Before moving to Austin in 2008, Olivia Toepfer was living in Los Angeles as an event and wedding planner to the stars. She was very familiar with the idea of leading a fit and healthy lifestyle and chose yoga, Pilates, and kickboxing classes as her go-to recharge outlets.
When she learned she was pregnant with her first child, Toepfer said she initially had a moment of fear when she asked herself, “Oh my gosh, how do I stay in shape?”
“There’s this bad, old rumor that once you have kids, you get out of shape, and there’s no turning back,” she said.
She proved the rumor wrong, continuing with her same workout routine until her belly started to show and her Pilates instructor wouldn’t let her come to class anymore. That was six years ago though. Now, Toepfer says, instructors are much more likely to make posture adjustments in class to help you throughout your entire pregnancy.
“[Pregnant women] aren’t as handicapped as people used to make them out to be. Now instructors have learned more modifications they didn’t used to do—like lying on your left side instead of on your back, propping you up so that your heart is elevated, and not doing any ab work. You learn to focus on doing a lot more arm and leg work.”
Toepfer remembers one exercise she did in a prenatal yoga class where the instructor had her up on the balls of her feet, squatting down, and sitting on the backs of her heels. “You had to hold it for a long time. I think they did a 2-minute hold—enough to where it starts to hurt,” she said. “They would have us do that and breathe through it as practice for labor.” While it wasn’t incredibly painful, it familiarized her with the fatigued feeling her muscles would soon experience when giving birth.
“It all helps you through labor,” Toepfer said of exercising. “I think if you’re just sedentary, and you give into your pregnant body, then [labor is] going to be a lot harder.”
She motivated herself to workout with thoughts of how the exercise was helping her baby’s health; knowing also that if she stayed active while pregnant, her body would be able to bounce back much quicker after having the baby.
When Toepfer moved back to Austin, she started her own event and wedding planning company, Liv by Design. She married her husband, Reynold, in 2012. During her pregnancy with their now 11-month-old daughter Lochlynn, Toepfer was working 18-hour days.
“I had a very busy schedule,” Toepfer admits. “I spent a lot of time on my feet and had to be more aware of what I was carrying and what I was lifting at work,” she said.
As is true for most pregnant women, the further along she got in her pregnancy, the harder it was to workout. “No matter how fit you are, the point is that your body is growing a human and you need to listen to it and not overdo it,” she said.
“You have good days and bad when you’re pregnant, but you have quite a bit of time before your body becomes cumbersome,” she said. “The most awkward thing is that you feel your body tightens [when working out]. It doesn’t hurt, but it feels weird; it’s definitely a new sensation.”
In her first trimester, depending on how she felt—whether she was experiencing morning sickness or fatigue—it could be hard to go to workout. “Being active and getting fresh air always helped me feel better though,” Toepfer said.
The second trimester was when she felt at her highest energy level. “By then, your body has grown a bit and you’re showing. That was the best time to get a nice, good schedule of workouts in.”
In her third trimester, workouts and movements progressively got shorter and slower. “You can keep working out,” Toepfer said. “You just need to make a lot more modifications.”
She lowered the weights of her Kettlebells and barbells, doing less heavy lifting, and made other modifications like using a med ball to do Burpees—so as to avoid going all the way down to the ground—and getting on her knees or using a wall for push-ups so as to not put too much strain on her stomach. “As long as you’re still moving your body and using your muscles, you still have a lot of bodyweight you’re pushing even though you’re kind of leaning at an angle or off a wall,” she said.
The main thing to do is to just focus on staying active, Toepfer said.
For her, it was normal to feel fatigued and have sore feet in her third trimester. “I had little aches and pains, but as long as I wasn’t feeling any pains in my back or stomach, exercise helped ease things. And if my feet ever got really swollen, I’d just ice them,” she said.
In addition to doing CrossFit and walking a lot, she took prenatal yoga classes at Yoga Yoga as well as Pilates at Reformer Pilates twice a week throughout her pregnancy.
“I think prenatal yoga is super important because it not only keeps you active, but it helps you stretch while being mindful of your pregnancy. It also gives you a special time to yourself for quiet meditation—a little bit of baby and mother bonding that I think is special. It’s the only time you really get to do that; to step away from your busy, crazy schedule and have that mommy and baby time.”
