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Stroller strides, prenatal yoga, mama dance, swimming groups – there are plenty of fitness classes and groups aimed at keeping women active during pregnancy. But when a woman decides to hop on her bike, it raises some eyebrows.
But it really shouldn’t, nowadays obstetricians are actually encouraging cycling as a great way to stay fit, flexible and healthy throughout your pregnancy.
Guidelines for exercise in pregnancy published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that remaining active during pregnancy has shown to help ease back pain, control weight, maintain flexibility and even help your mood, posture, sleep.
It also states that habits adopted during pregnancy could affect a woman’s health for the rest of her life and aerobic exercise — such as walking, hiking, jogging, dancing, swimming, cycling, rowing, and crosscountry skiing — is encouraged.
We recently caught up with American cyclocross racer and physical therapist Kari Studley who, at the time of the interview, was 33 weeks pregnant and still pedaling, albeit significantly slower than her usual pace.
An avid racer, Studley has been racing bikes at the elite and professional level since 2004. She’s a masters world cyclocross champion, three-time US national cyclocross champion, a single speed cyclocross world champion and six- time Washington State cyclocross champion. She also holds a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and is a certified yoga instructor.
Slowing down, certainly, wasn’t an easy thing for her to do.
“I’m ridiculously slow. I think I set a new record of how slow I could ride the hill up to my house!” she said. “But just happy to be riding.”
For her, being pregnant has been “quite the experience” with lessons she’s eager to share with patients and other bike-pedaling women.
First things first: talk to your doctor
“Exercise during pregnancy is based on the individual and pregnancy course, so definitely talk to your doctor,” said Studley.”But yes, cycling is one of the better exercises to do.”
Stick with what you know or stay stationary
“If you’re new to cycling, stay stationary,” recommended Studley. “Especially in your second and third trimester. You’re carrying 15-20 extra pounds mostly on the front. You’re imbalanced and a greater fall risk because of that so be aware.”
For any exercise, it’s best to stick with what you were comfortable doing pre-pregnancy. For bicycling especially, it’s best to stick to low-traffic neighborhood streets or multi-use trails or easy dirt trails.
For Studley, continued cycling paired with other exercises such as walking and yoga, has meant she’s able to maintain some flexibility and strength.
“I have also found that cycling is a nice stretch to round out my back. I have had no back pain thanks to cycling,” Studley said. “Plus, as walking, especially up stairs, gets exponentially harder and more uncomfortable, I’m glad cycling allows me to get in some cardio and keep moving.”
Manage your expectations
“You have to accept that you have absolutely no control of your body,” said Studley. “Adjust your expectations and do what you can.”
This is a lesson that came early on for Studley.
“During my first trimester I was so exhausted. I had no endurance and felt like crap. Half an hour (of cycling) was a lot for me,” she said, “And that makes sense because your body is going through so many changes. By the second trimester I felt a lot better.”
“But by then I had no more oomf on the hills. So I’m loving the [flat multi-use trails] right now,” she said.
Adjust your bike position
As the baby grows, so does your belly. You start getting pressure on your bladder and your balance shifts. As your body changes, so should your bike.
“Bending forward becomes increasingly difficult so you have to adjust your bike position,” said Studley. “Get a higher stem and get yourself in an overall more comfortable and upright position.”
Studley said that she switched to riding her mountain bike around because having full-suspension was most comfortable for her.
“By the third trimester, I was riding in a full-on cruiser position,” she said. “You’re getting big and you really start noticing the weight.”
Normally a shorts wearer, Studley said she’s taken to wearing bib shorts which don’t typically have a waist band.
Listen to your body!
“You have to listen to your body,” said Studley. “I can feel that my body is constantly changing, and there are days I don’t even want to come near a saddle. Your perceived rate of exertion is the best indicator of what your body can and can’t do.”
Still an athlete, Studley said her approach to pregnancy isn’t unlike training.
“I’m exercising, getting in some cardio and focusing on strength. Also, I’m eating like I’m training – nourishing my body the best I can,” she said, emphasizing healthy foods and plenty of water…and cake.
“I’ve never been a cake person and now cake sounds so good!” she said.
Conclusion: no need to hang up the bike for nine months
All in all, bicycling is a great, low-impact way to keep moving during your pregnancy. Just take a step back, be safe and let your body be your guide.
“Be open, creative and listen to your body!” Studley said.
This content was edited and re-purposed for Ella by the author who also contributes to Cascade Bicycle Club.