Women Bike: Riding while pregnant

Many of us here at Cascade have adopted the bike-everyday-lifestyle. Rain, heavy groceries, meetings–nothing deters us. Not even pregnancy. 
Our Outreach Director pedaled through most of her pregnancy and one former employee would have probably pedaled herself to the hospital if it hadn’t been pouring rain that day!

Bicycling, when done carefully, is actually a great way to stay fit, flexible and healthy throughout your pregnancy and it can even ease your back pain.

We recently caught up with local cyclocross star 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.

“I think I set a new record of how slow I could ride the hill up to my house!” Studley joked. “But I’m just glad I’m still able to ride.”

An avid cyclist, Studley has been racing bikes at the elite and professional level since 2004. She’s a Masters World Cyclocross Champion, three-time 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. For her, being pregnant has been an educational experience that’s she’s eager to share with 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 cycling is one of the better exercises to do.”

Benefits

New guidelines for exercise in pregnancy published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 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 cross-country skiing–is encouraged.

Remaining active during pregnancy has shown to help with weight control, maintenance of flexibility even help your mood, posture and sleep.

“The biggest benefits of cycling throughout your pregnancy is that it’s a good way to keep some flexibility and strength,” said Studley. “I have also found it to be a nice stretch to round out my back and I have had no back pain thanks to cycling.”

Studley said she likes to mix it up and alternates between walking, swimming, yoga and cycling.

“As walking, especially up stairs, gets exponentially harder, I’m glad cycling allows me to get in some cardio and keep moving,” she said.

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 Burke-Gilman right now."

Adjust your bike position

As the baby grows, so does your belly and you start getting the pressure on your bladder.

“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 added that she switched to riding her mountain bike around because having full-suspension was most comfortable.

“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.”

Staying stationary

“If you’re new to cycling, stay stationary,” recommended Studley. “You’re carrying 15-20 extra pounds mostly on the front. You’re imbalanced and are 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.

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 my 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.

Though she did admit to having developed an odd craving for cake, which she had never particularly liked pre-pregnancy.

 

All in all, bicycling is a great, low-impact way to keep moving during your pregnancy. Just take a step back and let your body be your guide.

“Be open, creative and listen to your body!” Studley said. Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. I’m happy to help!

 

Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. I’m happy to help! Please continue to email me your questions at amrook@cascade.org and I’ll answer them anonymously.

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The views expressed by columnist(s) are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cascade.