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Guest Post: Fitness Policing and Pregnancy – Please Don’t Tell Me What is “Too Hardcore”

“Training to do Pull ups?! You shouldn’t do that – you’re pregnant!”

“That sounds tough! Maybe you should tone it down a bit?”

Well-meaning comments, yet so irritating. The worst part is they almost never come from “fitness folk” – i.e. fellow exercisers, athletes, or sports/medical professionals. It’s mostly from people who have seen one too many dramas where pregnant women are on the couch eating nothing but Doritos and doing virtually nothing. Sigh.

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Hi all. I’m Jenna. I’m 27, and 23 weeks pregnant with my first child. I have a master’s in history and was in the USMC Reserve for 6 years. You could say I’ve got a pinch of experience with nutrition, exercise, and knowing how to look stuff up. Along with years of the emotional baggage typical for someone who grew up overweight, I have learned what not to do and I know what works for me.

You’d think that people who know my back story will trust that I can make informed decisions regarding fitness during my pregnancy. Further, you’d certainly HOPE that a random stranger would keep their opinions to themselves, but nope! Pregnant women are a sounding board for unsolicited advice – especially regarding how we take care of ourselves.

When it comes to the idiotic comments pregnant women get, I have encountered absurd amounts of concern-trolling; it varies, but it’s primarily about me potentially “overdoing it” since I do something more than walking around the block for 20 minutes a day. Not everybody has this experience, thankfully, but it’s happened to me enough times to write about it!

Strength Training Is Not Too Hardcore For Me

I go about pregnancy fitness slightly different; specifically, I focus on strength training. I don’t do Crossfit, and due to fabulous injuries resulting in permanent joint problems from the Marines, I don’t run or do any kinds of high-impact cardio.

I work out twice a week, and I do a form of the “SuperSlow” method. My exercises consist of chin-up negatives, bodyweight squats, push-ups, bodyweight rows, side leg-raises and the like. On my workout and off days, I walk or go hiking for at least 45 minutes in order to incorporate some low-intensity cardiovascular exercise to aid muscle recovery. My personal trainer, Steve Maxwell, is an established professional in the field. We communicate only through email (never met him in person yet!) and I send him training logs where I track my weight, resting heart rate, energy levels, sleep, stress levels, and more.

Believe it or not, this *is* my relaxed face

Agency

Steve has trained many pregnant women in his extensive career (almost forty years – he’s 61!), so he knows what’s safe and what isn’t, and he understands that “each person is unique with unique issues.” Above all, he encourages and trusts me to pay attention to what my body is telling me. For instance, *I* decided when to stop doing sit-ups, and I simply told him. He adjusted my workout accordingly – no lectures, no fuss. He knows that I know what to look out for. The simple act of being treated like an adult and allowed agency over my physical fitness, instead of barraged with messages of “you don’t know what’s good for you” (which is something pregnant women hear regularly) is empowering. Because my thoughts/concerns are acknowledged, I trust Steve’s advice about my physical fitness.

Do Your Research

A pregnant woman can and definitely should research and consult with care providers and fitness professionals to decide what is right for her and her baby without some buttinsky trying to police her decisions. I’ll post some links that I’ve found useful below, but I’ve actually avoided a lot of baby books. Information changes and so it’s important to pay attention to publishing dates, and check the source’s sources. Where are they getting their information from? Some red flags of 10 years ago have been tested and OK’d by now.

Listen to Your Body

When it comes to strength training, it is perfectly reasonable to continue with it throughout pregnancy and beyond. With that said, at certain points I have had to make concessions; I stopped laying on my stomach at 8 weeks and stopped on-my-back exercises at 20 weeks, because I followed my body’s cues. If something doesn’t feel right, I stop. I stopped cycling because I’m afraid of getting hit by a car. This isn’t what everybody does, but it’s what works for me – I’m all about telling people “you do you!”

Why Do People Hassle?

There is a prevalence of individuals thinking they “know better” and using myths (UGGH GREY’S ANATOMY) to argue with pregnant women if they’re doing something this one person considers outside the norm for their idea of pregnancy. It’s akin to the sexist dual narrative that women face; nothing we do is correct. We’re either doing too much or not enough, we’re gaining too much weight or not enough, and so on. Why isn’t my belly huge yet? Am I eating enough fish? But wait, you gotta lay off swordfish and anything with too much mercury! The list goes on. I’m hesitant to dwell on pregnancy in conversation because the topic always inevitably turns into a lecture about “WELL MY SISTER DID THIS AND IT WORKED GREAT SO YOU SHOULD DO IT TOO.”

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What’s reflective of the systemic policing of pregnant women is that these people don’t even realize they overstepped a boundary. Perhaps this is due to a societal green-light to ask personal questions of pregnant women. These conversations, to me, present views about pregnant women on a grander scale. A friend of mine made an observation on twitter that is so true: “Pregnant bodies are public bodies.” We’re painted as hormonal, waddling whiners who are constantly crying or raging after an ice cream cone. Yes, hormones are a-raging during pregnancy, but I have not lost my senses.

To get to the heart of it, I ask them what they know about pregnancy fitness and what they’ve read up on. I try to use it as a means to create a positive discussion with the individual about what messages are being sent in society about pregnancy and pregnant women.

I’ve also found that equipping myself with sarcastic retorts helps too: “Oh my gosh, thank you, I had no idea I was pregnant!” is a staple, and usually only reserved for someone who’s gone too far. I usually say something like “Thank you for your concern, but I know what I’m doing.” You’d be surprised how many times people just pause and either get defensive, or embarrassed and apologize.

Infuriating, yet so terribly common. What say you, readers? Have you experienced this? What is it about pregnant women that destroys normal boundaries with friends and strangers alike?

Pregnancy Websites I Consult and Interesting Reads:

http://www.babycenter.com/

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-and-baby-care.aspx#close

http://www.thebump.com/

http://vitals.lifehacker.com/the-truth-about-exercising-while-pregnant-its-okay-to-1682602976

http://maxwellsc.com/articles.cfm

 

Jenna Lång is a historian and serial expat who blogs about her research and adventures abroad at The Expat Historian. This blog post is not meant to replace the advice of any healthcare or fitness professional and only reflects the views and experiences of the author.

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