Five-time All-American and 800-meter champion Alysia Montano and her husband, Louis Montano, are expecting their first child in August 2014 , but it seems she’s been preparing for this moment all her life.
Montano, who was born in Queens, New York, and raised in Southern California, has always had a special place in her heart for kids. “They’re just so important to me,” she says. Consequently, she tries to see that her community involvement revolves mostly around children, including her recent partnership with Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization that aims to educate people about preventable childhood accidents and injuries.
Now that she’s a mom-to-be, Montano is passionate about sharing her experience with the world, particularly with other expectant women concerned about maintaining an active workout schedule throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Labor has to be a hundred times harder than any race.
Alysia Montano, five-time U.S. champion 800-meter runner
Hard Work and Perseverance
Sports -- mainly running -- play a central role in Montano’s life. From her early training and championships to her fifth-place finish in the 800-meter run in the 2012 Olympic Games in London with a time of 1:57.93 , Montano strives to reach her goals while working hard and persevering through victories and disappointments.
Montano sees correlations between her past and present. Being pregnant, like being an athlete, “is still very much about listening to your body,” she says.
Around the time of the Olympic trials in 2008, an injury required Montano to shift her focus away from her Olympic aspirations and toward a long, arduous recovery. Pain in her foot before the trials turned out to be a stress fracture. But even that episode, she believes, helped prepare her for today.
“I take this [time of being pregnant] and remember that time and how I didn't listen to my body,” she says.
From her injury through the 2012 Olympics, Montano trained incessantly. When the games ended with no major championships ahead, it seemed like a perfect chance for a break. Her husband, Louis, is a strength coach with a degree in exercise science. He has helped with her training and recovery.
“It was just a good time to let my mind kind of recuperate from all the way back to 2008,” she said. “I really hadn't been able to breathe since that time.” It also seemed the perfect opportunity to make another wish a reality.
“It’s very much in my nature to want to be a mom,” says Montano. “It’s such an awesome opportunity to bring a life into this world and try to help this person be the very best person they’re going to be from the very beginning.”
Exercising While Pregnant
If there is one subject Montano would like to see cleared of misconceptions, it’s exercise during pregnancy. People need to recognize, she says, that pregnancy, labor and delivery will be the hardest things a woman will ever do.
“Labor has to be a hundred times harder than any race,” she says, so it helps to be ready for it.
While she has encountered some skepticism (people have asked if she should be running while she’s pregnant), Montano continues to work out. Running during the first trimester helped provide a boost of energy, albeit brief. And later, as her pregnancy continued, Montano found interval training to be the better outlet.
She also has the support of experts.
“It’s important that she continue with her exercise regimen,” says Dr. Sean Daneshmand, a San Diego-based obstetrician and gynecologist and founder of Miracle Babies. His nonprofit organization provides support and financial aid to families with critically ill newborns.
“If there are no contraindications, I tell my patients it’s absolutely crucial that they do at least 30 minutes of exercise -- aerobic activity -- once a day, seven days a week,” he says.
Daneshmand, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, cautions against activities that might be dangerous, such as scuba diving, roller-skating or horseback riding.
“Anything where you have a tendency for falling and jeopardizing your pregnancy is not a good idea,” he says.
Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom, agrees. Her organization, a fitness system and website, provides information on prenatal and postpartum fitness and exercise.
Cardiovascular work helps the mom-to-be stay fit and healthy, gain less weight during pregnancy and experience an easier pregnancy and birth , says Byrne, a perinatal exercise specialist and author based in Oakland, California. “Babies born to fit moms are stronger, healthier and even smarter than babies born to less-fit moms. When you exercise, baby exercises too.”
Montano is being smart about her workouts and having the most fun she’s had in a long time with her training, she says.
“Coupled with focusing on growing this person, I really am just concentrating on my mental well-being and being fit because research has shown it’s good for you and the baby.”
Maternity Is Not an End
For Montano, the short-term goal is a healthy baby and any plans for future competitions or a return to running will be considered at a later time.
“I’m not trying to focus on that part of it,” she says. “I don’t want to overstep this process of just concentrating on the baby and me being healthy for the baby.”
As for now, Montano is not overly concerned about her postpartum prospects, and Byrne says that is fine. The idea that pregnancy weakens a woman’s body, she adds, is a myth.
“Building a baby is cardiovascular work,” Byrne says. “The placenta is a cardiovascular organ. You build a new cardiovascular organ and then use it to fuel the growth of your developing baby.” All this increases your daily cardiovascular workload by about 15 percent.
That workload disappears once the newborn arrives, Byrne says, but for months the mother has essentially been stressing and expanding her cardiovascular system while simply growing her baby.
While her past has prepared Montano for the present, the present is creating her future, which looks bright -- both professionally and personally.
“Everything’s been working out really great for us,” she said. “I don’t have any complaints at all. It’s all good.”
Don’t Dismiss Walking for a Fit Pregnancy
Even pregnant elite athletes can get a challenging, satisfying workout using a treadmill at an incline.
“You don’t have to have the impact to get the benefits,” says Helene Byrne, an Oakland, California-based perinatal exercise specialist. “Walking quickly uphill is strenuous exercise.”
Walking on an incline provides other benefits too. During pregnancy, a woman’s pelvis tips in response to her expanding uterus. As a result, the hip flexor muscles tighten and the opposing muscles -- the gluteals -- weaken, Byrne says. But a person walking on an incline tends to keep the heel of her trailing foot down just a moment longer than she would on a flat surface. This small difference in stride opens the hip flexors and adds work to the glutes.
So Byrne recommends fitness walking on an incline for cardiovascular exercise for most of her pregnant clients, and they really appreciate it.
“When you walk on an incline, you will feel your butt work,” Byrne says. “A lot of women love that.”