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Top-tips for running during pregnancy
Top-tips for running during pregnancy

Expecting a baby and unsure how to adapt your running? Here are our top-tips!

Ailish avatar
Written by Ailish
Updated over a week ago

The contents of our support articles, such as text, videos, images, are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Check with a women’s health/ pelvic physiotherapist or doctor in addition to using our support articles and before making any medical decisions.
The current evidence-based recommendation is that research tells us that you can maintain your fitness levels during pregnancy through running as long as you feel comfortable and under the watch of your maternity team.

Congratulations, you’re pregnant! So what does that mean for your running? Well the research tells us that you can maintain your fitness levels as long as you feel comfortable doing so, under the watchful eye of your maternity team. Naturally you’ll have days where you just don’t feel up to going for a run, and that’s fine, don't force it. You will likely start to get slower as the weeks go on, and this is also fine. We've teamed up with Ailish, our female health physio to help give you all the info you need before having your baby, and then what to do next with our Postnatal guide to look forward to too!

Here at Runna, we’re hoping to give you some advice on what to expect with running while pregnant and what you can continue doing. All information in this guide has been provided by the coaching team at Runna, including Ailish who is a physiotherapist, running enthusiast and Mum of two toddlers (and another one on the way!).

Ailish's background

Ailish is a senior MSK physiotherapist, and mother of two (with another on the way!), she has over 15 years experience and a special interest in all things running related. Having been through the experience twice now, she understands both the struggle and joy of getting back to what you love doing post-natal. Ailish is here to help guide you through that journey too.

Ailish completed her BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy at University College Dublin in 2006. She has since worked in Ireland and Australia and has been based back in the UK since 2012. Running has always been a big part of AIlish’s life and she knew it was important to not let that go after having kids.

Benefits of running during pregnancy

  • Reduce back pain

  • Ease constipation

  • May decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean birth

  • Promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy

  • Improve your overall fitness and strengthen your heart and blood vessels

  • Increase the production of endorphins (Helping you to feel good!)

First trimester (0-12 weeks)

This can vary hugely. Some women sail through their first 12 weeks, managing to maintain their pre-pregnancy running fitness, whilst others are left horizontal on the sofa only getting up to go and hug the toilet bowl. It’s impossible to predict which way you’ll go, but the main message is, if you feel well and spritely enough to run, do, and if you don’t, don’t.

If you are continuing to run and have any queries or concerns about adverse symptoms you may be experiencing, reach out to your maternity team to ask for advice and don't push through anything that doesn't feel quite right.

Common symptoms during first trimester includes:

  • Tender swollen breasts (might be time to buy a new adjustable sports bra)

  • Nausea, with or without vomiting (this may scupper your run plans, or you may work out that a particular time of the day works better for you to combat this feeling)

  • Increased urination (might be worth going for that extra pee just before you head out the door)

  • Fatigue (don’t worry about this, this is normal so don’t be afraid to reduce your speed to a comfortable pace and/or reduce your distances)

  • Constipation (this can lead to a stitch like feeling when running. Make sure you eat plenty of fibre and drink plenty of water throughout pregnancy to help combat this)

You may have heard about the infamous pregnancy hormone relaxin by now. It starts to enter the body at around week 6 and peaks around week 12. Its purpose is to prep the ligaments in the pelvis for birth. Being aware of it is important as it can sometimes be a guide as to what’s enough and what’s too much.

Around your pelvis, you may notice some discomfort at the front (your pubic bone) during or after a run, and the same at the back (your sacroiliac joints) due to the increased laxity in the ligaments in these areas. Slowing down your pace, having walking breaks or decreasing the time spent running altogether can keep this at bay. If not, seek help from a women’s health physio for more personalised advice.

The increase in laxity of ligaments in the body can also resurface old injuries so just keep this in mind as you go along and adjust your running accordingly. The emphasis on rest, hydration (especially if running on a hot day), and nutrition is still of upmost importance when running during pregnancy so make sure you keep these things in mind too.

5 exercises for the first trimester

The following exercises can help prep the pelvis for running during pregnancy

  1. Clam

  2. Shoulder Bridge

  3. Crab walking

  4. Squat into calf raise

  5. Dead lift (+/- row)

Second trimester (weeks 13-26)

Hopefully any intense fatigue and nausea start to lift around now and you begin to feel a bit more human again. You may have rested throughout your first trimester as you didn’t feel up to running so if you’re feeling better now and ready to try again, just make sure you ease into it slowly. Start off with a 10-15min jog and add a walking break every 2-3minutes.

