Some of us are impressed when anyone whips off four chin-ups, but leave it to Erin Comstock, the pro snowboarder turned CrossFit coach, to raise the bar. In a video posted last week on Instagram, she gamely accomplishes the task in an electric pink sports bra and black leggings, before turning around to reveal a wide smile and an even wider belly. At 32 weeks pregnant, she redefines the miracle of motherhood-to-be—a notion echoed by the flexed-bicep emojis cheering her on.
“I am constantly learning the power we have with our bodies,” Comstock tells me. After putting on 50 pounds during her first pregnancy, with an accompanying dip into depression, she made it a point to “eat healthier and train harder” this time around. “It has paid off thus far a hundredfold!” she says of the uptick in energy that she partly attributes to her formidable workout schedule (five to six days a week). Amid the current wellness craze and a broader movement toward female empowerment, she’s among the many women who are re-examining the traditional boundaries of pregnancy and carving out their own fitness-minded paths in consultation with their doctors and midwives. (Comstock’s ob-gyn has given her the green light.)
Still, those nine-plus months can be a challenging and unpredictable time, with bouts of nausea and fatigue often mixed in with the excitement and awe. With that in mind, Vogue.com caught up with a group of expectant mothers so in tune with their bodies, they call their workouts work. Here, seven fitness instructors—Anna Kaiser of AKT; Love Yoga’s Chelsea Levy; Bari founder Alexandra Bonetti Pérez; SoulCycle instructor Alejandra Serret; Claudine Lafond of YogaBeyond; Comstock; and SLT’s Allyson Lee Burns, who gave birth to a baby boy two days after we spoke (congratulations!)—offer firsthand perspectives on embracing change, setting boundaries, and maintaining a strong sense of self, not to mention a strong core.
Get Into a Pre-Pregnancy Fitness Groove
All of these women credit a strong baseline fitness level (plus a dose of luck) with the relative ease of their pregnancies. The best way to keep up the momentum during the whirlwind months ahead? Lay the foundation for a solid exercise program before you’re expecting, if possible. “Having a routine where your body craves a workout and your mind is set to exercise at certain times helps you stay on track,” says Kaiser. Comstock agrees, advocating for a community-based structure: “It is very hard to stay self-motivated when you are nauseous, tired, and feeling heavy, but being part of a gym or class will help you stay active and accountable.”
Aim for First-Trimester Workouts—And Trust That the Second Gets Better
While some first trimesters cruise by, others can be notoriously difficult, with fatigue and nausea setting in before it’s time to share the news with colleagues and clients. “Getting myself into the workout was extraordinarily hard—and I love to work out! That’s my job,” Kaiser says, admitting some surprise at the rough start. But it was exactly AKT’s heart-pumping classes—ranging from dance cardio to toning—that revealed the value in pushing through. “Once you’re there, you feel so much better. It gets rid of the nausea and the exhaustion, and your skin is glowing. You have so much more energy,” she reports, noting that, by the second trimester, an increased blood supply also helps speed recovery. Even Bonetti Pérez’s “horrible” case of morning sickness—a two-month stretch that occasioned trips to the hospital for rehydrating IVs—pivoted on a dime. “Within three days my symptoms were gone, and all of a sudden I felt like a million bucks again,” she explains of the swift return to her trampoline-based Bounce classes. “Now I stick to my workout schedule more than I did pre-pregnancy. You have that extra drive and emotional connection to just be good to your body and to your baby.”
