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What’s My Workout: Rebeccah Wassner

Triathletes know that races do not always go as planned. The same could, of course, be said of pregnancies, a fact that professional triathlete Rebeccah Wassner, due to have her second child around New Year's Eve, knows all too well. The three-time winner of the New York City Triathlon was forced to stop working out completely at 21 weeks, after developing placenta previa (when the placenta covers the opening to the cervix). After resetting her expectations, Wassner, the 2009 USA Triathlon Athlete of the Year, made peace with her mandatory training break. She has taken cooking classes—she and her twin sister, Laurel (above, right), who is the first cancer survivor to become a professional triathlete, produce a blog called Athlete Food (we featured one of their fall dishes recently)—and spent lots of quality time with her two-year-old daughter.

And she’s not too worried about coming back after giving birth, either. “It’s hard to believe that taking nine months off and having a baby can make you more fit,” she says. “But from what I’ve seen, if you stick to your fitness goals that’s just how it works!” We couldn’t be happier to hear that. Read on for more of her story, which includes winning a race at more than two months pregnant. (Let's just say her competition, all the men included, didn't stand a chance.)

Q: How has this pregnancy compared to your first in terms of how you feel and the way you approach your training?

A: I had more of a plan going into this one. I knew how I was going to feel while running, swimming and biking and didn’t have any expectations as far as speed goes. The first time around, I’d finish workouts feeling disappointed because my paces were way slower than my effort level. I consulted a fellow professional athlete and mom and she gave me the straight scoop, right down to the paces I’d be able to hold for certain swim sets. At first I thought, is she crazy? I’m going to slow down that much? But turned out she was right. I also now know that, after the baby, those paces go in the opposite direction.

Q: You developed placenta previa this time around and weren’t allowed to work out—at all. How have you dealt with that?

A: Getting diagnosed with complete placenta previa [when the placenta covers the opening to the cervix] at 21 weeks was a blow. I was just getting into my pregnancy fitness routine and was told absolutely no exercise. I was also dealt a travel restriction so I wasn’t able to go to watch my twin sister race at the Ironman World Championships in October. The hardest part has been that I feel fine and, thankfully, haven’t had any symptoms. This has made me contemplate going to the gym or going swimming many times and I’ve had to stop myself or have others stop me.

Q: Perspective is key, right?

A: A friend of mine is a labor and delivery nurse and also an athlete so she totally gets my desire to work out. But she filled me in on what it’s like if something does go wrong and gave me the perfect advice to just enjoy this downtime. I’ve mostly dealt with it by exercising within the parameters I’m allowed. Each week I plan out a mini training program. I’ll map out a certain number of miles to walk each day, between one to four, foam rolling sessions and very light water-running workouts. I’ve also gotten good at finding distractions. I started taking as many cooking classes as I could and the hours [normally spent] in the gym or pool have turned into quality time with my two-year-old daughter, Amy.

Q: What were your typical weekly workouts at the beginning of your pregnancy?

A: I competed through about ten weeks without realizing I was pregnant. I was doing heavy training and had just started working with my longtime coach Cliff English again after taking a few years to work independently. Things were going really well, but one day—I was at about ten weeks—I went for an easy run and things just felt off for no reason. I figured out I was pregnant, but had a race planned for three days later so I went and did it and didn’t tell anyone. I ended up winning the race outright—beating all the men in the process. Part of me wanted to say to the guys, c’mon don’t let a pregnant lady beat you, when I passed them. But I really needed all my energy to get to that finish line in one piece!

Q: We are impressed!

A: After that race I backed off significantly. I knew from the last time I was pregnant that trying to mimic what I was doing while not pregnant was just not a good strategy. I switched my focus to working out in the gym and started working out with Eric Grantham from Fusion Physical Therapy & Sports Performance in Tribeca, New York City, with the focus on getting my core and back muscles ready to support a baby.

Q: Give us your pregnancy fitness philosophy in three words.

A: Healthy baby first.

Q: What advice would you give a mom-to-be who wants to keep exercising throughout her pregnancy?

A: Reset your expectations and do what is best for you and your baby. And remember the ultimate goal is to have a healthy baby. I found it best to focus on myself and not get caught up in comparing myself to what other women are able to do while pregnant. Every pregnancy is different and every woman handles it differently. So do what you can do and enjoy it!

Q: How did you approach getting back to normal workouts after your daughter was born?

A: My approach to returning to exercise was to be patient and let things happen naturally. Your body will let you know when it is ready and you’ll be surprised that when it is ready, it is really ready! The fitness gains postpartum are amazing. Six weeks after my c-section I wanted to go out for a run. I tried it and my legs didn’t feel attached to my body so I stopped after a few minutes and power walked. A month later I was able to run a race. Not fast, but I was out there running and enjoying every step.

Q: What surprised you the most about your return to regular training as a new mom?

A: The biggest surprise for me was how much breastfeeding can dehydrate you. I read about the importance of hydration, heard about it from friends. But until I experienced it myself, I didn’t get it! I remember the first bike ride I did. I was so excited just to be outside that I didn’t drink much from my water bottle. I came home and had a debilitating headache for three hours—and a newborn to take care of! Not a smart move. I learned from that point on to not only remember to drink while riding, but to go into any exercise with my hydration stores topped off.

Q: What are your goals for after the baby comes?

A: I plan on racing professionally in mid 2016. The first half of the year will be about enjoying the new little one, regaining fitness and preparing my body to be ready to race the world’s best again.

Photo: Nils Ericson / The New Jock
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