I mentioned the topic of pregnancy and its relation to running for woman in my paper and I thought it was interesting enough to warrant some further exploration. What makes this topic so interesting for the female runner is the game changing implications it can have on their ability to run. The main question I am curious to explore is how/why women are able to improve so effectively post pregnancy when my initial thought would be that the process of pregnancy would be more detrimental than positive to a female athlete. I am cueing off the information I learnt from an academic paper entitled “The Female Runner: Gender Specifics” by Stacey Lynch and Anne Hoch so I recommend looking it up if you want to learn more!
One unique change caused by pregnancy to the female runner is a biomechanical shift in a woman’s center of gravity, which occurs due to weight gains in particular locations in the body. Another biomechanical change, which occurs due to pregnancy, is ligament relaxation, where these important fibers that hold our muscles together tend to shift from the primed for stress tight ligaments into relaxed and loose weight baring ligaments. Both of these changes to a female runner’s biomechanics may detract from the ability to attain peak performances during pregnancy stages, however the evidence of the female athletes improving post delivery suggest that these changes may be beneficial. Alterations to the distribution of mass in the female body structure could offer a much more even dispersal of weight making it easier for the system as a whole to manage it instead of having just one system (legs, arms, torso, chest) have to carry more of the burden alone. Meanwhile shifting the burden duties of ligaments from the constant stress of training and allowing them to relax and take on new duties for 9 months may be a blessing in disguise for long term recovery. If a female runner has been training for years constantly stressing these ligaments to carry the burden of training and competition, allowing them to have a long period of recovery seems to make sense when we consider that the basic process for improvement does not occurring during the training itself but rather during recovery phases.
Medical professionals recommend that the pregnant female runner should train at intensities ranging from 60% to 90% of maximal heart rate or 50% to 85% of either maximal oxygen uptake or heart rate reserve. While there is an obvious need for reduced training intensity during the pregnancy process that requires the female runner to train at a reduced VO2max levels those women who exercised during pregnancy proved to develop a significant increase in absolute VO2max that was evident 12 to 20 weeks postpartum and was still maintained at 36 to 44 weeks postpartum, as a result of the increased blood volume that occurred during pregnancy. This development is of particular interest of the close association increased VO2 maxes have with an increase capacity to train. At altitude the reduced level of oxygen in the air forces the body to adapt by becoming more efficient at utilizing the oxygen is gets. So when the athlete returns to sea level they benefit from the effects having an increased VO2 max in their ability to increase their workout load for a few weeks post altitude training. A similar yet different effect appears to happen during pregnancy, which leads to an increased VO2 max, which in turn allows the female runner to physically be more capable post pregnancy than they were prior to the alterations pregnancy caused.
I have focused on merely the specific points I am aware of that I found interesting and could plausibly fathom some sort of reasoning towards how or why they would be beneficial to the post pregnancy runner. There are other factors such as posture and metabolism changes that are all clearly relevant to the overall process which are worthy of further study I simply choose to limit the scope of today’s look into the topic. No matter which way you look at the process of pregnancy in relation to running it is clear that there are some pretty substantial factors at work that can have a significant impact on a woman’s ability to run which as always, is interesting food for thought. One final thought I do want to mention that I haven’t found research on yet is the psychological ability for pain obviously acquired during the birthing process. I have not ever given birth, nor will I ever, but I have come to understand that it hurts… a LOT! I don’t know exactly what effect this has on a female runner, and it will obviously differ circumstantially for individuals. However, in a sport that involved pushing our bodies and minds through barriers of pain I have to think that somehow the pain endured through the process of birth has to make a woman stronger and more capable mentally, but that’s just my opinion.