Kim Vandenberg is a retired professional swimmer and Bronze medalist from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is also a swimming teacher, yoga instructor, and, most recently, a new mother. Swimming throughout her pregnancy, Vandenberg faced new challenges and experienced the water in a whole new way. From the medical to the mental, here are Vandenberg’s top tips for swimming during pregnancy.
1. Don’t Hold Your Breath: Breathe
As a former professional swimmer, Vandenberg has well-trained breath control. Incorporating hypoxic training to work on underwater skills, breathing patterns, and lung capacity, Vandenberg was accustomed to holding her breath every practice. However, her doctor said during pregnancy that was a no-go. “The doctors said when you’re swimming, you have to make sure you’re breathing enough,” she explains. To ensure she and the baby were getting enough oxygen, Vandenberg would skip all hypoxic training and, admittedly being over cautious, breathe every stroke during freestyle. “I would also do a lot of backstroke and breaststroke just to make sure I would get enough oxygen,” she says.
2. Take The Weight Off
“Just being in the water and feeling lighter actually felt really good,” Vandenberg says, explaining she had hip and back pain throughout her pregnancy. “Even though I was heavier, I was buoyant. I'd be able to float. I didn't have as much pain in the water,” she explains. But more than taking the physical weight off her body, Vandenberg says swimming was also about taking the weight off mentally. “Swimming is a meditative experience for many people. For me, it's moving my body, it's clearing my mind, it's processing, it's reflecting. I've always thought of water and being in the pool as reflection.”
3. Movement Over Mileage
Swimmers are well-known to have high-mileage training. While Vandenberg isn’t a full-time professional swimmer anymore, her normal swim routine wasn’t supportive of her pregnancy.
“Pregnancy changed my relationship to working out. You know, 30 minutes of floating around—it’s still a workout. I'm moving my arms. I'm not doing as much yardage, but I'm still putting the effort in as much as I could,” she says. Not only was it about energy availably but, she laughs, “With an extra 30 pounds, trying to swim butterfly… I did a lot of backstroke and breaststroke!”
4. Save the Pushing for the Delivery Room
Any type of athlete knows that pushing your body is part of sport but, during pregnancy, Vandenberg says she skipped the speed work. Under medical advice not to push her body as she would normally do, Vandenberg says she committed to just swimming easy. “When you're competing and you're not pregnant, especially as an Olympic swimmer, you're pushing, pushing, pushing. And yes, maybe you're uncomfortable, but you push through that uncomfortable feeling. But when you're pregnant, you have to listen to your body,” Vandenberg says.
5. Listen To Your Body….And Get Mid-Workout Pancakes
Vandenberg says her biggest tip for swimming during pregnancy is listening to your body. “I really tried to develop more awareness of what my body needed. It’s important to listen to your body and listen to what your limits are and to be able to follow that lead,” she explains. Cutting down mileage, breathing as much as possible, and swimming easy, all tie back into supporting what your body needs but that’s not all that it means. “There were days when I'd be like, you know what? I need to get out and get a snack,” she giggles. “So I'd hop out of the pool in the middle of my workout and go get a snack. One time I got a huge plate of pancakes and an omelet and I was just starving.” Whether it’s changing your workout or getting a mid-splash meal, listen to your body.
6. Have A Laugh
All the changes to her swimming during pregnancy weren’t easy. “I felt like a whale,” Vandenberg smiles, but she says finding the humor in things helped. Whether it was forgetting she had a belly and trying to flip turn or looking at the clock, Vandenberg said she just had to laugh at herself sometimes. “It was definitely a challenge for me to be patient with myself. I timed myself doing a 50 or a 100 and I remember laughing at my times. I was like, okay, I've never been so slow in my whole life. And, of course that's normal, but it was…I tried to find humor in it,” she says.
7. Slow Down
She might have slowed down in the water but Vandenberg says she also had to slow down out of the water too. “There were days that I definitely stayed in bed to rest but, looking back, I wish I just would have rested a little bit more. I was working—I teach swimming and I teach yoga—and I was trying to maintain my schedule and cleaning, doing laundry, cooking and walking my dog. I felt like I was doing a lot,” she says, including her own swimming in that list. Especially as an athlete, she explains, “My life was always go, go, go. But resting and recovery is so important, especially when you're pregnant. I think it's important just to slow down.”
8. A New Way To Love The Water
Pregnancy offers a whole new way to experience the water so, instead of focusing on what she couldn’t do anymore, Vandenberg explored new ways to swim and be in the water. “It was fun swimming on my back in the summer, especially because my belly was so big it would almost get dry. And sometimes I'd feel Sadie kicking when I'd be at the wall. She seemed to really like being in the water. That's so cool.” Embracing pregnancy as a wonderful part of her swimming life brought Vandenberg a new way to love the water and it only made her love for swimming deeper.
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