Make Mindful Modifications
With all the changes going on in the body, one in particular warrants special attention: the hormone relaxin. “Its purpose is to soften the connective tissue around the pelvis to prepare your body for labor and birth, but it affects all of your joints,” says Levy, who teaches both prenatal and regular yoga classes. A perceived gain in flexibility—in postures like forward folds and hip openers—might in fact be looser ligaments, so it’s wise to maintain “an awareness of the edges of your body and to stay within those limits when you’re pregnant,” she says. A number of the women have also steered away from twists, crunches, and other superficial ab moves, which can increase the risk for diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles; Kaiser has instead ramped up deep core work, like diaphragmatic breathing, as well as pelvic-floor exercises. And Lafond, whose Acrovinyasa practice daringly takes yoga off the mat, eased up on inversions in the first trimester (to reduce the chance that the embryo might detach from the uterine wall) and in the third (to avoid the baby shifting out of birth position). That said, all modifications are a personal choice and should be discussed with one’s care providers, she stresses: “I would never want to say that there’s one way to go about pregnancy—what to do and what not to do.”
Find New Ways to Chill Out
With renewed energy comes a drive for business-as-usual sweat sessions, but it’s wise to stay attuned to the body’s ebbs and flows. Serret, never one for midday rests, found that post-SoulCycle power naps helped remedy her first-trimester fatigue. Levy converted her longtime running practice into joint-friendly cardio sessions on the elliptical machine, before segueing to gentler-still swimming—a perk of living in sunny Los Angeles. Even Lee Burns, a “very competitive person” who powered through Barry’s Bootcamp until 33 weeks pregnant, has found the breathing exercises in prenatal yoga to be a welcome change. “Part of me misses the intensity of my hard workouts, but the other part of me enjoys taking a step back,” she says. “And dancing!” adds Lafond. “Not in any sort of formal way, but just putting on music and moving the whole body to stay as fluid as possible.”
Fuel—And Refuel—As Your Body Needs
Aversions and cravings—very real, if not universal—complicate the food aspect of wellness. Serret jokes that her inclinations were what she imagined “a frat boy would want to eat, like big bologna sandwiches with cheese and mayo,” so she devised alternatives like a BLT with turkey bacon and avocado. “I could not look at a vegetable or a piece of meat for, like, three months!” adds Kaiser, who found herself hunting down healthy carbohydrates and turning to protein-rich milk for the first time since she was a kid. It’s worth paying close attention to those cues. “True, authentic cravings are really speaking to you, in a way,” Levy says, pointing out that an urge for bananas might mean a dip in potassium levels, or that a red meat hankering might signal low iron. Eating whole foods is a good goal, she explains, but it’s not a time to be overly restrictive, both for the baby’s palette and the mother’s peace of mind. “There are plenty of other things to focus that worried, anxious energy toward!” (Like the microbiome, says Bonetti Pérez, a probiotic devotee.) Expect a shift in portion size, too. “There’s less space inside as the organs get pushed upward toward the diaphragm,” says Lafond, “so I’m eating smaller, nutrient-dense meals.”
Embrace What Changes (and Not Everything Has To!)
When one’s livelihood is entwined with fitness, it’s only natural that the great unknown of pregnancy might occasion a touch of concern. Kaiser found some peace of mind in learning what comprises the weight gain, rattling off a list of things that each weigh a pound or two: uterus, placenta, amped-up breasts, extra water. “As long as you keep yourself active and have a healthy diet, most of that weight is not something that’s going to stick around for a while. It’s good to break it down and not stress so much,” she says. Levy’s perspective is also grounded in the practical: “People always talk about, ‘Oh, your body will never be the same.’ But the reality is your body’s never the same year to year anyway, you know?”
Some things, thankfully, do stay the same. For the Sydney-based Lafond, the peripatetic travel schedule she shares with her yogi husband hasn’t abated, with recent stops in Bali, Canada, China, and the U.S. With two weeks until her due date, she has even secured her midwives’ go-ahead (and permission from an airline) to head to Australia’s Sunshine Coast for this weekend’s Wanderlust festival. Lee Burns, meanwhile, has found relief in taking things down a notch. “Being pregnant has just forced me to slow down and realize it’s okay not to do a million things all in one day,” she says, though when we spoke last Thursday—a week past her due date—she had at least one task on repeat: “I don’t know how many more squats I can do to get this baby out! My ass is like Kim Kardashian’s right now.” With her son now in tow, all that hard work has paid off.