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Fit Follow-Up: Brandi Dion

  • Name: Brandi Dion
  • Children: Daughter, McKenzie (born June 5, 2008); son, Maddox (born December 4, 2010)
  • Claim to Fame: Dion, co-author of the book The Pregnant Athlete (De Capo Lifelong Books) (read our review here), is a certified personal trainer, triathlete and triathlon coach in Salem, Massachusetts, who had no intention of skipping her rigorous workouts during either of her pregnancies. Over the course of her second, she finished a sprint triathlon (month three), tackled a Spartan Race (trimester three) and kept to a training plan. And though her approach is hardcore—she says a reporter once took her to task for picturing a pregnant woman flipping tires in the book (yes, it’s part of a workout she outlines)—she stresses listening to your body as much as working it. We talked with her about pain tolerance, coming back and what she tells her athletes that are moms-to-be.
Expert Advice

We have a CrossFit box and a boot camp business and a triathlon team and a coaching staff. A lot of pregnant women ask, “What should I do?” I just say you have to listen to your body. Don’t stop if you don’t have to. We had a woman in CrossFit who was hitting crazy personal records. She was over five months pregnant. I love seeing it. She eased into her workouts. She modified whatever she needed to but was still able to push weight.

Two Different Stories

I definitely worked out through both pregnancies consistently with my regular routine. The first one was more triathlon—swim, bike, run—with old-school gym lifting. The second was still triathlon, but I added in more adventure runs and more extreme strength training. We have a class called Extreme Strength Conditioning, which is very similar to CrossFit without the really heavy lifting. I went through that the entire time. The first time, I got pregnant in August or September, so that was through the winter and I delivered in early June. The second time I got pregnant in March, so I went through the entire summer into the fall. I was outdoors constantly.

Pushing Through Birth

I didn’t have any high expectations. I didn’t have my mind set on all natural and no drugs. You have to just be open to whatever is going to happen. Thankfully, both of my labors and deliveries went really smoothly. They were super-painful but I thought, O.K., do I really have to have the epidural now? No, I don’t. So you just keep pushing through. For the first one, we had a really good nurse and she made me push when I didn’t think I could push anymore and that made a huge difference. My husband was a great coach. He timed the contractions. With [my son], Maddox, it happened so quick—once the water broke he was ready to come out. It was a textbook delivery. I totally think that all of the training helped me to push the limits of what I thought I could do.

The Athletic Connection

I feel that it’s all pain tolerance. Certain people are able to stay in a pain cave for longer than others and that’s where performance and mental threshold is like labor and delivery. How much pain can you tolerate before you stop and take the drugs? Some people stop and give up way too soon when they could, if they wanted to, keep going. And there’s a certain point where you have no choice but to do it naturally. Then it’s too late and you’re like, “Ah, shit.”

Back at It

I definitely eased in, but I certainly didn’t take off weeks and weeks. I did modified strength workouts; for me, the strength stuff is easy. I didn’t go out and start running right away or get on the bike. With McKenzie, it was like getting hit by a truck. Pushing that long and hard, you’re whole body is sore. So I took about a week off. I walked on the beach with her and did shoulder presses, push-ups and calf squats. It was easy, but at least I was doing something, so I felt good. With Maddox, because [his birth] was a lot quicker, I wasn’t really all that sore. I went back a lot sooner; I was actually ready three or four days later. But I modified things, so I certainly wasn’t pushing myself. My intensity wasn’t high. Mentally I just wanted to go do something no matter what it was. You’re getting used to running with bigger boobs and you’re leaking milk if you’re breastfeeding and you’re still bleeding, so you can’t go too hard. You really have to listen to your body and say, you know what? I’m happy just to be here and see what I can do.

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