Pregnant athletes should keep their heart rate under 140bpm.
Though the incident, a final among many, that prompted me to write this salient and super popular series happened over two years ago now, I still hear from folks who have heard me interviewed on podcasts about this material, I use it in every coaching engagement with pregnant athletes, and I get weekly emails from pregnant athletes around the globe asking about this body of work. Hence, I’m reissuing the series one more time before translating it into a book.
So, here’s what happened: Another experienced athletic coach and parent who lives in the same town as me started talking with my friend and me at the crag about my talk at Vertical World on pregnant athleticism. During the event my friend had asked a poignant question about stigma, motherhood, and double-standards when it comes to being a pregnant or mothering athlete. He had more to say about the woman shaming I faced during my own pregnancy.
But before he could finish his thoughts, the other coach cut in and said (in a sadly well-timed vignette of an exchange):
"There's nothing that special about you training through pregnancy, lots of women do it. The only thing you need to do is wear a heart rate monitor and make sure your heart rate doesn't go over 140."
She, being the vastly senior and more respected endurance coach, did not expect what I said next:
"Actually, that is not based in fact and has been rejected by evidence-based practitioners. There is no heart rate limit for pregnant athletes who are well-trained."
And the evidence is on my side - and on the side of any preggo willing to push it on her next run or climb. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic:
"If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, there's no need to focus on your heart rate for exercise during pregnancy."
"There are so many rumors out there, some started or perpetuated by popular pregnancy books, others the result of old wives' tales or outdated advice, so that many women really are confused about what they can and can't do. People are still stuck on this heart rate issue, and it was never based on anything concrete,"
says high-risk pregnancy expert Laura Riley, MD, spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and author of Pregnancy: You and Your Baby. ACOG is infamous for its overly-conservative views as they pertain to exercise during pregnancy. That rote false-fact nearly everyone who trains or cares of preggos says is wrong. No science. No evidence. Like fake news is to politics, this platitude is manipulative propaganda designed to control and oppress.
I take it seriously when other coaches, especially women, espouse non-evidence-based, misogynistic, one-size-fits-all limits on womens' athletic activity while pregnant without doing the work of educating themselves first. As a coach I am responsible for finding the right balance between challenging my clients and keeping them safe. For me, a core function of being a coach is keeping myself up-to-date on the most recent exercise physiology literature. This coach, in direct conflict with her many decades of experience, merely parroted a platitude she'd heard other coaches and medical professionals say many times before without the critical examination limits such as these deserve.
Culture limits pregnant athletes out of fear rather than equipping them with the evidence they need to choose how they would like to conduct their pregnancies––and I’d rather govern my health using evidence than superstition and old wive’s tales.
I hope you enjoy the final post of this series in this space before they go the way of the book!