Pregnant in spin class? The benefits of cycling your way through pregnancy

Alison Mitchell, pictured here, attended spin class five days per week throughout her pregnancy (Image courtesy Alison Mitchell)

Alison Mitchell, pictured here, attended spin class five days per week throughout her pregnancy (Image courtesy Alison Mitchell)

Alison Mitchell loves spin class, and when she found out she was pregnant, she didn’t let it stop her from attending class during her first trimester, her second trimester – or even her third.

In fact, the 34-year-old attended class at indoor cycling studio Flywheel on the day she went into labor.  That day, she even claimed the No. 1 spot on the ‘TorqBoard,’ which measures each spinner’s resistance and speed on the bike, ranking class participants in order of how hard they are working.

“You have a nickname [for the TorqBoard], and I changed mine throughout my pregnancy: ‘One Month Preggers,’ ‘Two Months Preggers’…all the way to nine months,” Mitchell, of Seattle, Washington, told “There’d be jokes at the end of class, ‘Just have the baby already!’”

Compared to running, spinning may hold special advantages for pregnant women, partially because a spin bike’s handle bars can help stabilize a woman as her growing belly starts to throw off her sense of balance.

“I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to keep doing it…so that was one of the first things I talked to my doctor about: Could I run? Could I spin?,” Mitchell said. “…She said spinning is best because A) You’re in front of an instructor, and B) You have handlebars when you feel off balance, and C) You can stop whenever you want.”

According to Dr. Joanne Stone, director of maternal fetal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, exercises requiring a strong sense of balance may be difficult for pregnant women.  In the event of a fall, trauma to the mother’s belly could lead to complications. But overall, she noted that exercise is highly beneficial during pregnancy.  

“It can decrease the chance of gaining too much weight, which is beneficial to both mom and baby,” Stone told in an email. “Also, studies have shown that women who exercise experience less of the annoying pregnancy symptoms, like back pain, etc.”

At the advice of her doctor, Mitchell said she wore a heart-rate monitor during class, but Stone said these devices are no longer necessary for pregnant exercisers.  

“She should just make sure that she stays well hydrated and eats enough,” Stone said. “There are no longer restrictions on how high a woman’s heart rate should go.”

Amanda Vortmann, an American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) Pre and Post Natal certified instructor at FlyBarre, a sculpting class at Flywheel, said pregnant women should measure their levels of exertion by how well they are able to talk during class.

“During exercise you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you’re so winded you can’t speak, take a break,”said Vortmann, of New York City.

Vortmann has been putting this test to use; she’s currently eight months pregnant and still teaches ten classes a week. However, she’s had to adjust her routine in order to give her pregnant body more time to recover post work-out.

“If I taught two hours one day, then I’d make sure within that same 24-hour period to find two hours where I’m sitting, relaxing with a heating pad, doing administrative duties or watching TV,” Vortmann said. “You have to do complete rest to match the same time as exercise.”

In her sculpting classes, Vortmann advises pregnant women to avoid laying on their backs or bellies, and to steer clear of twisting motions in the second or third trimester. But at spin, the adjustments are even more minimal.

“There is no twisting and no lying flat on back on the bike, so two things you don’t have to worry about,” Vortmann said. “The biggest thing is that your handle bars will need to start moving up as your pregnancy increases.”

Mitchell attended spinning class five days a week while she was pregnant and said the side effects she suffered during pregnancy were minimal. Even better: She felt it made delivery easier.

“I pushed for three hours and during those three hours, it honestly felt like a really hard work out. I think being able to control your breathing when working out and being able to focus really helps during labor,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s son was born on November 8, 2013 – and she was back in the spin studio just two weeks later.

“Women who undergo a cesarean birth typically are told to refrain from exercise for six weeks so that enough time for internal healing can occur,” Stone said. “On the other hand, with a vaginal birth, a woman can start exercise as soon as she feels ready, barring any other complications.”

By the time her son was 2 1/2 months old, the 25 pounds of baby weight Mitchell had put on during pregnancy were gone.

“I think that whatever you can find that helps you feel good on a daily basis when your body is changing – whether spinning, running, yoga, whatever you enjoy – it’s your time to be on your own and focusing on you and your body. Because when you have the baby it’s not about you anymore,” Mitchell said.

Click for more tips from Vortmann on working out while pregnant