So, you’ve made it through the first trimester of your pregnancy, and your bump is continuing to grow! If done correctly, exercise can help keep you fit and prepared for childbirth, as well as keep your spirits up. Here’s what you need to know to continue cycling safely and comfortably through the second trimester, from week 13 to the end of week 26…
In a series of videos on our YouTube channel, road.cc’s very own presenter Becca Charlton has been sharing the experiences of her current pregnancy journey, and turning to the experts including GP Ralph Mitchell plus female pro riders Dame Sarah Storey and Elinor Barker, who have cycled through pregnancy or are currently doing so in the case of the latter.
“While I’ve finally come through the other side of feeling utterly nauseous worrying about absolutely everything, and navigating my way through the early stages of cycling in pregnancy, I've now reached the part where allegedly, you're supposed to start glowing,” says Becca.
“I'm so happy that I’m currently not sick, but now there’s new challenges. I’m starting to really grow and I’m starting to need to change my bike position a little bit, and considering what I’m wearing on the bike too.”
You can now watch the second installment above to continue to find out what you need to know if you’re an amateur rider like Becca. If you prefer good old words though, read on to find out about how you can expect to be feeling, whether you need to adjust the intensity in this stage, as well as positional changes you may need to make and kit to wear.
If you missed it, we covered the benefits of continuing to cycle throughout your pregnancy, delved into the NHS advice on what intensity you should be riding at, explored how to fuel and stay hydrated and much more over here in our guide to the first trimester.
How you can you expect to be feeling: first vs second trimester
There are challenges to cycling while pregnant in each trimester and, as Becca has found so far, these can be completely different: “In the early days you're not showing, but your restriction then is that a lot of people feel sick like I did - that nausea makes you feel less comfortable.
“You can’t beat yourself up if you just don’t feel like riding at all, because, for a lot of people, that’s their experience for at least the first 12 weeks.
“I think when you get into the stages of the second trimester, that’s when most people will likely start growing, so you might be uncomfortable in a different way.”
“I found that once the nausea went, I was more comfortable riding the bike than I was even going for a gentle walk - it’s really become my comfort zone.”
What intensity can you ride at?
While the waves of nausea may have largely passed for you in this stage, and you may be feeling quite capable at times, it’s important to keep things steady.
“It depends on each individual person”, GP Ralph Mitchell says.
“By the second trimester, you will go through a lot more physiological changes very quickly.
“Some women talk about it as sort of the easier of the three trimesters because you’re not too big, and you’re not as tired or sick,” he adds.
“At that point, in the morning sickness often wears off and you haven’t got a huge bump that’s going to keep you up at night, and so that’s probably the one time that women say they’re most comfortable being able to do exercise and the things they want to do.”
However, Ralph stresses that it’s important to continue to follow the 2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy, exercising at an intensity that’s moderate to you - that is as long as you don’t have any 'absolute contraindications’ or ‘relative contraindications’ that are listed in the guidance. If you have the latter, it’s possible it’s safe to exercise but you should be having a discussion with your GP, or midwife or obstetrician first.
“It’s a marathon not a sprint,” says Ralph, “don’t expect yourself to be able to make physiological improvements.”
Ralph says you can expect to feel more tired and more breathless. “You get this incredible change where your blood becomes slightly more diluted, called a dilutional anaemia,” he notes.
You should still be able to hold a conversation as you exercise. If you become breathless as you talk, then you need to knock it down a notch.
“You’re not going to be able to thrash yourself as much as you’d like to be able to, but stick it out in that safe, moderate intensity level of exercise, and it’s absolutely brilliant,” says Ralph.
Raise your handlebars so you’re riding in a more relaxed position
Flipping your stem so it’s angled upwards, or raising your handlebars up if you have spacers currently above, can help put you into a more relaxed position for a comfortable riding experience - it’s about going on feel and playing around with what’s comfortable for you, and this will change as you grow.
“Although I'm quite clearly growing now that I'm getting into the latter stages of pregnancy, at first my growth was very, very gradual and so I found that I was absolutely fine on a normal set of drop handlebars,” Becca recalls.
“It’s only now [towards the end of the second trimester] that I’m starting to feel a bit uncomfortable and having to bring things up to find a new position.”
If your standard ride has the geometry of an aggressive race bike then you may find you need to make bigger adjustments, and make these earlier on. On the other hand, if you’re aboard an endurance bike, like Becca has been on the Cannondale Synapse, the bike already puts you in a fairly upright position, and so less drastic changes will be needed.
