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How to Safely and Effectively Run During Pregnancy

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Photo: Getty Images / Andrew Rich

Pregnancy comes with a lot of changes. Many of them involve your body, but a good number of them also involve your lifestyle. Sometimes what once felt good and easy (a three-mile jog around your neighborhood) can feel like, well, a labor of work.

For runners, in particular, it's especially easy for a workout routine to slip. After all, high-impact bouncing up and down can feel harder than lower-impact kinds of work. The good news? It's possible—and maybe even easier than you think—to run your way through a pregnancy. You might just have to make some tweaks along the way.

Just remember, while if you were running pre-baby, it's okay to continue, pregnancy isn't the time to start running, says Carolyn Appel, C.S.C.S., director of training for PROnatal Fitness, a prenatal and postpartum fitness company. "Your body needs to be conditioned to handle the impact forces to minimize the aches and pains that some experience with such a dynamic activity."

Assuming you're keeping up with an already-established routine? Here's what to expect from your changing body, how it might impact your mileage, and the best ways to keep on moving from experts who know best.

1. Buy some new sports bras—and maybe sneaks.

Almost *immediately*, mamas-to-be notice some big changes to their breasts — mainly that they're, well, a heckuva lot bigger. "Some women may appreciate this pregnancy feature, but for runners, this can mean discomfort, lots of bouncing, and a much harder time finding a sports bra that works well," says Amanda Nurse, an elite runner and run coach based in Brookline, MA. That added weight can also make you feel more out of breath, heavier, and slower, she says. (Not to mention chafing becomes more of an issue, too.)

Investing in some (bigger) high-impact bras can make all the difference. Try: Adidas Stella McCartney Performance Essentials Sports Bra ($60, adidas.com); Reebok PureMove Bra ($60, reebok.com); Lululemon Enlite Bra ($98, lululemon.com).

You're not going crazy if you think your feet feel bigger, too. "Pregnant women can go up a full shoe size in pregnancy (and stay at that size!)," says Nurse. "Make sure to get fit for the right shoe size and gait during pregnancy as it will be different from pre-pregnancy." A local running store can help you choose a pair.

2. Strength train, strength train, strength train!

During pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin that relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis to prep your body for childbirth—but coupled with increased forces from a heavier body, this can cause joint discomfort, says Appel. "Strength training will help the body to more effectively absorb the impact forces when running, which are significant even without the added weight of pregnancy." Off the road, make sure you're working in moves like lunges, squats, and deadlifts to keep your legs and core strong.

Strength training doesn't just *have* to be in the form of lifting weights either—prenatal yoga or barre classes will incorporate strength work and help you maintain pelvic floor strength for birth. You can even take classes online via programs such as obé.

3. Keep tabs on your heart rate.

During pregnancy, the bulk of your training should be done at conversational pace, says Erin Dawson-Chalat, M.D., an ob-gyn based in Scarborough, ME, who is also an avid runner. In part, that's because overheating can negatively impact a developing fetus, explains Appel—so you don't want to overtax your body. (You also want to stay hydrated and wear breathable clothing!)

To make sure you're not nearing the "red zone," consider a heart-rate monitor. (Dr. Dawson-Chalat favors the Garmin Forerunner 620.) Or just focus on being able to hold a conversation during most of your runs.

4. Watch your footing.

Everything from the effect of relaxin to a shift in your center of gravity (thanks to a growing belly) can throw off your balance, putting you at an increased risk of falling, says Appel. If you're feeling clumsy, outdoor runs are a better bet than treadmill treks, she notes. Sometimes, a pregnancy support belt can help blunt feelings of instability while running, says Dr. Dawson-Chalat. Try: Gabrialla Maternity Belt ($38, amazon.com).

5. Listen to your body.

This is always important to keep in mind: You know your body better than anyone else and you can decide when it's time to slow down, reduce your mileage, or stop running altogether. "At a certain point, most women will naturally want to reduce the stresses they place on the body, especially near the end of pregnancy. It simply doesn't feel that good," says Appel. And that's wise! Just as athletes taper before a marathon, that's instinctively what pregnant women know to do, she says. So if you want to slow down, switch to walking, or run one instead of five miles, don't be afraid to do it.

Keep an eye on two biggies that signal you should stop running, too: any leakage (fecal or urinary)—it can be a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction (and the longer you run with this, the longer it will take to recover from it postpartum, Appel says) and pain. If your breasts, belly, pelvic, hip, feet, shins, or low back region hurt and pain doesn't resolve with tweaks or dedicated recovery—stretching, foam rolling (a little at-home Hypervolt, anyone?), icing, or rest—that's usually a sign your body needs you to slow down.

Fortunately, you can still maintain a solid level of fitness switching routines entirely, says Dr. Dawson-Chalat—swimming, spinning, stair-climbing, elliptical work, or yoga can sometimes be easier on the body and still keep you in shape. (Related: 6 Amazing Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy)

Most importantly: While it can be frustrating, try not to get discouraged by what you can't do during pregnancy, notes Nurse. All of your pre-pregnancy fitness plans/goals/times/aspirations will be there post-baby. We promise.

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