ball and flip over.

I keep it relatively low-key, but my typical swim workouts combine any of the following:

alternating 200 freestyle + 200 flutter kick + 200 freestyle stroke with pull buoy

alternating 100 flutter kick + 100 freestyle stroke with pull buoy

alternating 100 breaststroke + 100 dolphin kick with single-sided stroke

5 x 200 freestyle (on 5 minutes if I’m feeling strong)

5 x 100 freestyle (on 3 minutes if I’m feeling strong)

I usually aim for 2,000 meters total. Since my heart rate monitor doesn’t work under water, I go with how I’m feeling to monitor my intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion. Some days are faster. Some days just aren’t. I always give myself extra time between sets to get my heart rate down again and to catch my breath. And the water bottle is never far from reach.

The most fun part about swimming? When people smile and say that Roo is already getting his first swim lessons. And I like when Toby calls me a Kugelfish (puffer fish, literally ball fish).

Push it mama

When I started working out again, one of my first questions was related to intensity. How hard could I work out while still taking care of my unborn child? A number I often ran across in online articles and discussion groups was 140 bpm for maximum heart rate. Not having anything else to base my workouts on, I started there. The problem was that I needed a way higher heart rate to feel like I was getting a workout, even pregnant.

This became obvious to me when I subbed for a Zumba class around my 18th week, dutifully wearing my heart rate monitor. My goal was to stay under, or at least around 140. I did fine for the first few songs, and then I was up in the 160s and low 170s. A quick self-check of all my vital systems told me I was doing just fine, so I carried on, making sure to drink plenty of water. After that I decided I needed to find out more about this bpm limit.

Turns out 140 is a number quite literally pulled out of thin air with no real scientific basis. It’s obviously hard to recommend a single number for a population of people who share the fact that they are pregnant but very little else. Each pregnant woman’s pre-pregnancy training status and pregnancy story are different, and both need to be respected.

A much better way to monitor your effort during pregnancy, and one supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is with Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. The key word is “perceived,” meaning the scale accounts for not only differences between people but also for differences between one person’s fitness level from day to day. The scale gives you a way to self-assess the intensity of your activity, independent of heart rate, ranging from the amount of effort it takes to sit around (6) all the way up to your maximum effort (20). When pregnant, and depending on your pre-pregnancy level of fitness, you should mostly be working out at a ‘moderate’ to ‘hard’ level ( 12-14 on the scale of 6-20) that allows for some conversation with some effort. For me, if I can still sing all the words to my favorite song on my playlist, I need to step it up.

What’s really interesting is that due to some crazy changes a pregnant body goes through, you most likely won’t have to work out as hard to reach the same intensity levels as pre-pregnancy. The following result in the heart having to work harder to pump blood around the body, hence influencing your perceived exertion:

  • blood volume increases by 40-50%
  • heart rate increases by about 15 bpm
  • stroke volume and cardiac output (basically how much blood your heart pumps with each beat) increase

Workout intensity is an important consideration since you shouldn’t be working out so hard that the baby starts suffering. This is why it’s beyond important to listen to your body. Really listen. If something feels good, it probably is good. If something feels bad, drop it. And if you’re not sure, call it quits and ask your doctor.

Some days I like to push it. Other days it just feels better to take it easy, and so I do. I never forget that pregnancy is the time to be kind to myself – I am, after all, baking another human being in that lovely belly of mine!

Fit mama

There is a lot of uncertainty and misinformation surrounding fitness training during pregnancy. While everyone agrees that a minimum level of activity is good for both the mother and the growing fetus (even if mom was inactive before getting pregnant), there is more debate about moving beyond low-impact things like walking, swimming, and gentle yoga.

I was physically active long before I got pregnant. Working out and pushing myself physically has always been a part of my life, whether it’s been desert hiking, open-water swimming, functional training, Zumba, or yoga. I’m not crazy athletic; I just like being physically fit and able to rely on my body. And I like my ice cream and skinny jeans.

