For Decades, People Have Been Tossing Around The Idea That The Physiological Changes Women Undergo During Pregnancy Actually Improves Athletic Performance.

Leading the way
Setting the standard for returning to amazing form following pregnancy is British phenom Paula Radcliffe, who won the 2007 ING New York City marathon a mere nine months after giving birth to her

Sarah Wassner Flynn

 

Leading the way
Setting the standard for returning to amazing form following pregnancy is British phenom Paula Radcliffe, who won the 2007 ING New York City marathon a mere nine months after giving birth to her daughter, Isla. Right up there with her is Colleen De Reuck, a four-time Olympian who enjoyed a surge of personal bests and big wins in 1996 following the birth of her first daughter, Tasman, now 13.

"People said that the baby would make me faster because of the increased blood supply and whatever else, and who knows, maybe she did," says De Reuck, who, at 44 and six months removed from the birth of her second daughter, Tara, ran one of her fastest half-marathons. "But honestly, you're so tired all of the time, it's hard to tell if you're really better off."

Body changes bring a boost
Researchers and physicians who have looked at the affects of running on expectant mothers are just as foggy as De Reuck. James Pivarnik, a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at Michigan State University, studies athletes, including distance runners – during and after pregnancy at his Human Energy Research Laboratory. Heís found that certain factors, such as a 60 percent increase in blood volume (meaning there's extra blood to carry oxygen to depleted muscles) and a strengthened musculoskeletal system due to progressive weight gain could – in theory – provide a boost to post-partum runners. But those affects are fleeting, he says, usually lasting no more than four to eight weeks after a woman gives birth.

"I would not go so far as to say that pregnancy is an ergogenic aid," says Pivarnik, "But those who are motivated and stick to their regular training routine for as long and as reasonably as possible, without ignoring symptoms, can do quite well following pregnancy. Most of the women I've worked with are relatively back to normal within 16 weeks."

Setting the standard for returning to amazing form following pregnancy is British phenom Paula Radcliffe, who won the 2007 ING New York City marathon a mere nine months after giving birth to her daughter, Isla. Right up there with her is Colleen De Reuck, a four-time Olympian who enjoyed a surge of personal bests and big wins in 1996 following the birth of her first daughter, Tasman, now 13.

"People said that the baby would make me faster because of the increased blood supply and whatever else, and who knows, maybe she did," says De Reuck, who, at 44 and six months removed from the birth of her second daughter, Tara, ran one of her fastest half-marathons. "But honestly, you're so tired all of the time, it's hard to tell if you're really better off."

Body changes bring a boost
Researchers and physicians who have looked at the affects of running on expectant mothers are just as foggy as De Reuck. James Pivarnik, a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at Michigan State University, studies athletes, including distance runners – during and after pregnancy at his Human Energy Research Laboratory. Heís found that certain factors, such as a 60 percent increase in blood volume (meaning there's extra blood to carry oxygen to depleted muscles) and a strengthened musculoskeletal system due to progressive weight gain could – in theory – provide a boost to post-partum runners. But those affects are fleeting, he says, usually lasting no more than four to eight weeks after a woman gives birth.

"I would not go so far as to say that pregnancy is an ergogenic aid," says Pivarnik, "But those who are motivated and stick to their regular training routine for as long and as

 

Pregnant pause
But what about those runners who physically canít run during their pregnancy, or choose to take the time off for peace of mind? Experts say that they may actually be giving themselves a much-needed chance to recharge batteries and heal nagging injuries. Post-baby, runners can return to the sport fresh and motivated, feeling lighter than ever and free of the aches and pains of pregnancy. Margie Shapiro, a professional triathlete from Annandale, VA, took thee months off during her first pregnancy after an early spotting scare, which allowed a wicked case of plantar faciitis to heal. And once she started running after giving birth, she discovered the bulk of carrying around extra weight during her pregnancy made post-partum training less taxing.

"I had gained 50 pounds, but by the time I started training about three weeks later, I'd lost 35 and nearly felt like myself again," says Shapiro. "It felt great to run again, and my fitness came back pretty quickly."

Moms have mental balance
Shapiro was ready to race about seven months later and began making rapid improvements in triathlon. In fact, all of her career highlights came following the birth of her two children.

"I'd definitely say having kids has made me a better athlete, both physically and mentally," says Shapiro. "As an athlete, I've become less self-centered, more organized, and even more driven."

This sentiment has been shared by many running mothers, including heralded Irishwoman Sonia O'Sullivan. Prior to winning a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, O'Sullivan said the distraction of her daughter made winning seem less monumental, giving her a more laid-back approach to competition.

Shapiro concurs. "I have a much more relaxed attitude about competition now that I have kids because I know, in the end, they're all that matter, anyway."

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