Prior to having her son, Los Angeles-based fitness trainer Ashley Joi was an avid runner. Preparing for and adapting to motherhood armed her with knowledge for every season of her body. She sat down with 21Ninety to share her story of incorporating running through every part of her journey–from the moment she found out she was pregnant, to now running with her child in tow.
Last year, while training for the Chicago Marathon at the end of July, I found out I was pregnant. I wanted to continue training for my next race, the Santa Monica Classic, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to run it because I didn’t know where my energy level would be. By August my partner and I had gone into full baby preparation mode. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it and the last thing on my mind was running or training.
But I did end up running the Santa Monica Classic while 13 weeks pregnant. The race starts right on the beach, the place that brings me joy. Water holds a lot of significance for me. My son’s name even translates to “gift of the sea.” As I was running, I kept thinking about how different of a motivator it was to have a life growing inside of you when you run. I was thankful that on that day, I woke up and had the energy to run the race.
I ran and stayed active throughout the rest of my pregnancy. And the athlete in me really had me thinking that after having my son in March, I would be ready to run the Chicago Marathon in October. While that didn’t happen, I did return to the Santa Monica Classic in September with my son leading the way in his stroller.
I think it’s very important for women of all walks of life to remain or become active during their pregnancy. For me, doing so taught me a lot about honoring the reality of my physical ability and limitations. Here are a few tips that have helped me adapt to these major life changes while nurturing my body through exercise:
Acknowledge Where You Are And Give Yourself Grace
I was committed to continue running as long as my pregnancy stayed low risk and as long as I was able to run comfortably. Because sometimes, even when a pregnancy is low risk, shifts in the way the baby is sitting can make it difficult to exercise. In the end, I was active, but I didn’t have a consistent schedule. I listened to my body and how I was feeling and respected that I was growing an entire human being. It’s such a deep feeling knowing that you’re creating someone who’s going to have their own thoughts and their own goals. My mom, my partner and my friends created a space for me to give myself grace and not feel pressured to be the always-on-the-go athlete that I was before.
After my son was born, I didn’t feel comfortable and aligned to run for about three months. Once my son was five months old, I started getting back into somewhat of a routine. But I still had to find or make the time to fit a run in. My main priority is being a mom and I am at the mercy of my son. His schedule dictates everything. It may sound cliche, but more often than not, I fit those workouts in when he sleeps. Being flexible and open to “when” I can run or workout is important to keep my sanity. That break is so needed. It allows me to get back to the me I was before I was pregnant and had my son.
Don’t Be Afraid To Switch It Up
As I tried to stay active while still honoring all of the changes my body was going through along with this major life change, pilates was one of my go-tos. Without me having to think about it, I would head to a studio and do the workout. During the earliest part of your pregnancy, so much is happening and changing, so your energy level becomes the deal breaker.
If I didn’t have the energy to run, I would go for active walks. These would be very brisk walks, totaling about three miles. But I would walk to Starbucks, for example, then sit for about an hour while enjoying my coffee, then walk back home.
It’s equally important to make sure that your workouts take your changing body into consideration. Try finding resources like the Nike Run Club app’s Audio Guided Runs designed with pregnancy and post-natal training in mind.
Even outside of my own experiences, as a personal trainer, I always tell my clients that it’s more about how you feel than anything else. When you’re low on energy or short on time, be open to the possibility that you may have to cancel a run or replace it with a HIIT workout. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Make Sure Your Gear Is Tight
In order to stay active during my pregnancy, wearing a belly band was a very important part of my routine. There are so many things out there that will allow you to continue to be fit. The right sports bra, climate-appropriate clothing that works well with the type of workouts you’ll be doing, and– more than almost anything else– the right shoes, for which the Nike Running Shoe Finder can be really helpful. All of these things should be part of your tool kit.
Hone In On What Motivates You
Continuing to run while pregnant was a big goal of mine. Running is something I absolutely love. It’s what got me through college, it’s opened so many doors for me. Running is super personal. So I wanted to experience that and share it with my son, even before he was born.
There are also the outside motivators: as a woman of color I remember being out for a run with my hair out and seeing a little Black girl. Knowing that she sees me and that she felt my acknowledgement was such an inspiring moment.
Your Workout Routine Is About So Much More Than Just Working Out
Exercising while you’re pregnant doesn’t just benefit you; it benefits your child too. The increase of blood flow during your workouts helps your body optimize your circulation in general, keeping your blood pressure low. That’s especially important for women of color because we have a higher risk of preeclampsia. Exercise also helps improve your heart health and stamina, both of which help you prepare for the physical challenge of labor and all the changes your body is experiencing. Staying active also helps calibrate your hormones, and is a great boost to your self-confidence.
As you get further in your pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which is produced by your ovaries and the placenta to relax the ligaments in your pelvis and soften and widen your cervix. It’s basically how your body prepares itself for childbirth. Working out helps you to be really aware of these changes in your body as they are happening. Staying active also helps activate muscle memory so that, after childbirth, it becomes a little easier for you to get back into your body.
Don’t Underestimate How Much You’re Already Moving
I always remind our clients of the amount of movement their daily lives require. As a mom, I’m already lifting this little person multiple times a day, bending over a lot and so on. All of those functional movements are things I thought to incorporate into my workouts to help make sure that, when the time came, I would know how to protect my body while going through these routine activities.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Nike.