Something strange happened when I became visibly pregnant. No, it wasn’t the increased catcalling, although that was a puzzling surprise. And the swelling limbs were odd, sure, but that’s a pretty common pregnancy symptom. No, what was truly baffling were the moments when people treated me as if I was made of glass and ready to break at any moment. Suddenly people were rushing to open doors and pull out chairs and hold my grocery bags. I was urged not to pick up my son, scolded when I went to the gym for a run, and encouraged to “take it easy.” I didn’t expect any of this, and it felt incredibly contradictory to how I felt: why was everyone acting like I was so weak?
Because here’s the thing: I had never felt stronger in my life! I felt fatigued, of course, and the morning sickness left me feeling drained, both physically and mentally, but I also felt empowered by what my body was doing — growing a human being. I went to the gym throughout my pregnancy, and when that second trimester energy hit (and after consulting my doctor), I looked for ways to feel and grow even stronger as my pregnancy progressed.
Feeling strong in your body can be fleeting when you’re pregnant and at the mercy of stretching muscles and unruly hormones. And since every pregnancy is different, what can help one person grow stronger during those 40 or so weeks might not be possible, or even beneficial, for another. But if you get the green light from your doctor or midwife, the following suggestions can help you lean all the way into your innate strength, which pregnancy only enhances.
1. An at-home prenatal yoga session
I became an instant yoga fan during pregnancy. Not only did the yoga positions and the constant stretching make me feel strong in my body, yoga’s focus on breathing and relaxation became another way for me to practice mindfulness. I actually utilized some yoga breathing techniques in the early stages of labor (and that blessed epidural later on, because there is zero shame in my medicated childbirth game), and relied on many of the mental centering exercises when my postpartum anxiety was at its worst. There are a number of prenatal yoga classes you can take online, YouTube videos you can watch, and live yoga classes you can utilize via Zoom.
2. A SoulCycle or Peloton class
I have walked into more than one SoulCycle class and seen multiple pregnant women clipping in and getting ready to ride. And now that SoulCycle is providing cyclers the option of purchasing an at-home bike (in select areas), you can enjoy the benefits of a class even in the midst of a global pandemic that has shut down most if not all gyms. Peloton is also a tried-and-true option, and, like SoulCycle, provides beginner riders with introductory classes that will meet them where they are.
3. Any one of these strength training exercises
Strength training can be intimidating, but you don’t have to be a seasoned bodybuilder in order to benefit from the use of weights. Even a 3-lb or 5-lb weight can help build your strength and tone your muscles. What To Expect has provided a great list of strength training exercises that are safe for pregnant people, but definitely make sure you discuss these exercises and what is or isn’t safe for you with your doctor or midwife before picking up those weights.
4. Go for a run
Even a simple walk outside or running on a treadmill can help you get stronger, both physically and mentally. If you are a runner, there’s a level of mental tenacity required to stay motivated mile after mile, and that tenacity will absolutely come in handy as your pregnancy ends and the postpartum period begins. Running also builds up your lower body strength, putting stress on both your bones and cartilage before growing them stronger. Again, just check with your doctor and/or midwife to make sure you’re clear to run before you hit the pavement.
5. Utilize resistance bands during your workouts
I have a love-hate relationship with resistance bands. I hate them in the moment, because they definitely kick my workouts up a notch, but I love the way they make me and my body feel when those workouts are over and those evil rubber bands are put away.
For the uninitiated, resistance bands work like this: when you move your hand or legs upward or away from one another, the weight the band puts on your hands or legs increases. You’re able to feel the tension you want in the workout, without having to rely on a bunch of weights. Here’s a list of 10 safe resistance band workouts you can try during your pregnancy, courtesy of Pregnancyexercise.co.
6. Purchase a standing desk & miniature treadmill
If you’re continuing to work during your pregnancy, purchasing a standing desk and utilizing a miniature treadmill can be a great way to get up and get your body moving without cutting into your work day. And because pregnancy can be so damn uncomfortable, just sitting in one spot for an extended period of time can be a literal pain in the ass that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to focus on anything other than how bad your body feels. The New York Times has a list of the best standing desks of 2020, and there are more than a few miniature treadmills available via Amazon.
7. Make an appointment with a mental health care professional
Feeling strong and growing stronger in our bodies during pregnancy is undoubtedly beneficial, but strengthening our minds is just as important. So yes, utilize the mindfulness of a yoga session and soak up those feel-good hormones that come rushing in after a SoulCycle class, but make sure that you’re truly tending to your mental health as well. If you can afford and have access to a therapist or other mental health professional, consider setting an appointment to discuss any lingering anxieties or stressors that could be hindering your pregnancy or causing you to doubt your abilities as a future parent. Because while lifting weights or going for a run can make us strong, there’s strength in reaching out for help, too.