by Cheryl Madliger
In spring 2016, Lori Caruso had been enjoying her bike rides more than ever. With two sons younger than four, both with spring birthdays, she was riding a little lighter this past year than when she was riding for two. Throughout her pregnancies, Caruso, a high school teacher and spin instructor from Sarnia, Ont., was riding as long as two and a half hours on her road bike. And she was enjoying herself.
“Cycling during pregnancy, although a little awkward, was actually my most enjoyable activity,” Lori said, comparing it to her other workouts during pregnancy, including resistance training, bootcamps, running and lifting weights. “Cycling was the most comfortable overall, and running was the most uncomfortable.”
While Caruso is one of those Energizer bunnies who seems able to keep going and going, most women slow down a bit during pregnancy. If you want to stay active during your pregnancy, here are some tips to help you keep riding, safely.
Dr. Michelle Mottola, director of the exercise and pregnancy lab at Western University in London, Ont., said that women should always consult with their doctors about the guidelines for exercising while pregnant. “Pregnant women should speak to a physician or midwife regarding exercise and use the physical activity readiness medical examination for pregnancy,” she said of the exam also known as PARmed-X for pregnancy.
Caruso followed her doctor’s advice, which was to stick with activities done before pregnancy and to modify the intensity. “I took my doctor’s advice and kept my heart rate lower than my normal,” she said. The PARmed-X for pregnancy advises a “somewhat hard” rating of perceived exertion is appropriate for most pregnant women.
Balancing on a bicycle can be difficult for any cyclist, let alone one who is dealing with a shifting centre of mass. “A cyclist especially has to watch her balance as her pregnancy progresses, as it will change,” Mottola said.
Caruso said she had to make other changes alongside her changing body. “I moved my handlebars up to a less aggressive position,” she said. “This change allowed me to be more upright, since my growing belly prevented me from leaning too far forward without discomfort.”
Simple changes such as raising your handlebars can make a world of difference, but for those who can’t find a comfortable or stable position on the road, moving to an indoor bike is another option. Inside, it is easier to balance. Also, the trainer is far from hills and wind that might tempt women to push themselves harder than the guidelines suggest. “I still taught spin classes right to the end of my pregnancy,” Caruso said. “My heart rate would go up, but only for a short amount of time spread throughout the class.”
After the pregnancy comes another period in which special consideration must be given to exercise. According to Mottola, how soon a woman can get back on the bike depends on several things, including the type of labour and birth. “If a woman had a vaginal delivery with no complications, she should speak with her physician or midwife before resuming cycling. She may be sore,” she said. “If a woman had a C-section, the wait time to resume cycling may be longer, perhaps 10 weeks depending on the physician’s advice.” Mottola suggests incorporating other forms of activity, such as walking, if a woman can’t get on the bike, but is feeling well and wants to return to activity.
Although cycling while pregnant requires special considerations and can be tough for some women, it is possible – and often worth it. “Even though I felt a lot more winded and weaker than when I was not pregnant, exercising always made me feel great,” Caruso said. “I had more energy and my mood improved significantly after a workout.”