Approaching Fitness During Pregnancy and the Postpartum

How we approach fitness during pregnancy and the postpartum starts with our mindset, and sometimes adjusting our mindset towards the phase of life we are in can be the most difficult aspect of prenatal and postpartum fitness.  In future posts, we will break down how to physically approach fitness, but we need to break down the mindset before we worry about how to squat or deadlift with a pregnant belly.

The easy part is the numbers: the mileage of a run, the weight on the bar, the number of sets, the intensity of a workout.  The hard part is allowing ourselves pace to walk, lower the weight, and slow the pace of a workout, without letting the decrease in performance define us.  It is difficult to navigate this phase of life with intention and humility, when we may have been accustomed to more structure with our lives. 

While there can be an overall structure to your workout regime, there needs to be some flexibility and forgiveness on what you can mentally handle and should be physically doing in the phase of motherhood you are currently in.  While it's easy to want to run 8 miles everyday until you give birth, its harder to let yourself walk when your running form begins to deteriorate due to a growing belly and joint laxity.  

Each day during the motherhood transition (pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum), is unpredictable and contains its own sort of chaos.  Some days we sleep great and have loads of energy, and others we sleep maybe 3 minutes and feel sluggish.  Each day needs to be approached as its own day, and you have to allow yourself to be where you are, not where you think you should be.  

In the psychology of mindset, there are two major categories that we are going to discuss: Fixed and Growth Mindset.  While none of us resides only in one mindset (we tend to fluctuate between the two), we may have more of a tendency towards one or the other.  Neither mindset is inherently good nor bad, each has it's place, but a tendency in one over the other may be helpful during the motherhood transition.

The Fixed Mindset

"The fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over." 

The fixed mindset is concerned with the outcome rather than the process.  This mindset believes that you are born with a fixed set of traits, personality, talent, etc, and since who you are as a person is fixed, you are defined by your success and failures alone.  While this outcome driven mindset can be beneficial in some aspects, it can also be detrimental for the prenatal or postpartum athlete. 

If we are defined by the outcome (aka the weight on the bar, the mileage of a run, the pace of a sprint), then anything less than that specific physical performance is failure, regardless of the current circumstances.  We are defining ourselves by our performance, and using that success as the definition of our identity. 

With this mindset: If you succeed, you are a success.  If you fail, you are a failure.

With a fixed mindset, when our physical performance is hindered due to pregnancy or is slowed by the postpartum, it can lead to frustration, and most importantly, it can encourage a pregnant/postpartum athlete to engage in activities that do not benefit her prenatal/postpartum body, and may ultimately cause more harm than good.  

The Growth Mindset

"The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others."

The growth mindset is concerned with the process, and views the outcome as an opportunity to learn and continue to grow.  Success is always amazing, but if failure comes, the failure (nor the success) does not defines you as a person, but rather provides a new challenge to grow from.  

This mindset believes that our traits, personality, talents, etc. can change and grow over time.  This mindset focuses on the fact that we are not defined by this one moment, but by a culmination of multiple moments and experiences. 

When applying this mindset to the gym, if you cannot make a lift today that you made pre-pregnancy, or you cannot run as far or as fast as you did earlier in your pregnancy, you are not a failure for this one lift or this one run (or any other lift or run during your motherhood transition). 

This mindset allows for forgiveness, and allows for you to take this opportunity to honor this process and welcome the changes that your body is going through to grow a human being.  There will be awesome workouts, and there will be less than stellar performances.  There will come a point when you feel awkward doing a barbell clean, and when running resembles a strange waddle; but when they points come, they won't define you as a person, an athlete, or as a mama.  

When approaching fitness during pregnancy and the postpartum, we need patience, humility, and forgiveness.  Some days we will feel awesome, and some days not so much.  Some days we will feel awesome, but still shouldn't do a movement because its not appropriate for the current phase we are in.  (more on appropriate movements in future posts)

Each day we will meet you where you are at that very day, not where you nor we think you should be.  

Books to Read: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.