Family health

How do you stay motivated to work out in your last trimester?

Kristin is 31-weeks pregnant and plans to work out until the bitter end, despite the awkwardness

By Kristin Auger
How do you stay motivated to work out in your last trimester? Credit: Ernst Vikne

I’m sitting on a rower at our gym, music pulsing around me in thuds. Five incredibly fit men stagger in at various intervals while I pull methodically. Some  of them are shirtless, and all are sweating and heaving as they jump on boxes and throw heavy balls up toward the ceiling.
I think about the scene for a second, about my own shirt wrapped tightly around my crazily shaped third trimester body and I smile a bit to myself. I cheer on the men, as I count my strokes. I’m large and in charge in the corner of the room, pulling away with grim determination.
My belly is so robust now, in my 31st week, that I need to leapfrog my legs wide to accommodate the handle of the rower for each stroke. I am sure it looks a bit absurd. I try to recall if I’ve ever witnessed a very pregnant woman working out at a gym. I can’t remember. It must look pretty weird.
Fellow gym members eye me a bit dubiously as I squat, jump, and conduct awkward side-facing burpees.  There are occasional looks of wariness, an occasional shrapnel of fear, an awful lot of encouragement.
“When do you think you’ll stop doing this?” I’m asked frequently.
My answer is to shrug. “Right to the bitter end,” I say. And I mean it.
I admit it’s very hard to stay motivated to exercise frequently in the third trimester. My body feels awkward, lumbering, and the bump is big enough to make a lot of easy movements extremely challenging. Shortness of breath is common and frustrating, and there’s no doubt about it: watching myself get slower and larger has been discouraging, at times. 
But I kept a blog when I was pregnant with Nolan almost seven years ago. And so I know, at this time in my last pregnancy, I’d gained over 50 pounds. I know that I was having problems sleeping, and that swollen ankles and sore joints were rendering me miserable. I also know that I was wallowing in sadness and angst, and that I soothed my self-doubt with ice cream and nachos. No wonder I was overwhelmed when my baby was born. Exhaustion is self-perpetuating.

This pregnancy should have been harder. I am quite a bit older – in my mid thirties rather than late twenties, and by all accounts, pregnancy gets harder as you get older.

But this time around, I have only gained 20 pounds — on the low end of healthy and normal. If I gain a pound a week for the rest of this pregnancy, I’ll have gained 28 pounds total, which is so much more healthy than the 70+ I gained with Nolan.

My skin is better than it has been in 10 years. In my third trimester, I have no swelling anywhere and I can actually still fit into a few pairs of my pre-pregnancy low-rise jeans. My face and arms haven’t puffed out like they did last time, and getting to sleep is never a problem. I feel happier. I feel stronger. I feel confident that I will bounce right back and blend right in with those shirtless men staggering into the gym, ripping off fast box jumps and rapidfire wall balls. 

I have to continually remind myself to just keep going: that I am doing my body a favour and that recovery will come much more quickly postpartum if I can stagger through these last few weeks. Here’s a few tips that have helped making working out enjoyable in these last weeks of pregnancy:
1)   Working out with my son

If you have kids within the 5–12 age, bring them with you to the gym. They take unfettered, pure joy in physical movement, and skipping, running, rowing and doing pushups with Nolan has been a fun way to keep my natural desire to push myself in check. He’s not fast, but he sure enjoys working out with me, and his enthusiasm perks and motivates me. We’re working on the world record for two-person skipping.
2)   Adding new music to my iPod
I’ve been doing a lot of long rows lately, as it’s low impact and easily controlled. Adding a few new songs to my iPod has made all the difference. I can plug in, tune out, and feel golden afterward. New on my list:  Oklahoma Town (Josh Gabriel + Winter  Kills), Crossfire (Brendan Flowers)  Fire (Sunloverz)  The Sound of Sunshine (Michael Franti and Spearhead) , and Invisible (Winter Gloves)
3)   Sticking to a pre-determined pace
Since my body is in such a different place than it was seven months ago, I find it useful to define my goals prior to starting my workout. I decide if I will do 100 double unders, for example, or keep my pace at two minutes or above on the rower. Otherwise, if left to my own devices, I’ll want to go too fast, which burns me out quickly and discourages me. Slow, steady, and long is key at this point.
4)   Continuing to say no to processed foods, sugar and junk food
Though indulging in the occasional English muffin or bagel, I’m still sticking mostly to a fruit, nut, veggie, seafood, and lean, organic meat diet. I think this has been instrumental in keeping my weight gain under control and in helping me to sleep and keep sharp mentally. 
5)   Documenting all my workouts
My husband has developed an online Crossfit/Rowing/Running online system called FlexFWD, which I’ve used to document my daily workouts. It is motivating to see what I’ve done thus far in my pregnancy, and I can’t wait to start beating all my records once I’ve had the baby in February. If you’re not into tracking online, a notebook works great, but either way, set benchmarks for yourself. Run 400 meters and then try it again in a few months. See how long it takes you to do 200 skips, and then measure again in weeks. Improvement is a hugely motivating force.
Did you work out at all in your last trimester of pregnancy?  What motivated you to keep going despite all the awkwardness?

Photo by Ernst Vikne via Flickr

This article was originally published on Dec 21, 2011

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