“Cannondale flipped the stem for me when sending the Synapse over and this bike already has quite a relaxed front end so it’s been perfect for me in this stage of the pregnancy,” Becca says.
“I can get into a nice position and I’m not too restricted, but I’m aware that as the bump grows I’ll probably have to start bringing the hoods up a little bit more.
“It just stops you from getting that discomfort when, not only do you feel like you're restricting the bump, but you also you don't want to start pedalling like this [with your knees out], because I'm aware that then you're going to start getting problems in your knees and hips, and you really don't want that.”
Positional changes will vary from person to person, and so you need to adjust based on how things are for you, and that may mean not needing to adapt anything until well into the third trimester.
“I was lucky as I didn’t have to change anything for the first 32 weeks [which is fully into the third trimester], but then it got to the point where my bump was basically touching my saddle when I was bent over, holding on the bars,” former British professional cyclist Nikki Brammeier recalls.
“So that’s the point where I thought I need to lift my bars a little bit, flip my stem over and that gave me a centimetre or two extra room.”
“Those changes definitely came later - you get to a point when you know something needs to change.”
Nikki adds: “I have my saddle slanted down slightly and so I think that takes a little bit of pressure off where you are sitting, and that’s how I kept my saddle through my pregnancy.”
Consistently ride outside to stay in tune with your balance
Being safe and not falling off your bike is of course a priority most of the time, and it’s particularly important when you're pregnant.
From your second trimester onwards your bump size is growing quite considerably but, in Nikki’s experience, if you continue riding every so often outside, this won’t cause any problems with feeling off-balance on the bike.
“I was a little bit cautious on descents, but I found that riding on the road and mountain biking kept me in tune with my balance,” says Nikki.
“It’s just a slow progression, your bump is getting bigger over a long period of time.”
She adds: “I found it harder, coming back after having a baby. You go from having a big bump that’s progressing gradually and then when you’ve had the baby it’s gone straight away.”
Try bodysuit style bib shorts
Bump sizes vary so much for each person, and so how quickly you’ll find you need to adapt your kit will also vary.
“I thought that I would be out of my normal kit very quickly, but actually I’ve still managed to keep most of it on because it’s so stretchy,” says Becca.
Bib shorts designs differ at the front too and so you may find you prefer the sort which integrates a base layer, covering up to your chest. Becca has found that this full body suit style works best for her as it covers all of the bump with no seams.
“What I’ve found - again it’s such a personal thing - is that I don’t want bibs that cut really low,” she shares.
“It’s not just the aesthetic, you don’t want any restriction where the baby is.
“Having lycra that covers your whole body underneath your jersey is so comfortable - that’s been a really good solution.”
Don’t worry, lycra stretches…
One good thing about lycra is that it often has an impressive amount of stretch, and so Becca says that you likely won’t need to worry about buying a whole new cycling wardrobe.
“I’m at the end of the second trimester now and I’m still able to relatively get in my kit.
“I think size up a little bit and get something that maybe will see you all the way through because I know that not everyone can go out and buy more and more kit.”
Dame Sarah Storey’s recommendation is to keep the shorts you usually ride in, as in her experience, “they were just incredibly good at stretching”. That said, she does admit that they’ll be completely destroyed by the end of your pregnancy.
“For me, the biggest mistake would be to have a bigger pair of shorts with a chamois and leg gripper that’s bigger,” says Sarah.
“Although I certainly gained a bit of size all over and I also gained a lot of muscle because I was pulling extra weight uphill, I found that having the chamois and the leg strap the right size minimised discomfort - so I’d keep the shorts the same.”
For the top half, Sarah recalls that she used to steal her partner’s jersey: “I was in a bigger size for a while and then gradually his jerseys got stretched as well."
Stay out of lycra while prepping for a bike ride
As well as working out which kit to wear, Becca says she found changing around the order in which she got ready for a ride really helped, as there can be a lot of prep that’s needed before rolling your bike out the door.
“The biggest tip that I’ve learnt on kit - especially as I’ve been getting more and more pregnant throughout the winter months - is don’t kit up with absolutely everything and then faff around doing your pre-ride rituals.
“I was trying to pump up my bike tyres with all my quite tight lycra on and I was actually finding that I got quite out of breath. The bump and the baby are restricting everything and pushing up.”
Essentially, get your comfies on and your bike ready to go out the door before putting on your Lycra is Becca’s advice.
“Give yourself a bit of space and time,” Becca suggests.
“If you can, take a bit longer in that process and enjoy getting out the door.”
If you’ve kept up cycling while pregnant, how did you find the second trimester compared to the first? Do you have any other tips?