I usually have the energy of three people, but I have to admit, 38 weeks into my pregnancy, I was feeling pretty tired. It was an overcast Tuesday morning when I dragged myself out of bed, forcing myself through my usual wake-up ritual of fresh pineapple, mangos, papayas, strawberries and other various fruits from the tropics. I then headed for the bathroom, took care of business there, finishing up with a large bowl of whole-grain breakfast cereal covered in soy milk.
I got to the gym about 8:30, started stretching by 8:45, kickboxed until 10:00, then all but crawled over to the free-weights area for a 90 minute chest, shoulder and tri routine. By 11:30, I was so exhausted, I could barely stand up. People looked at me like I was crazy, but a pregnant die hard like me has got to do what she’s got to do. Besides, to me, pregnancy is a natural event, not a medical emergency.
After training, I took a shower and went home, ate a protein lunch, finished some business on my computer, went to my chiropractor, ran some errands, then wrapped things up by treating myself to a long overdue facial — just another day in the life of Spice Williams-Crosby until I got home and my water broke at approximately 8:00 p.m., and the following morning, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Luke Gregory Crosby.
The point I’m trying to make is that provided you’ve checked with your doctor or midwife, and all looks normal, you don’t have to live like a couch potato just because you’re pregnant. Sure, it can be tough during the last trimester, and sure, you have to modify your lifestyle and workouts the further along you get, but the bottom line is, it’s okay to stay busy and keep training. In fact, you’ll be doing yourself and the baby a favor.
I’ve recently been asked a number of questions I’d like to share with you from both men and women who were curious how a 42 year-old vegetarian can work out the way I do, eat the way I eat, and still stay in shape and have a healthy, happy baby.
Q: “How did your doctor feel about you working out when you were pregnant?”
A: Well, first of all, I really don’t have a doctor. When I have medical problems I can’t solve myself, I seek out appropriate help, but generally speaking, that rarely happens. As far as my pregnancy goes, I used a lay midwife (Tonya Brooks) and my birth took place in a birthing center without drugs. Tonya felt, after I reached 8 months, as long as I didn’t push my workouts to the extreme, and agreed to keep my cardiovascular training down to a bare minimum, all would be fine. And it was. The key for me was to use my intuition. If it felt okay, I did it. If it didn’t, I backed off.
Q: “Being a Vegetarian, weren’t you afraid of not getting enough protien for the baby?”
A: I’ve been what the nutritional world refers to as a Vegan (I abstain from eating all animal and dairy products) for over 15 years. When I had to get physically big for a New Line Cinema movie I did called “Stranded,” I was squatting 315 lbs. and bench pressing 225 lbs. I was never stronger and was able to maintain my size on a complete vegetarian diet. If you know what you’re doing through proper food-combining, protein complimenting, and amino acid supplementation, the human body is perfectly capable of getting more than enough protien to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Q: “Weren’t you worried about training too hard, having a baby and being over 40?”
A: Not at all. What’s there to be worried about? Yes, you have to be practical in life and not over do it, but at the same time, you don’t have to live your life in constant fear. You are what you believe. It’s that simple. And I happen to believe I’m capable of more than most people think I am. In fact, I had to be careful not to hurt the teenage boys that would wander into the gym from time to time, for they had nowhere near the discipline or muscle maturity that I’ve been able to build up over the past 15 years. Like fine wine, the longer muscle matures, the hardier it becomes. And being over 40 and pregnant is very deceiving to a 19 year-old. I enjoyed frying their little butts to no end!
Q: “Were there any exercises you couldn’t do during your pregnancy?”
A: I ran 3 miles every morning for the first 12 weeks, but intuitively backed off to a brisk walk during my 2nd and 3rd trimesters. As I said earlier, follow your heart. Other women I know have continued to run up until their 8th month. Everybody’s different, and it obviously felt ok to them.
I also stopped squatting when I began feeling my belly hitting my quadriceps. I felt some discomfort, so I changed to reverse squats, lying on my back and pushing up, eliminating or altering any exercise that compromised my uterus.
I even modified my martial arts training. There was no sparring below the shoulders, no falls, and no take downs. Kicks went from working on speed and form to working on form and stretch. Spinning kicks and hooks began very slow and focused on grace and balance. Boxing was great cardiovascular, and only became a problem from my waist down when I wanted to throw my hip into a right cross or really twist on a hook. Also, my belly would get in the way on both upper cuts and when I had to duck oncoming punches. All I can say is thank God my training partners were my friends!
Q: “Were you worried the baby fetus would be bothered by all the noise in the gym?
A: Not really. I always thought Luke would be the quintessential athlete anyway, so if it did nothing else, the noise at least introduced him to the world of bodybuilding, kickboxing and racquetball. Besides, most of the sounds and energy emanating from my gym are pretty positive. The management doesn’t play dissonant heavy metal music, and the staff and members work real hard to do the right thing and help each other as much as possible.
Q: “Did you train your abs when you were pregnant?”
A: No. I pretty much backed off, confident that all the lifting of my legs in martial arts, not to mention the lifting of free weights in the gym, put enough resistance on my abdominal muscles to keep them firm and toned. The thing to remember is that the further along women get in their pregnancy, the more their bodies secrete the female hormone “relaxin” into their muscles. This loosens up the pelvic area and prepares the body for delivery, making it harder and harder for women to lift heavy weight and have control over their kicks.
Q: “Did exercise cause your body temperature to go up and hurt the baby?”
A: Not as long as I kept my body temperature below 102 degrees, which is why I was real careful to cut back on my cardiovascular activity. Working up too much of a sweat, especially during the summer months, can cause dehydration and rob a “mommy-to-be” real fast of her much needed electrolytes and potassium.
Getting your heart rate up too high for too long will also divert the blood to the muscle and skin, and away from other organs where it’s needed the most during pregnancy, such as the uterus, liver and kidneys. Obviously, this is not a good thing when you’re expecting, so from day one, I began reducing my aerobic activity little by little until it was down by 70 to 80%, making sure my pulse never went above 150 beats per minute.
Q: “What kind of exercise is best for a pregnant athlete?”
A: Well, for the most part, they should pretty much stick to the same exercises they did before getting pregnant. Like I said earlier, the further along you get, the more you’ll need to cut back your intensity, but basically try and stick to a regime you’re already familiar with. Starting an entirely new program is treading on unexplored territory, with no reference point to draw from. I mean, think about it. If you’ve never done a particular exercise before, how would you know if you were actually backing off or not?
Q: “How much water should I drink?”
A: As much and as often as you can cram it into your body. I can’t stress how important it is for a pregnant woman to drink water. It holds everything together. More than two thirds of your body weight is water, and besides being the essential constituent of all your cells, it helps maintain normal body temperature, carries waste material out of the large intestine, and aids in the production of amniotic fluid.
Q: “Is it ok to wear tight clothing when I exercise?”
A: Although I was buying extra large sizes towards the end, I was wearing G-strings and spandex all the way up until the day I delievered. As long as your clothes are not overly binding and cutting into your body, you should be ok. In fact, when your body produces more blood and water, and your bones begin pulling apart, it actually feels good to be supported by your clothes. You really don’t have to worry about hurting the baby with snug outfits since he or she is in their own protective sack — sort of like an egg floating in a balloon of water. The pressure is equalized and the egg is safe.
In closing, I’d like to reiterate how important it is for a pregnant woman to exercise. If you train intelligently, and keep yourself in the best shape possible, you will, in my opinion, reduce your chances of having a C-section due to a lack of strength and endurance during a marathon labor.