The main physical change in this trimester that will affect running, alongside the possible continued increase in breast size, is the appearance of a bump as the baby moves from down within the pelvis up into your abdomen!! This can sometimes make you feel like you’re running with an overly arched back, feeling pulled forwards by the ever expanding bump. Practising exercises outside of running with your lower back in its neutral position can help prevent this happening as you learn how to control the weight of the bump. Stretching the lower back after a run can help prevent you starting to feel uncomfortable here too.

Again, don’t be afraid to slow down on your runs and just make them enjoyable. We appreciate this may be hard to come to terms with, but your body is busy growing a human, so times and paces aren't its priority. Yours and the baby’s health are the most important thing so not pushing yourself too much is key.

If you haven’t started doing them already, now is a good time to think about pelvic floor muscle exercises. They have a big job to do if you keep running during pregnancy. They hold the bladder, bowel and uterus in situ within your abdomen. As the baby gets bigger and you gain weight, their job gets harder so it is important to know they’re strong enough to cope and so you can avoid symptoms like urinary leaking, or a heavy/dragging feeling in the vagina when running. The best position for runners to do them is in standing as you’ll be upright when running. Think of being in a crowded room and needing to ‘hold wind in’. There are two approaches, both of which are important. Try to do both of these a couple of times a day!

  • 10 x short, strong contractions, relaxing fully in between reps

  • 10 x 10 second holds, again relaxing fully between reps (you can work up to this if too hard initially, start at 2-3 seconds and add one a second every other day)

Exercises for the second trimester focusing on your glutes and your lower back position

  1. Side leg lift

  2. Squat with band around knees, into calf raise (pelvic tilts in standing first to show where Lx/pelvic neutral is)

  3. Lateral lunge with knee lift

  4. Superman

  5. Shell stretch - knees wide to accommodate the bump

Running tips during your second trimester

  • Wear a supportive sports bra and maybe some loose fitting clothing to make sure you’re comfortable and don’t overheat

  • There will be more weight going through your feet over the coming weeks so make sure you’re wearing comfortable runnings shoes that give you enough support

  • The growing bump will change your centre of gravity so choose nice, even terrain to run on so you’re not at risk of feeling wobbly and falling

  • You may start to see some skin pigmentation on the face thanks to hormonal changes during pregnancy so make sure to wear SPF and a cap when out running

  • Continue to listen to your body. Some days may be better than others and it’s never a case of push through any discomfort. Never be afraid to stop and walk to give yourself a breather.

  • As your weight increases, certain muscles will have to work harder when running. Two main ones are your glutes and calves so be sure to stretch them after each run.

  • The ‘talk test’. This is a nice way of gauging if you’re overdoing it or not. Would you be able to carry out a conversation while running? If no, slow down and go easy.

Third trimester (27 weeks until the baby arrives)

If you still feel like running at this point, great. If you don’t, there’s no shame in that. Respect the body and the bump and do what is best for you. For those who don’t feel like it anymore, don’t fret, you can still go for a swim or cycle on an exercise bike (anything non-impact is great). In fact, it’s not a bad habit to get into as you’ll be able to do these (all going well) sooner than running in your post natal journey back to exercise.

Back to the runners, now is really time to forget any sort of pacing, just head out and run to feel. Don’t forget the ‘talk test’ rule and give yourself plenty of walk breaks if needed. Running through pain is not ok. It is totally fine to throw the towel in at any point in the last trimester and stick to walking/swimming/cycling if you feel up to it.

Like in the second trimester, the biggest physical thing that will affect your running is the ever growing bump and the increasing weight going down through the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles.

  • Keep in mind the position of your lower back when running. You may feel you can’t maintain the neutral running position for long stretches now, so stop and have walking breaks and re-set. These can be as and when you feel like you need them.

  • Keep up your pelvic floor exercises and don’t be afraid to stop in a cafe on your running route to use the bathroom.

  • Keep up the glute exercises and lower back and calf stretches to try and keep you as comfortable as possible as the weeks go by.

As with any of the trimesters, if you’re feeling any of the symptoms below, take a break from running and speak to your maternity team to get their advice on what’s best for you.

  • Episodes of feeling short of breath or any difficulty breathing

  • Dizziness or feeling faint

  • Chest pain

  • Feelings of your heart racing

  • Heart palpitations

  • Vaginal bleeding or stomach pain

  • Uterine contractions

  • Reduced baby movements

Exercises to help with running in the third trimester

  1. Side leg lift

  2. Wide leg squat, with pulses

  3. Waiters bow

  4. Arm openings

  5. Cat/cow

  6. Shell stretch

Well done if you’ve managed to run at all during pregnancy. We know that it’s something you love to do and makes you you. Who cares if you slowed down massively, became a run/walker, switched to cycling or swimming or just decided in fact, walking is the best exercise for you. The thing of upmost importance here is yours and your baby’s health and your happiness. All the best with your pregnancy and we’ll hopefully see you on the other side! Be sure to check out our post-natal running plan here.

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