cycling training pregnant header cycling training pregnant header cycling training pregnant header

5 things I learned while cycling training pregnant


Words from our ambassador Claire Williams about the main things she learned while continuing cycling training pregnant.

After completing Ironman Mallorca 70.3 in September 2021, I found myself sitting in the athlete post-race area, crying and sobbing my eyes out. I had no idea why I had done well; I was happy with my performance. I came third in my age group, so I was delighted with how it went, yet I found myself crying for no apparent reason.

Only when I returned home did I realise I was late for my period by a week. I took a pregnancy test, and to our excitement and surprise, I was pregnant! No wonder I was crying post-race; it all made sense! The stubborn athlete in me was determined to keep as active as I had been before finding out. Still, in reality, this ended up being my biggest personal challenge, and I quickly realised that my expectations had to change. 

cycling training pregnant

Personal Experience

To start with, all the below is from my personal experience. Every woman’s body, pregnancy journey and experiences are entirely different, and comparisons shouldn’t be made (maybe that should be point 1 to start with!).

The NHS advice about exercising when pregnant is to “keep up your normal exercise for as long as you feel comfortable”, but “Exercises that have a risk of falling, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, should only be done with caution”.

It was October when I found out I was pregnant, and being a fair-weather cyclist, I was more than happy to stay safe and dry in the comfort of our pain cave on my turbo, so this eliminated some of the risks involved with outdoor cycling and made the environment more controllable. (Hydration/keeping cool which are extremely important with regards to exercising when pregnant) Personally, even in the warmer weather, I didn’t consider outdoor cycling in the UK due to the added risks of being on the road. However, I rented an electric bike in Mallorca while I was seven months pregnant and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom it gave me to do what I love.

So, the five main things I learned while training/cycling pregnant are as follows!

Listen to your own body

This was something I found pretty easy. The first trimester was full of sickness and nausea, so some days, I didn’t want to do anything except lie on the sofa, and other days I felt I could take on the world. Every day was different! As a triathlete, swimming was purely continued for the duration of the time I felt comfortable in a swimsuit in a pool. Running was the first thing to stop as I was experiencing pain, and it just wasn’t comfortable or fun! I replaced running with long walks/waddles, which were far more enjoyable. Cycling was a similar situation; if I felt able to, I did it to an effort level I felt comfortable with.

cycling training pregnant

Your FTP will drop

It sounds a daft point to make, but I learnt very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to hit the same watts as I did pre-pregnancy. For that reason, I reduced my FTP on Zwift and Training peaks very early on so that any workouts or sessions that I did were more specific to the fitness level I was currently at, that way this mentally made me feel better that I could still hit the numbers even if they were greatly reduced. 

Comfort on the bike is everything!

I remained on my TT bike on the turbo throughout my pregnancy. However, many adjustments took place at differing stages to help keep comfort at the forefront of the turbo sessions and help my growing bump remain protected with lots of room.

Various options could be adopted for this, such as changing your bike entirely if you have the bikes available, raising your handlebars and stem, turning your handlebars over, raising the front wheel, etc. I raised the front wheel and then piled-up towels on my handlebars/TT bars to prop myself upright. Again, this method worked for me but may not work for everyone else. The main thing is that you are comfortable while on your bike and not putting extra strain on your body. Comfort should also extend to the clothing worn, specifically the bib shorts and sports bras. You can buy pregnant-specific clothing, but for me, it was a case of wearing old bib shorts, which I didn’t mind stretching and treating myself to some new bigger-sized sports bras!

claire on road bike

Do it for pleasure rather than pain!

Bike sessions before pregnancy for me always had a greater purpose, mainly building base fitness, building towards races, etc., with that intensity and effort levels were higher. When I was pregnant, I was doing turbo sessions purely for the pleasure of riding my bike, having some me time, moving my body and helping with my mental health. This made the time on the bike far more enjoyable and easier to stop earlier or completely if I wasn’t feeling up to it or enjoying it. It felt quite empowering to have this type of control over my training, not to be working to anything specific and not to be pushing or hitting certain numbers or effort levels. The main thing is not to exhaust yourself; now is not the time to set new FTP’s and push your limits, etc!

claire on tt bike

Training pregnant-specific workouts on Zwift

Before becoming pregnant, I often used Zwift for structured training and time-crunched workouts. I also love the safety of being in my own home rather than being out in the cold on busy/dangerous roads. Only after coming across another fellow pregnant cyclist I learnt about Zwift’s ‘baby on board’ workouts. These are fantastic 30-40 mins structured sessions specific to pregnant women, with guidance throughout. I used these a lot as my bump grew and post-birth, and I found the intensity and duration a great starting point to getting back on the bike. 

The main thing to remember is that every woman and pregnancy is different. You need to assess the risk for yourself, do what you feel comfortable doing, and don’t compare yourself to others. It’s important to stay active and even more important to stay safe. If you have any concerns or questions, please always consult your midwife or GP. 

Read more from Claire: