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Five Great Workout Tips For Women

by Claudia Piepenburg - editor of Road Runner Sports Run Today Newsletter


Most doctors now agree that women who exercise regularly during pregnancy deliver healthier babies, have easier labors and return to pre-pregnancy fitness levels much quicker than their non-exercising counterparts. However, women need to follow guidelines regarding running while pregnant. Check out these 10 tips:

  1. Don't overheat. This is very important. Don't run on warm, humid days and avoid running indoors on a treadmill or indoor track where your body will heat up more quickly than when you're outside. Internal temperatures above 101° can cause birth defects in the developing fetus.
  2. Don't run to the point of breathlessness. Avoid track workouts and races.
  3. Use a heart rate monitor. Wearing a monitor guarantees that you aren't running too fast. All your runs should be within your aerobic zone, which is 65% to 80% of your maximum heart rate.
  4. Don't run longer than 40 minutes. Run less the further along you are in your pregnancy. The last few weeks you may prefer to walk.
  5. Cool down after you run. Cooling down is critical to your baby's safety. If you stop suddenly without adequately cooling down, blood will pool in your legs restricting blood flow to your baby.
  6. Exercise your lower back and hamstring muscles with strengthening exercises. By doing so, you'll alleviate the back pain most women experience late in their pregnancy.
  7. Listen to your body! Rest when your body says so. Make sure you're well-hydrated and always eat a balanced diet.
  8. Don't jump back into running too soon after giving birth. You'll be more prone to injuries after your pregnancy because your ligaments, joints and muscles will be stretched. Wait at least four to five days after a normal delivery before you run again. If you had a C-section, you may have to wait a month before you'll be able to run without discomfort.
  9. When you start running again, pretend you're a novice runner. Take your time getting back into your running program. You may find that you'll have to combine walking and jogging for a few weeks until you can run comfortably without stopping.
  10. Occasionally enjoy a workout with your new baby. Running with your new baby in a jogging stroller can be a delightful experience, for both you and the child. Be sure to take these precautions.
  • Be careful that you don't take the baby out when he or she is too young. Wait until your baby is at least four to six months old.
  • Make sure your child is dressed for the weather conditions.
  • Don't take your child out if it's too cold.
  • Avoid pushing a running stroller on hilly courses.
  • Don't take your child out every day. It's very tiring pushing the stroller, so don't exhaust yourself by using the running stroller too often.
  • Don't use the stroller in races as it is quite dangerous to everyone, your baby included. Race insurance generally doesn't cover baby strollers and most sanctioned racers don't allow them anyway. If you want to run in a small, local event make sure you line up at the back of the pack.

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The menstrual cycle is composed of three phases: the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. The follicular phase is usually days one through thirteen, with the first three to seven days being menstruation. Hormone levels are low during this time. Ovulation occurs on or about day fourteen. During the remaining days, the luteal phase, women will exhibit high and relatively stable estrogen levels. Estrogen level affects the type of fuel available for your workout. Low hormone levels provide you with quick energy fuel, what you need when you're running fast. When your estrogen levels are high, you're better able to run longer, slower distances. During the follicular phase, for instance, you'll burn more carbohydrates, which provide energy for speed workouts and racing. During the luteal phase you'll burn more fat, which means longer, more intense runs will be easier. Keep this in mind when you're planning your training and racing schedules. Don't see your menstrual cycle as a hindrance; instead use your hormone levels as a training aid.

Unfortunately there hasn't been a great deal of research on how menopause affects runners. However, the few studies that have been done (most through the Melpomene Institute located in St. Paul, Minnesota) indicate that many women believe running helps to reduce the negative affects of menopause. Also, women tend to associate changes in their running with age, not menopause. Those changes in running relate to weekly mileage. Menopausal women who ran fewer miles per week were most likely to say that they'd gained weight. The fewer miles per week the women ran, the more likely they were to say that they felt more aches and pains than the women who ran more miles. The women didn't care whether the decreased mileage was related to the aging process or to menopause. Women who said they gained weight were the ones who were running fewer miles, while those who said they had maintained their weight ran more miles per week. Based on these studies, it would be wise for menopausal women to try to maintain their mileage levels.

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It's extremely uncomfortable to run in a pair of shoes that don't fit. These days shoe companies offer a full range of models designed specifically to fit a woman's foot. Most women have a foot that is narrower than a man's, particularly in the heel. Women also often have a foot with very tight tendons and ligaments in the heel and ankle area because of their tendency to wear street shoes with a higher heel than men.

Sometimes the shift from street shoe to running shoe can be extremely uncomfortable. Often women try to wear a running shoe that's too small for them. Vanity gets in the way of comfort! Keep in mind that no one is going to know what size shoe you're wearing. You're not going to have to walk around with a big "10" tattooed on your forehead!

Like women's clothing sizes, running shoe sizes sometimes vary considerably depending on many factors: the manufacturer, the style or model sometimes. Even the country where the shoe was made. And because your feet need room to spread when you run, you'll always need to size up from your regular street shoe size anyway. Remember a size eight Saucony may not fit like a size eight Brooks and neither will fit if your street shoe size is an eight. Make sure you buy shoes that fit!

Clothing/ Apparel
Like shoes, it's easier these days for women runners to find clothing that fits comfortably but you may still have to experiment with various manufacturers to find what works best for you. Women often have concerns with shorts bunching up and exposing too much of their upper leg area. Shorts that "ride up"are also annoying.

And then there's the sport bra issue. You know what we're talking about: straps that cut your shoulders; bras that fit too tightly; bras that don't give you enough support; bras that cut into your chest; bras that don't pull on and off easily. To help ease the pain of bra-shopping and to provide a place for women to learn how to get the best fit, Road Runner Sports developed Check it out to get all the information you need on how to make the decision on the bra that's right for you.

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Women often start running because they want to lose weight. If the weight doesn't come off as quickly as they'd like they often start dieting. This is a dangerous practice. Your body needs a certain amount of fat to simply survive. In women this amount, called essential fat, is 4% of your total body weight.

Your body also has 6-15% of storage fat. This is the fat you can put on or take off depending on your activity level and diet. Women also have sex-specific fat, which makes up 9-16% of their body weight. Sex-specific fat is stored in your pelvis, breasts, hips and thighs. It's needed for normal reproductive functions. When women start exercising to lose weight and then begin dieting to lose weight even faster, they can sometimes get caught up in a dangerous cycle of under-eating. It takes a lot of energy (fuel) to run four or five times a week, or to race on occasion. If you're restricting your food intake while you're working out regularly, you'll eventually begin to lose fat that you don't want to lose, the sex-specific fat. If you're depriving yourself of foods simply to lose weight faster, or if you think you'll run even better if you're thinner, you're making a mistake.

Think of your body as a car. Cars don't run without the proper fuel. If the gas in your car is a low-grade fuel that isn't the proper type for the engine, the car won't run right. Your body is the same. Keep it fueled with the right type and amounts of food (50-60% carbohydrates, 15-20% fat, 10-20% protein) and you'll run strong for a long, long time!

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Women need to be particularly aware of what's going on around them when they're running. Stick to these guidelines when preparing your workouts:

  • Don't wear headphones when you're running outdoors! Even though you often see both men and women listening to music while they're running outside, it's simply not a safe practice. You must be able to hear if there's someone coming up behind you, which you can't when you're wearing headphones. Save the headphones for your indoor workouts.
  • Be careful where you run. Avoid areas that are far off the "beaten path," unless you're running with other people.
  • Try not to run the same route at the same time every day, particularly if you run alone.
  • It's always a good idea to have a running buddy (or two or three), but if you prefer to run alone do be careful.
  • Avoid isolated areas.
  • Don't run after dark, particularly if you're in an unfamiliar area.
  • Always run with a sense of purpose. Be aware, don't run along with your head down. Don't look like a victim. You're a strong, powerful woman! Run strong, but always be sensible and don't take chances.

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Run Today contributors' info: Claudia Piepenburg
Claudia has been running for twenty-one years and is the current editor for Peak Running Performance. She holds or has held state age-group records in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia. In 1990, she was ranked 18th fastest masters woman in the world and 8th fastest masters woman in the U.S. in 1990 and 1991. She competed in the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials, was 20th woman overall in the 1987 Boston Marathon and women's winner of the 1986 Virginia Beach Marathon.

The goal of BODi is to provide you with solutions to reach your health and fitness goals. Click here to learn more about BODi Coach Rich Dafter.

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