For the first three months of my pregnancy, I toned it way down when it came to working out. Partially because when I finally got pregnant, there was a mental block about not wanting to shake the baby out, as silly as that seems in hindsight, and partially because I wasn’t really sure what my body was doing anymore between the tiredness, instant aversion to many of my favorite foods, and the constant queasiness.

Then I got sick of not moving and was determined to have a fit and healthy pregnancy, and to set myself up as optimally as possible for a quick recovery and return to my skinny jeans. So I started working out again. At first I continued with my functional resistance training and cardio on the elliptical, and then added Pilates, swimming, and pelvic floor exercises.

As my belly and Roo (as we’ve taken to calling him) have grown, I’ve had to adjust my technique and resistance, remember that my balance and core stability are temporarily on hiatus, and listen to my body even more than before. When there have been questions about what is good for me or not, I’ve diligently done my research.

I am by no means an expert, so take anything I say as a starting point for your own research. I just know that I feel good about and enjoy what I am doing. And, even more importantly, I feel comfortable in my new athlete-mama body, despite a few more pounds and a big belly.

Funny things about being pregnant – the middle days

Realizing that while I can still drive in a straight line, I can no longer park straight.

Being pregnancy drunk – an unexplainable silliness leading to singing to myself and random mental commentary on innocent bystanders. I swear I saw Lenny Kravitz pushing a stroller down the street!

Realizing that no matter how much I was hoping to resist the trend of my ever-growing hips, it’s time to put away the skinny jeans (and any other pants I used to fit in).

Running into things with my suddenly-there baby belly.

Having that same belly and the accompanying boobs intercepting and statically attracting any crumbs attempting to make it to the floor.

Hoping I don’t tinkle when I sneeze. (That’s what those pelvic floor exercises are for!)

Wondering if sneezing bothers the little guy.

Being forced into better posture by the belly.

Pizza and puppies

Leaving Düsseldorf was a hard thing to do. After nearly three years, it had really become home. We loved our neighborhood, and we had a great group of friends. The kind you can call up and spontaneously meet for Mexican in 20 minutes. My personal training business was booming, and my Zumba classes were up and running.

But change is what keeps life interesting, so we dislocated an entire clan of dust bunnies, had a bittersweet last pizza at our favorite Italian place, and moved to Frankfurt.

Our apartment, while smaller than the one we had in Düsseldorf, is getting quite cozy. The many windows let in every ray of sun the sky gives us, although I am acutely aware of the fact that we will need a window cleaner to come by one of these days. The balcony is gloriously large and finally allowed us to put our American grill to good use over the warm summer we had. Our various trappings of life have slowly found their places again.

The neighborhood is still lacking as far as human connection goes. Frankfurt is a much bigger and more international city than Düsseldorf. Many of the neighbors are reticent to even say hello, and much of the staff at the restaurants we’ve tried don’t bother hiding their indifference. Although, we have found an Italian place, an Austrian place, and a coffee house that are very promising. I’m hoping that if nothing else works, me wandering around with a stroller when December comes will melt all their hearts. And if not, we’ll just have to get a puppy.

Funny things about being pregnant – the early days

Feeling self-conscious about the fact that the initial phase of baby belly looks like a college student’s beer gut.

Being winded after a single flight of stairs.

Realizing they have special seating for me in the trams and special parking spaces at the grocery store.

Being paranoid about the source of my cheese and any leftovers or open food products older than two days.

Craving no-nos like wine and gelato. Although I did later find out that some flavors of gelato are made without egg. Yeah!

Having absolutely no desire for my favorite latte macchiato. What?!

In love

I have decided that I love my pregnant belly. Sure, it’s weird to not see my feet anymore unless I’m standing a certain way, to no longer fit into even my ‘fat jeans’, to not be able to balance on one foot very well anymore, to groan like a rudely awoken bear when I put on my socks, and to not know where the ends of my body are when I’m walking around corners and other objects (including Toby). But it’s so very nice to feel the little person moving inside of me. I love talking to him and stroking my belly, imagining that he can feel me through my skin and thinning abdominal muscles, wondering the whole time if he’ll get Toby’s long legs and thick hair, what color his eyes will be, what he thinks of me.