As I write this, my baby daughter is currently asleep in her crib, beside my bed. Behind her, leaning against the wall, is my longsword.
I started swordfighting in February 2014. I wanted to learn, but I also wanted to improve my health. My husband and I had been trying for a baby for almost three years at this point, and without any success. It seemed that the best choice at this point was exercise, good eating, and hope; if it turned out that we would need fertility treatment to help things along, at least I would be in good condition for it.
I started with Warrior Fundamentals, moved up into the Longsword and Sidesword focus classes along with Swordfit, and stuck to a schedule that kept me in the salle three days a week. I loved it – it made a big difference to my mental and physical well-being just to be there, to hold my sword, and appreciate its power.
In June 2014, after five months of working out, increasing strength, and generally feeling good about myself, I found out I was pregnant. We secretly celebrated, told the family, then got down to the business of making sure I would stay healthy for the next nine months. That meant paying a little more attention to my diet, and continuing my usual swordfighting classes at Academie Duello.
Exercise During Pregnancy
Advice for swordfighting during pregnancy doesn't really come up much. There were certainly no resources that I could find online. Much of the advice that I did find was general, not specific, but the summary is that you, as a pregnant woman, can continue to do your normal exercise, whatever that may be, as long as your body is accustomed to it. That means you can't just start a new workout regime. You shouldn't put that kind of stress on your body when it's already dealing with growing a new human being, even in the early stages.
Dehydration is a big no-no anyway if you're doing a strenuous workout, and that becomes a major issue when you're pregnant. I spent a lot of my time, especially in the later months, taking breaks in classes to grab some water or use the bathroom. Being dehydrated hits twice as hard when you're pregnant and exercising, and I know this from experience because I had to leave class at least once due to feeling light-headed and totally overwhelmed.
I was lucky in that my pregnancy was low-risk, but it goes without saying that doing any kind of exercise means you need to be physically capable of it! The few times that I felt very fatigued or just plain not up to the challenge of a class, I didn't push myself. Doctors advise that it's not okay to exercise if your pregnancy has complications like pre-eclampsia (a.k.a. dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy), or if you become anemic. In short: if you don't feel 100%, take that as a sign that today you shouldn't be swinging a greatsword around.
Things to Avoid
In general, I participated in all of the same classes that I did prior to finding out that I was pregnant, with one exception – no sparring, especially not full speed combat. It's unpredictable, so it's difficult to say how your pregnant body will react to it, and it's also possible to take a hit to the stomach no matter how careful you or your partner are.
Later on, I started skipping some exercises for practical reasons. Some stretches are tricky because you start to lose flexibility in the torso, and again it's difficult to know how your body will react if you push yourself too far. Crawling army-style across the salle floor on your stomach is also very tricky, as is any exercise that puts too much pressure on your abdomen.
You'll probably know that exercise is recommended for pregnant women if possible, and swordfighting is ideal (in my opinion) even for a complete beginner. The technical weapons focus classes at Academie Duello are challenging without being too physically intensive, and the study of the sword kept me focused. The longsword in particular requires a lot of upper body strength before anything else, and I found that I was easily capable of doing the longsword focus class as long as I was rested and made sure to drink plenty of water.
The Swordfit program on the other hand (Academie Duello’s high-intensity fitness class) was something completely different. It's a much more difficult workout, and much more demanding on your strength and stamina. I kept up the class as long as possible, however, because it's a solid cardio-vascular workout, and the emphasis on squats, crunches and stretching really do help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles – which is vital in childbirth. I found it also helped with ligament pain. The exercises sometimes required some adjustment, where I had to find a way to stretch around my belly, but I found that having a pre-existing level of flexibility and strength beforehand let me work it out.
I kept up my regular routine – longsword focus, sidesword focus, Swordfit, and some additional study group work – until I was at twenty-nine weeks. At thirty weeks, I still had enough energy to do a four-hour archery workshop. Exercise does get progressively harder during pregnancy, and from thirty-five to thirty-nine weeks I wasn't capable of much more than walking around, but I do believe that sticking to my routine up to then was a great boost to my health. I had no morning sickness, no aches and pains (apart from the occasional ligament twinge), no headaches or mood swings, and no other major issues for the whole duration of my pregnancy.
My daughter was born on March 23rd, at a healthy weight of 8lbs 11oz. I'm recovering well, and aiming to be back in the salle as soon as possible – but not too soon, because childbirth is no picnic. For other expecting mothers in arms, all I can say is to keep your swords raised high, and the salle will be waiting for you when you're ready!
This is a guest article from a student. If you enjoy Claire's writing, we encourage you to check out her personal blog at Raynfall: Books, thoughts, and other random disasters.