Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
When my partner and I began planning for a pregnancy, I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare for such a life-changing event. With physical challenges like exhaustion, an increase in size and weight, and morning sickness looming, I wanted to plan for the best possible outcome for myself, my baby, and my future as a climber. I hoped to maintain some level of strength and fitness. Planning for a pregnancy provided an opportunity to think about my health and fitness beforehand.
Leading up to when we started actively trying, I read a lot of articles on fitness and climbing during pregnancy. While many covered the basics of exercises appropriate during pregnancy, few mentioned what to do before pregnancy. However, the articles I read shared that pre-pregnancy fitness will provide a base for your pregnancy and post-pregnancy fitness. For me, this was key. I could develop myself athletically to hopefully continue my activities throughout the nine months and ideally return to the same activity level afterwards. (As I would discover, pregnancy and birth is truly an athletic feat, no matter your fitness. It was the most difficult physical challenge I’ve ever completed.)
While knowing that pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum NEVER go as planned, I consider myself goal-oriented, so a year before we decided to start trying, I created a few athletic objectives with the goal of improving my overall fitness. Over the course of that year, I climbed more, lifted heavier, improved my mobility, ran a marathon, and biked two half centuries. This period can also be a perfect time to hire a personal trainer to help you reach those goals before a life changing event.
After researching pregnancy and climbing articles and reviewing recommended exercises for childbirth, I wanted to share my experience of preparing for this new phase of life as a climber. Below are areas that I found helpful throughout this process. A detailed account of my training during pregnancy will be shared in the second part of this series.
I chose yoga, as a recommended practice to prepare for pregnancy, for two reasons. The first is that diaphragmatic breathing comes highly suggested for managing your breath during labor. The second is that general mobility and body awareness may help you stay active and attuned during the changes one experiences throughout the pregnancy. Additionally, breathwork is a large part of managing physical and mental stress during climbing; and flexibility and mobility come in handy during heel hooks and high steps that many of us have encountered during climbing.
There are a lot of recommendations for strength training during pregnancy. Part of the issue for climbers is that not everyone incorporates strength conditioning as a part of their workout routine. Mastering basic strength training exercises before pregnancy will provide sufficient time to refine form and technique before the added weight and the new shape that pregnancy brings. Additionally, exercises aimed at strengthening the back and pelvic floor are recommended for both labor and the lifting which comes with a new child in tow. I chose to specifically focus on squats and the deadlift, since they also are transferable skills to finger training via finger deadlift exercises. I found this is a great way to maintain finger strength during pregnancy in comparison to finger board training which may cause discomfort as one’s abdomen expands. Mamastefit was a great resource I used throughout my pregnancy for understanding and incorporating modifications as I grew larger.
In addition to strength conditioning and yoga, I climbed a lot and set specific goals to increase my finger strength and endurance. My goal was to become a better and stronger climber before I got pregnant. By doing this, once I entered pregnancy and as I emerged into the postpartum period, my base was much higher than it was before I started training. By the end of the year, I was leading 5.11s and was pulling harder than I had in the previous year. This allowed me to maintain this finger strength throughout most of my pregnancy and postpartum and continue to top rope the same grades or higher in the first and second trimesters.
Overall, these training components allowed me to feel confident when entering into an unknown, and often scary, phase of my life. There can be a lot of unforeseeable challenges in the fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum periods, and there is also a huge shift in identity. Climbing and training provides a grounding practice for me to continue caring for myself and developing physically, and I hope this can provide some encouragement and guidance for folks planning their own pregnancy.
This article is the first out of a two part series.
Bethany has over 10 years of experience bouldering. She is the founder and former CEO of @browngirlsclimb, co-founder of The Color the Crag Climbing Festival, a youth climbing coach at Beast Fingers climbing, and an AMGA certified single pitch instructor. As a note, she is also has the time and resources to commit to training. This is certainly not the case for everyone. So, if this article starts stressing you out, burn it. It’s not meant to do that at all. This information is not intended to be used as medical advice. Please seek a doctor’s recommendation on approved activities if you are planning to get pregnant, are pregnant, or recently have given birth. Special thanks to Joslynn Corredor, Marita Gumbs, and Mercedes Pollimer, Mark Springer for helping review and edit this article.