She did mommy and baby yoga classes with her son, Jacob, 6, when he was younger, and is now taking classes again with her daughter. “You probably get like 15 minutes of real practice, and then you get your kids and do baby yoga and baby yoga stretches with them,” she said.
While instructors and fitness classes may have made modifications for pregnant women over time, Toepfer still had to answer to the occasional questioning and commentary of curious minds.
“I was the only pregnant woman in my Pilates class, so people were always worried that I was going to go into labor,” Toepfer said, adding that the Pilates instructor was always freaked out when she showed up for class and would teasingly ask her if she was sure the baby wasn’t coming that day.
Other people would see her rounded belly and say, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re here. If I were pregnant, I would be at home eating chips.”
Speaking of chips, Toepfer feels the biggest misconception regarding pregnancy today is the expectation doctors have for all pregnant women to gain the same amount of weight.
“[They] say you should only gain 25–30 pounds. I feel like that number puts a lot of pressure on women. That’s near impossible. A more reasonable amount is 40 pounds. You want to gain a healthy amount, but you shouldn’t be dieting as a pregnant person.”
Before leaving the house to go to the studio or gym, Toepfer said her regular nutrition routine consisted of either a protein shake, a snack of almond butter and banana, or her own (not-yet-patented) creation—a magic muffin.
While Toepfer tried to be as healthy as possible with the foods she put into her body, she didn’t deny the occasional craving. “For some reason when you’re pregnant, your body wants what it wants and it’s okay not to feel guilty about it,” she said.
“With my daughter, I ate a lot of comfort food. I loved burgers for some reason, and I also had a major sweet tooth. I probably hadn’t eaten a doughnut in 10 years, but then during my pregnancy with her I’d say to my husband, ‘Honey, I really need a doughnut. Will you please go to the store and get one?’”
Toepfer said the best thing a mother-to-be can do is join a prenatal class or group to meet other moms in the area who are going through the same experiences.
“It’s really nice to have people working out with you. You can complain to each other and hear how they’re feeling. It gives you a community of moms that inspire and encourage you to workout each week,” she said, adding that one major bonus of joining a prenatal class or group is that you have a community of friends afterward so all your kids can play together.
Toepfer and her husband continue to make fitness and health a priority for their family, choosing to teach their kids in the best possible way—leading by example. (Toepfer was featured with her son on Austin Fit’s November 2010 cover as one of Austin’s fittest mom’s.)
“We try to teach them that this is a way of life; getting an hour of fitness per day, whatever that looks like,” Toepfer said. It could be a family walk with the dog, going to the park to play, or hitting up the yoga studio or CrossFit gym together.
Jessica Tranchina’s love for fitness started when she was in high school. “That’s when I started running and realized I loved it,” she said. When Tranchina was 18, she was a spin class instructor as well as a college student.
Her passion for overall fitness, running, and biking soon led Tranchina to compete in triathlons. Fast forward to today, and she’s been a triathlete for the past 16 years—the same amount of time she’s been practicing physical therapy.
“I’ve always been in the gym environment; in the fitness world. Teaching, personal training, and helping people. That naturally segued into doing triathlons,” she said.
Her and her husband, both physical therapists, met abroad 10 years ago while doing travel therapy. They’ve been married for 7 years and have one son, Domenico, 4, and one daughter, Giovanna, 20 months.
While not originally from the city, the couple shared a mutual love for Austin, and decided to settle down and start a family here five years ago.
Tranchina wasted no time in starting her own physical therapy practice, PRIMO Performance and Rehab, in her first year living in the city. “I always knew I wanted to start my own clinic,” she said.
She specializes in manual based and hands-on therapy, practicing active release therapy (ART) techniques and Kinesiotaping methods on her patients—both athletes and non-athletes alike.
Shortly after her and her husband moved to Austin and she started her practice, she learned that she was pregnant with her first child.
Throughout the first trimester, she said she felt fatigued but quickly discovered that exercise helped her feel better. After moving past the first three months, Tranchina said the other two trimesters “felt pretty fabulous.”
“I never really had a moment where I thought, ‘Oh I can’t exercise.’ My life is just so active that I thought, ‘You know what? We can do this. This is just for nine months. This isn’t forever.’ And exercising actually made me feel better,” she said.
