The industry’s view on pregnancy is rapidly changing. It’s becoming less taboo and more of a reason to celebrate when a woman continues to focus on her career and fitness during this time.
We sat down with Lizzie Deignan, world champion track and racing cyclist and now mum-of-two, to get the latest on her transition back into competitive cycling. She also gave some tips on staying motivated for women either taking up or continuing to cycle whilst pregnant.
What are the three main benefits you felt from cycling whilst pregnant?
Keeping active whilst pregnant was essential for me, not only to keep my body moving but also to keep my mind sane. It’s a time when so many different things are happening to your body and emotions, so it ensured I had some ‘me time’.
As well as being a great way to stay fit and active while pregnant, cycling can greatly benefit your mental health—reducing stress and promoting better sleep, which is so important.
Continuing to cycle also ensured that my body remained strong for the birth through minimal impact exercise, which also helped speed up post-natal recovery.
Could you give us an overview of a typical day of training while you were pregnant?
It’s no surprise that a typical day of riding for me when pregnant is very different to when I’m at peak training. I would describe that my cycling when pregnant was more ‘exercise’ rather than training.
Every day was different—some days, you wake up and don’t have the energy, and on others, you surprise yourself. Therefore, there is no ‘typical’ day. I did a lot less volume in terms of hours per week and avoided the interval sessions I would normally do, reducing the intensity.
My second pregnancy was much harder than my first, so I did not manage to maintain as much fitness as I did the first time. On good days I was able to train about two hours a day, and overall, I included a mixture of indoor and outdoor cycling.
Did you perform other types of exercise alongside cycling when you were pregnant?
When pregnant, my main aim was to try and move every day. For those days when I had less energy to ride, I’d still try to move my body, which included lots of walking and stretching sessions.
What were the three main challenges you faced when cycling whilst pregnant?
The main challenge I experienced was the daily fluctuation in my energy levels. You can’t predict this, so you must listen to your body and ride that day based on how you feel.
As I said, some days I surprised myself and could do a longer ride. However, on other days there was no way I was going to get on the bike.
Secondly, positioning on the bike changes throughout pregnancy—as your bump gets bigger, you are forced to sit higher. Therefore, you must adapt your position by lifting your handlebars, for example, and try to make it feel as comfortable as possible.
The heatwave was another specific challenge to me being pregnant in the summer of 2022. It was difficult to stay cool and comfortable, so I was restricted to training indoors when I tried to ride.
Did you, or have you, ever received any backlash for cycling whilst pregnant?
No, I haven’t. I have only had a positive interest in what I’ve been doing whilst pregnant (on social media) and inspiring other pregnant women to keep active.
It’s a completely personal thing, however—everyone and every pregnancy are different, so each person needs to decide what they can achieve depending on their feelings.
How do you feel the industry views women who cycle whilst pregnant?
I feel that it’s becoming a more common topic to discuss due to a huge shift that I have noticed in recent years. Four years ago, when I had Orla, the attitude of some people was quite negative. However, this time around, it has been nothing but positive.
My team, Trek-Segafredo, have always been hugely supportive, which I am so grateful for. They ensure my return to the peloton is one where I am ready rather than pressurized to get back too quickly. I have no deadline for when I need to return to racing, but I hope to be back within about six months.
Before having my first child, I had never expected to continue my career after pregnancy, as it was ‘not the done thing’. Now, I am one of quite a few examples of successful women who have returned to their sport at the highest level after giving birth.
Do you feel like a professional cyclist, has it impacted your career?
Since becoming a mum to Orla, I have had the privilege to win races such as The Women’s Tour, La Course and Paris-Roubaix. I returned to the peloton as a more relaxed rider, putting less pressure on myself and enjoying my time racing with the team. I feel this will be even more the case when I return to racing as a mother of two.
What are your plans for getting back into cycling? Do you have any apprehensions or expectations?
Having been through the journey of having a baby and returning to competitive cycling, I’ve known that it’s possible, and physically, it was easier than I expected.
Pregnancy and birth are very demanding on the body, so you cannot rush returning to training. But if you respect it as I do, I know that it’s not a limiting factor to come back to form.
Having had Shea, I aim to get back to racing for the 2023 season, but there is no pressure or expectation. My team, Trek-Segafredo, have been behind me every step of the way and whilst I am a professional cyclist racing for a professional team, the support has felt really personal, which has been key.
What could be done to improve awareness in the industry surrounding women cycling whilst pregnant?
In general, I think there needs to be more information and advice from key parties, such as medical practitioners, to alleviate the worry about being active whilst pregnant, as it is a positive thing in so many ways.
With social media now, more information is being shared, and the ability to follow people’s journeys is improving all the time. Rebecca Charlton recently did a 3-part series around cycling while pregnant called Bump and Ride, which is online and available to all, and acts as a great informative tool—you can watch it here.
What are the three main pieces of advice you’d give to women thinking of taking up cycling/continuing to cycle whilst pregnant?
- listen to your body—it’s really important to know how you feel. Don’t put pressure on yourself to try and replicate cycling as it was for you before you were pregnant
- Move every day if you can—whether this is a long ride, a short ride, or a family ride, any riding will be good for you if you feel up to it. If you don’t feel that you have enough energy to ride, try to move in some way, whether walking or stretching
- Avoid comparison—you cannot compare yourself to other women and other pregnancies as it’s not healthy. You need to do what you feel you can do, and if that’s getting out on your bike regularly, that is fantastic, and you’ll feel better for it
Many thanks to Lizzie for her insights!
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