Pregnant Athletes Are Having a Moment
It’s the season of expecting elites—these are their secrets
Recently, tennis star Serena Williams won the Australian open while nearly two months pregnant, not even dropping a single set. But she’s not the only mom-to-be at the top of her game: Triathlete Gwen Jorgensen documents trail running at altitude while 22 weeks pregnant and Clara Horowitz Peterson (an Olympic hopeful in the 10k and marathon distances) currently runs 6 to 10 miles per day at 37 weeks pregnant. Here, three accomplished athletes also currently expecting share their fitness routines and what's next after giving birth.
A decorated swimmer, Vollmer, 29, has won a total of seven Olympic medals for the U.S., including five gold. Her win during the 2016’s Rio games was the first-ever gold earned by a mother in the sport. Vollmer got back into Olympic shape in less than 16 months after having her first son, Arlen, especially noteworthy given that she’d largely stopped swimming during that pregnancy. At six months pregnant, she recently competed in the women's 50 freestyle race at the 2017 Arena Pro Swim Series in Mesa, Arizona. "Normally in a 50 free, I wouldn't come up for air or I'd only take one breath. This time I took five and still wasn’t back at the wall," says Vollmer. "Your body feels totally different," she adds about racing while pregnant. "I love the atmosphere and being around the national team; it inspires me to want to compete after the baby is born."
Current routine: "Up until the championship season started in February, I was practicing with the U.S. team every morning," says Vollmer. "I started swimming on my own after that, 30 to 45 minutes, two or three times a week. I have a strength trainer that I work with on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for two hours. It’s a lot of bodyweight training with some weights. A couple weeks ago, leading into the [50-freestyle] race, it was two hours of strength and stability. I definitely don’t lift nearly as heavy with weighted stuff: I still do lat pulls, but not as heavy. I’m doing a lot of breathing work, too, using the imagery of trying to get more room in lung- and rib-opening exercises. We’re conscious of not getting me too sore, since I still have to chase my toddler. It’s a change from leading up to Rio, when I would swim five mornings a week for two hours, and the intensity of the training sessions with my trainer was so much higher."
Post-pregnancy goals: "To swim at the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo," Vollmer says. "If everything goes perfectly, I have it in my mind to see if I can go to December nationals this year. But I’m just going to take it step by step."
Australian triathlete Carfrae, 36, has won three Ironman World Championships in Kona (2010, 2013, and 2014) and placed second or third in three others.
Current routine: "I'm taking the same approach in producing a healthy baby that I would in racing for an Ironman title," says Carfrae. "I’m eating well, getting bodywork and acupuncture done, and also getting great rest and recovery. From the advice I've received, I should be enjoying this time now without the pressure of racing.
I exercise every day. Each morning I either run or swim, and in the afternoon I either bike or do weight work, which is more focused on sustaining strength and balance, not heavy lifting. I can feel my body slowly getting used to the front load, so I’m working on building back strength and adjusting where necessary. My current preference is to do biking on the trainer so as not to be dealing with traffic, but I have snuck out a few times on my mountain bike and fat bike to keep it fresh. I’m not running more than an hour at a time and my trainer workouts are usually just over an hour.
I feel lucky to date that I have been able to swim, bike, and run up to now and I anticipate more swimming and weight work in my last three months. Though I’ve never done yoga, I look forward to doing some prenatal yoga leading into the last trimester. I‘ve been traveling quite a bit for sponsors and once I can shut it all down in the last 10 weeks, I look forward to getting ready for the big transition."
Post-pregnancy goals: "I plan to return to racing early spring 2018 [about six months after birth] with the goal of racing Kona in October 2018," says Carfrae. "I love racing triathlons and am still excited to give the best of myself at the race and I feel confident in getting back to elite racing. My husband [American triathlete Timothy O’Donnell] and I planned to have a family and I will be in Kona this year, supporting him as he races."
A Jamaican-American runner, Richards-Ross has won four Olympic golds and five World Championships in the 400m and 400m relay events. She retired in 2016 after an injury prevented her from making the Rio Olympic team. She’s now a sports commentator for NBC and a soon-to-be-published author, with two memoirs (Chasing Grace, written for adults, and Run with Me for kids) coming out on June 6, and a third book, Right on Track, for teens, scheduled to release next year.
Current routine: "For my whole life, I feel like I’ve been training, so since retiring and with my pregnancy, I’m trying to figure out what the difference is between training with the goal of competing and working out," says Richards-Ross. "The first trimester I was so lethargic and tired and knew right away I was pregnant. Even now I’ll struggle to climb up the stairs to the second floor and my husband [former NFL football player Aaron Ross] will be like, really? I used to be in peak shape, and a flight of stairs does me in.
So when I go to the gym, three or four days a week, it’s about just listening to my body and staying active, and thinking about my baby and ultimately having a great delivery. I don’t do a lot of running since I retired due to a bad injury to my right big toe, but I'll get on the elliptical or bike for 15 to 20 minutes or maybe walk, jog, or do easy intervals on the treadmill. It’s more mental to know that my body can still move in that way. I’ve stayed most consistent since getting pregnant with my weight training. I use lighter weights and do about 20 minutes of upper body including lat pulldowns and shoulder presses or lower body moves such as squats, lunges, and step-ups. If I do four days, it’ll be two days of each, if I do three, I’ll do two lower body."
Post-pregnancy goals: "I definitely want to be working out at a higher level after the baby comes. I'd like to challenge myself and find a routine that makes me feel good, but I'm not going to go back hardcore," says Richards-Ross. "In terms of competing, I have learned to never say never. Maybe in a couple years I might want to run in the USA Track and Field masters program. A few elites do it to see if they can set records in the over 40 or 45 age groups. For now, I’m commentating with NBC, which makes me feel very connected to the sport and it’s been fun. I don’t have the patience to coach full-time, but I have the experience and would love to mentor young athletes, not just on the physical component, but also on the mental and nutritional side."