Twin pregnancies are tough on the body, mind and spirit. After I had my little ones last year, I was eager to re-start my exercise routine, which I had abandoned around 25 weeks into my pregnancy in favor of sitting on my tushy and consuming processed cheese products. My aspirations for a fit pregnancy went out the window starting when morning sickness hit hard around week 8. Until that point, I was in the early stages of marathon training, running about 30 miles a week. I snickered to myself when my OB announced that I probably wouldn’t feel up to marathon training in a few short weeks. Guess who was spot on?
Despite my usual affinity for healthy foods, the thought of consuming a green vegetable in the first trimester was gag-worthy. Some days I found that willing my torso into an upright position and climbing out of bed was a challenge. The mere thought of exercise left me feeling tired. As morning sickness subsided, my work schedule became demanding leaving me devoid of even one ounce of energy to dedicate to activity. On good days I took a handful of slow walks around the office. By the time my third trimester hit, I focused solely on staying as comfortable as I could and keeping those babies incubating.
Fast forward to 6 weeks postpartum when my doctor gave me the ‘go ahead’ to restart my exercise routine. It was Mother’s Day. I eagerly traversed the three blocks from my apartment to our local park, where I typically ran. The spring sun was accompanied by a light breeze. I felt happy and confident about getting moving again. I’d taken breaks from exercise in the past and always jumped back in without much difficulty. I started jogging slowly to warm up. Immediately I felt off, and I got the sense that something was missing. It was like someone took a giant ice cream scoop and plunged it into the front of me from my sternum to my pelvis, removing everything. Except when I looked down, my belly wasn’t hollow at all. In fact, it jiggled as I ran and spilled over my shorts. This was new.
My abdominal muscles were either missing or taking a vacation. I always heard about the importance of a strong core for fast running, but I didn’t fully appreciate this concept until that very moment. Within 60 seconds I was winded. I slowed down so that I could manage to eek out a one-mile jog. I left the park feeling sweaty, defeated and demoralized.
Somewhere along the line my feelings of defeat morphed into determination. Despite the sleep deprivation and stress of being a new twin mom, I managed to squeeze in four runs a week for the next 4 months to train for the New York City marathon, which I proudly completed 7 months postpartum.
Here are the principles I used to guide me towards prioritizing exercise as a new twin mom:
- Connect with your why. Maybe you want to set a good example for your kids. Perhaps you want to ensure you are around to be a grandparent. Maybe you have more energy when you exercise. Perhaps you want to rock a swimsuit when you go on vacation in 6 months. Whatever the reason, the stronger your connection to it, the more you can use that vision of yourself in the future to help inspire action in the present.
- Be realistic. Stressing out about squeezing a workout in or berating yourself for failing to exercise doesn’t do anyone any good. Be honest with yourself about the time that you have and how you would like to spend it. If you aren’t sleeping because your kids are up 3 times each night, it may not be the time to start exercising. Once things stabilize, and they will stabilize, you can get more aggressive. Also, if you have 5 minutes. Use them. Workouts don’t necessarily need to be long to be effective.
- Choose something you like. If you hate running and love Pilates, but your bestie swears you’ll see better results by embarking on a Couch to 5k program so you are tempted, resist the urge! Your workout may comprise the majority of the few fleeting minutes you get to yourself in a day. Make those moments the best they can be for your body, mind and soul by choosing activities that you find enjoyable.
- Decide when. Yes, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is scheduled in our household. If it isn’t on the calendar or part of the daily routine it isn’t happening. At the very least, try planning your workouts for the week in advance. Make sure you have the coverage and support that you need to get them done. Best case scenario, see if you can create a routine for your workouts so that everyone in your household knows that mom is off duty during certain times and can adjust accordingly.
- Choose a system of accountability. If you have any doubts about your ability to deliver on your commitment to yourself, and let me tell you, even the fittest fit people have days they want to stay in bed, rally your support system.
- Meet a friend or a trainer for regular workouts. Or join a sports team. You will be less likely to miss a workout if someone else is waiting to meet you.
- Invest in a wearable device that gives you real-time feedback about your activity level and set daily goals for yourself. Warning: you might find yourself marching at “do not walk” signals or while waiting for the train in order to meet your step goal for the day. [Twiniversity Tip: Fitbit allows you to connect with friends who also use Fitbit and challenge each other to day-long, weekend-long, or week-long step challenges. We are obsessed!]
- Sign up for a race or challenge that inspires you (or scares you) to start preparing for it.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Before my twins I spent an hour or more in the gym on a daily basis. Incorporating these kiddos into my life has been a huge adjustment, and it would be silly to expect that we know instantly how to manage it all. Initially I felt guilty about not having the time for 60 minute plus workouts, but then I realized this was an opportunity in disguise. I just needed to become more efficient with my workouts. I traded out some of my steady state cardio for shorter, higher intensity interval sessions. I incorporated walking more into my daily routine and began taking the stairs at every opportunity. Take some time to experiment to find what works best for you right now.
Whether you’re six weeks postpartum or your twins are ten years old, starting from zero almost always feels intimidating. While exercise can be difficult, our bodies are remarkable. They may look a bit different after carrying two or more babies, but you may be surprised by your body’s resilience and ability to adapt. And certainly becoming a twin mom has helped us with hone our mental toughness. So get started.
“Start small. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
Kate Dugan is a run coach and recreational marathoner with a passion for helping moms achieve their fitness goals. She lives in NYC with her significant other, their one-year old boy/girl twins, and pet dog and cat. Find out more about her here or follow Kate on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.
* * *
Are you a new twin parent? Check out Natalie Diaz's new book “What To Do When You're Having Two: The Twin Survival Guide From Pregnancy Through the First Year”, available in stores now!
The rate of twin births has risen 79 percent over the last three decades, and continues to increase. A mom of fraternal twins and a national guru on having two, Natalie Diaz launched Twiniversity, a supportive website with advice from the twin-trenches.
What to Do When You’re Having Two is the definitive how-to guide to parenting twins, covering how to make a Birth Plan checklist, sticking to one sleep schedule, managing double-duty breastfeeding, stocking up on all the necessary gear, building one-on-one relationships with each child, and more.
Accessible and informative, What to Do When You’re Having Two is the must-have manual for all parents of twins.