“I listened to my body. And if my body called for rest, I would rest it.”
Tranchina continued to run races like the Turkey Trot 5-miler in addition to area 5Ks throughout both of her pregnancies—just at a much slower pace. “I wasn’t trying to reach any fitness goals or trying to win,” she said.
Although, she admits, when she was five months pregnant with her son she ran an XTerra 10K trail race and actually won her age group. “I wasn’t going that hard. I think there was just a low turnout,” she reasoned.
“When I was pregnant, it was not about reaching my fitness goals,” Tranchina said. “Obviously I had to take care of myself, so I had to be healthy. But I wasn’t trying to achieve or master anything, or hit any specific fitness goal. I did just enough to keep myself happy and to keep my babies healthy.”
When she was pregnant and showing with her daughter, she would often push her son, Domenico, in the jogger and go for a run. “I had a 2-year-old at that point, so you can’t really rest anyway,” she said. Between taking care of her son, dealing with the waves of nausea she experienced off and on in her first trimester, and managing her new business, Tranchina was always active and on her feet.
Now her son is starting to follow in his mother’s footsteps, occasionally riding his bike alongside her as she runs and pushes his baby sister in the stroller.
“He is so agile,” Tranchina said of her son. “He sprints and plays soccer. He’s riding a bike and swimming across the pool. Anything athletically-related, I wouldn’t put it past him.”
She said it’s important to her to set a good lifestyle example for her children, and that’s what her and her husband try to do. “You want to be good examples for them, you want to demonstrate what you think is the right behavior—keeping yourself fit, moving, and eating the right foods.”
That good behavior and role modeling started when her kids were still in her belly.
Tranchina adopted a healthy diet while pregnant, drinking a lot of protein shakes and eating meals of eggs and oatmeal in addition to taking her daily vitamins.
In her mind, exercising and eating right was training and preparing her for labor.
Exercising properly meant making modifications to her runs and doing a lot of prenatal yoga—avoiding postures that asked her to lie on her back or right side body. She knew if she were to put her fitness regimen on hold for nine months, it would be harder to pick up where she left off after giving birth.
“If you’ve been running, and your body is used to running, it will adapt to that motion during your pregnancy and it won’t be that much of a shock to your system. Consistency is key, and you can do more than you think you can,” she said.
If anything changes in how you feel, it’s likely you just feel a little or a lot slower. “You don’t feel the baby jostle,” Tranchina said. “The baby actually stays still during exercise, since what you’re essentially doing is rocking the baby to sleep. It’s a calm, relaxing time for the baby. I always went slower and just tried to enjoy it.”
When she was nine months pregnant with her daughter, her and her husband moved from downtown Austin to the Barton Hills neighborhood. “I remember cleaning the condo floors and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to have this baby. I’m ready for this pregnancy to be done,’” she said.
In regards to her fitness routine, Tranchina said it gets harder to maintain motivation the closer you get to the end of pregnancy. “I remember thinking I wanted to do a whole lot more walking than running,” she said.
“The last month is the most challenging. That’s when you’re at your largest. The hormone that you have in the first trimester—hCG, the one that makes you feel tired and nauseated—kind of comes back. So not only is your body huge, but your back might be hurting, it might be summer, and you’ve also got this hormone kicking in. It’s hard to do a lot of things.”
It was during that last month of pregnancy, Tranchina said, when she was most worried about how other people would react when they saw her working out. She thought there might be someone out there who would think she was causing harm to her baby, even though she knew—when done in moderation—working out while pregnant is actually beneficial to both mother and child.
“You know, I was worried. I would worry that people would look at me and say, ‘Why is she exercising?’ But in Austin, everyone reacted wonderfully. I got so many smiles, high fives, and people saying ‘Way to go’ or ‘You look great.’”
She was pleasantly surprised and reminded of one of the reasons why she loves this city so much. “I don’t remember what other city we were visiting—let’s just call it a city outside of Austin—where I got a frowny face while running, and I remember thinking ‘Oh my gosh, people here don’t react the same way Austinites do,’” she said.
Tranchina had natural births with both of her children—no medication, no epidurals, nothing. While she had them both in a hospital room, her labors went unmediated.
“Giovanna was a 27-hour labor,” Tranchina said, now with a laugh, “So the added strength and endurance [I gained] from working out was really helpful. Had I not been in shape, I would not have been able to have a natural birth. I would have been too tired to push when it was time to push.”
