The thought of forcing yourself to move at a moderate slog from point A to point B “just … because” elicits chills of nausea and drums up the same fear associated with being trapped in tight spaces.
It’s OK. There is hope.
While some of us relish in the thought of running into the woods for virtually no reason at all, there are plent of sports perfect for those who don’t. More good news: The vast majority of these can be optimally catered for the pregnant mom-to-be.
(I know, the pregnant part came a bit out of nowhere. But in case you haven’t been following that’s what this column is about.)
Sure, there’s a good case to be made for running: it’s cheap, it’s simple and it can be done anywhere at nearly any time.
But, as professionals have told me during this pregnancy and my first, running is not always the best exercise for cultivating the muscles needed for childbirth. Running breeds a type of muscle fiber that is made up of both fast and slow twitch characteristics. A distance runner, for instance, will have more slow twitch fibers than a sprinter, who will have the fast twitch variety. Ultimately, both types are muscle, and if not stretched properly before and after exercise, these can get tight and bulky. And as you may have guessed, having tight and bulky body muscle may not serve a mother well during labor — a process reliant on relaxing, opening and expanding the core of the body. In short, it’s just more work.
Instead, doctors and midwives recommend engaging in activities that naturally stretch and strengthen the body. Then, when “it’s time,” the body is toned and ready to comply with what Mother Nature has in store. In fact, the entire process of sports training centers on the idea of muscle memory. Over time, an athlete or exercise enthusiast is essentially guiding their body, through repetition, to complete a task with increasing efficiency. This same technique can and should be used during pregnancy to begin training for childbirth. A marathoner would never dream of stepping up to the starting line without training. Similarly, a woman readying for labor (even if it is 40 weeks away) should prepare herself for the athletic feat she will absolutely have to face. And here’s why: The average time it takes for a U.S. woman to run a marathon (26.2 miles) is roughly 5 hours, 6 minutes, 8 seconds, according to Marathonguide.com. For a 130-pound person, this adds up to around 2,500 burned over the course of the race. Labor and childbirth, especially for first-time moms, can vary greatly but will often last between eight to 14 hours. We can only speculate about the number of calories burned during labor because not all women will labor the same way. Some prefer to walk while others prefer to relax in warm water. However, energy exertion is no doubt outrageous and will ultimately depend on how long a woman stays in the pushing phase of the labor, which is arguably one of the most taxing stages. However, for the purposes of this humble column, let’s say the same 130-pound woman (I know, she probably wouldn’t weigh 130 pounds anymore) who ran the marathon went through a 12-hour labor. Over the course of those hours she would burn upwards of 4,500 calories.
I think I’d want to be ready for that type of physical exertion, wouldn’t you?
OK, so what types of exercises will put pregnant moms in tip-top shape?
Perhaps the best and most effective exercise is prenatal yoga. This type of yoga centers around the discipline’s basic principles of stretching while strengthening through breath and movement but focuses on movements that are catered to a woman’s growing belly and baby. Moms who have enrolled in local prenatal classes report they have better control over their breath during labor and have an easier time focusing their energy during painful contractions.
Many moms, including my own, report that swimming is also high on the list as a desirable exercise for expecting women. The water bolsters the body and creates a feeling of weightlessness — a welcome feeling during pregnancy. The workout, like prenatal yoga, not only incorporates the entire body, but it also trains the breath. Plus, it’s a good way to shed excess water weight. Many moms report a reduction in swelling after a few laps in the pool.
Other great exercises include walking, hiking, light weight training, aerobics and dance.
Perhaps the keystone for any woman dedicated to training for childbirth — life’s ultimate marathon — is stretching. I will admit, I’m a horrible offender. In my rush the squeeze in precious running minutes, I often find myself hurrying from the trailhead to the store for groceries, to the post office or to pick up my son before the 4:30 p.m. downtown rush hour hits. But the best time to stretch is while muscles are warm and pliable — directly after a warm-up or warm-down. Each stretch should be pushed only to the point of a comfortable pose and held for at least a minute. Make sure to balance stretches on each side of the body and focus on all parts — the legs, core and upper body. (Yes, even runners need to stretch the upper body!)
This week, my trail of choice is the Treadwell Ditch trail on Douglas Island. Last year, the section from Blueberry Hill south toward Douglas got some much-needed attention. A new bridge was installed, portions of the trail were retooled and this year Trail Mix Inc. plans to continue the improvements. The terrain on the trail is relatively flat and for 16 miles follows the contours of an old water ditch constructed to shuttle water from the Fish Creek drainage to the Treadwell Mines south of Douglas. The mine was shut down in 1917 after a cave-in left the tunnels flooded with seawater. But relics of this time remain on the single track trail — timbers still line the now-decrepit ditch, rusted pipes poke out of the hillside periodically, and eerie tunnels can be found in unlikely places. There are roots to look out for, a few small creeks to cross, but all in all it’s one of the few flat trails around Juneau. It’s also one that can be accessed from a variety of points, so a user doesn’t have to commit to the full length of the trail. Trailheads begin at Eaglecrest, Blueberry Hill, Crow Hill and at Sandy Beach. Another trail worth exploring on Douglas is the Treadwell Historic Trail that winds south from the ball fields at Sandy Beach. This is a great place to go with family as there’s a playground nearby for youngsters and benches to rest on for snack.
- This week’s mileage: 22.2 miles.
- Runs: 5.
- Pregnancy stage: 22 weeks.
- Trail of choice: Treadwell and Treadwell Historic trails (Length: varies).
• Remember, everyone is different. Make sure to check with your doctor or midwife before beginning an exercise program.