Fitness Adaptations While Trying to Conceive
One season of the motherhood transition is preconception and/or trying to conceive. It is important to know that everything affects everything and the way we intentionally eat, think, and move plays a part in conception.
So how does a woman who is actively trying to conceive approach this?
Women who are trying to conceive can start adjusting their mindset to “what is your current goal?” Is it to be top dog in your gym or to prepare for conception and then birth?
My husband and I are ready to grow our family, and will be TTC in the next coming months, but it’s time to start preparing now! In this transitional phase during all of my workouts, I am adapting my fitness routine to support my fertility.
Why start modifying so soon?
A little biology review:
Women are born with all of our follicles that have potential to mature as eggs. It takes more than 3 months for the female body to select and mature follicles. Each monthly cycle, one of those follicles is completely matured into an egg that is released in ovulation (1). Each month we can support this egg development and follicle maturation through the four pillars: Fitness, Nutrition, Mindset, and Connection.
One of the biggest hindrances to fertility and follicle/egg and sperm maturation is stress.
There are mainly two types of stress:
- Physiological stress: illness, injury, and exercise
- Psychological stress: emotional
Though some stress is positive and necessary, the other side of stress can have many negative effects, especially on our cycling hormones which can interfere with the internal signals of the female body. Our bodies are smart, so when we experience too much stress, it may be harder to reproduce due to poor conditions. This is an evolutionary response to protect our offspring (2).
Considerations for this in Training:
- Programming or Self Regulation in Training
In times of conception, we want to minimize stressors, including excessive stress caused by exercise, also known as overtraining. To support follicle maturation, we also want to support our monthly hormone cycle that is in tune with our egg development.
If you’re actively trying to conceive, then it’s also likely that you’re tracking your cycle.
Day 1 of your cycle starts with your period and lasts a few days. During your period, women are at their lowest amount of hormones and may feel sluggish. Use your moon days to honor your body, it’s working hard to shed part of an organ that has taken the last ~25 days to build.
Next is the Follicular Phase (days 4-12) until ovulation occurs (around day 12-14), your body is increasing estrogen and is at its peak on day of ovulation. Now is the time to push the intensity, go for heavy lifts, and maybe even try for a personal best with the support of estrogen (3).
After ovulation your body goes into the Luteal Phase, (days 14-28), estrogen begins lowering while progesterone rises. Oh the hormone progesterone: it can sometimes be considered the hormone that makes us feel crummy (actually a calming hormone), but is a very important hormone in the early stages of pregnancy (3). For training, we can become slower, or feel not as strong as we did in our Follicular phase. Ways to program for this phase, means focus on technique and skill work, with less weight and higher reps. Decrease the intensity by adding in rest times to metcons, choosing body weight movements, and not using weight 80% or higher of 1RM.
- Get assessed
No one is perfect, we all have asymmetries and compensations in movement. Adaptations the female body makes during pregnancy and the added load on the front of the body will only exasperate these compensations. Most commonly as a BIRTHFIT Coach, women come to me when they are already in discomfort or injury from training in pregnancy or postpartum. Become aware of your movement patterns prior to conception to help prevent injury. In addition, this is a great time to find a local BIRTHFIT Professional Chiropractor who is Webster Certified and specially trained to work with women in this season.
- Build your base
Start adding in unilateral work one day a week to your training, this will support the changes your body will make during pregnancy. Examples: bulgarian split squats, single leg deadlifts, lateral step ups, kneeling single arm press, dumbbell rows, landmine press, landmine lunge.
Trade out “6-pack exercises” for total core movements that engage diaphragm, pelvic floor, obliques, abdominals, and erectors, such as our Functional Progressions.
Incorporate breathing and training techniques using IAP (intra abdominal pressure) to build your core from the inside out, and support functional movement (core to extremity).
- Bedroom Olympics
Keep the bedroom (or even kitchen floor) workout light and playful. It’s so common while trying to conceive that sex becomes a task. Fun fact: orgasming supports pelvic floor strength and flexibility and lowers stress levels!
Women who are undergoing fertility treatments or even just the use of superovulation drugs (clomid, injectable gonadotropins) need to be cautious with movement. Remember, your short term goal is to mature as many follicles as possible. During this process, your ovaries, which are typically the size of a grape, enlarge to the size of a lacrosse ball causing major discomfort. Certain movements can also be dangerous if they twist or impact the pelvic area and, worst case scenario, cause a rupture (4). Movement should be low intensity such as walking or swimming, and light tempo work with weights.
Intentional movement is strongly encouraged during all phases of the motherhood transition. When trying to conceive, support your hormones, body, and mind for the current goal. Conception is not perfection!
Jaclyn Diaz, M.A. Ed
BIRTHFIT San Diego Regional Director, Coach
- Martini, F. H.(2014). Human Anatomy, (8th edition) San Francisco, CA: Pearson Education, Inc.
- Yun, A.J. (2004) Autonomic dysfunction may be an under-recognized cause of female fertility disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15193372
- Sims, Stacy T. (2016) Roar; How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life. New York, New York: Rodale Inc.
- Tobias, Irene (Interviewee) & Matthews, Lindsey (Producer) (2017, December 1) The BIRTHFIT Podcast Episode 85 Featuring Dr. Irene Tobias [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://birthfit.com/blog/2017/12/01/the-birthfit-podcast-episode-85-featuring-dr-irene-tobias/