She says she looks back on both of her labors in the same way one might look back at the finish line of a marathon, half-believing that they actually made it through in one piece. She often wonders how she was able to do it. Then she remembers all the hard work she put into maintaining her endurance and fitness while pregnant. “What else could it be, right?” she asked rhetorically.
Staying active made her feel both physically and mentally more prepared for the marathon that was labor. “I knew I was doing the babies good. I knew I was doing something very healthy and beneficial for my children. That was a huge motivation,” she said of staying fit.
When asked if she could go through it all over again, Tranchina said she would do everything exactly the same.
Lauren Dowdy had just gotten the hang of CrossFit when, four months after joining a local gym, she found out she was pregnant with her second child.
Telling the news to the other women she worked out with was just as common as hearing a grunt echo around the room. Contrary to what one might think, Dowdy was far from being the odd one out.
“My CrossFit gym is no stranger to pregnant women. We always joke that you shouldn’t drink the water there because you might get pregnant,” she said. “When I started, there were two women currently pregnant and two moms who had just had their babies who had continued to do CrossFit throughout their pregnancies. So it wasn’t foreign to our gym or to our coaches at all,” she said.
Dowdy had been fit and active her whole life, participating in endurance sports, running marathons, and finishing an Ironman in 2013. She was confident that if women who had been pregnant before her could do it, she could continue pursuing the sport of CrossFit too.
It wasn’t until her last trimester that working out started to feel uncomfortable—her hips hurt and her body was changing more and more. “That’s the hard part,” Dowdy said. “Up until then, working out doesn’t feel too different. You just look different.”
In response to the discomfort, she began to make a few modifications to her workout routine. “When my belly started getting in the way of things, probably around 6 months, regular burpees and pushups had to stop. I could no longer do a hang clean or handstand pushups, and as I got closer to 8 months, I just couldn’t be upside down anymore. So I had to change things up to make it work for me.”
Besides CrossFit, going to yoga was one of her favorite times of the week. “That was my calming and stretching time; my excuse to slow it down. It kind of got a little boring toward the end because it’s like, how much yoga can you really do being that pregnant? But I still stuck with it.”
Working out was my saving grace; my one hour a day where I could sort things out and take care of me and forget about everything else that was going on,” Dowdy said.
It was also one of the few times her baby was calm and not kicking around.
“He was so active inside of me. The only time he wasn’t moving was when I was working out,” Dowdy said, referring to her pregnancy with her son, Eli. “That was a bit of a relief to me. He liked the movement; he liked the loud music in the gym. I looked forward to that still time with him in there. But then as soon as I was done, it was like he was awake and it was on.”
In addition to CrossFit and yoga, Dowdy continued to do body pump classes at the YMCA. The high reps and low weight body pump classes were a nice change of pace from the low reps and heavy weight CrossFit classes.
When someone would approach her and ask what she was training for, Dowdy enjoyed watching their reaction when she responded, “Well, now I’m just training for labor and birth.” She was so used to training for things, whether it be a triathlon or a marathon, that it was easy to approach delivery in the same way—especially since she had chosen to take the natural route. “I knew I was training for a hard labor and delivery. I knew it was going to be physical and that I had to be strong and capable of that. So I kept that in my head, and just trained for that day.”
Dowdy said the reaction from most people she encountered working out while pregnant—doing CrossFit, body pump classes, or yoga—was mostly positive.
“I can’t tell you how many times I got told, ‘Oh my gosh, you just inspire me,’ or friends would say, ‘If you’re here doing this, then so can I.’”
You get the occasional, ‘Oh are you sure that’s safe?’ and ‘Be careful’ because I think some people still see pregnancy as somewhat of a disability. They just expect you to sit and do nothing and that’s not real life,” Dowdy said. “I mean, I’m still a mom and a wife, so I might as well take care of myself in the process.”
CrossFit and pregnancy is kind of one of those taboo things. People are either going to rip you to shreds, or they’re going to support you. There’s no in-between there. So to have the group of women [at my gym] back me up and support me was exactly what I needed.”
Her first pregnancy was a completely different story from her second, Dowdy said.
“I was 22 when I had my daughter Ava, and I didn’t really work out during my pregnancy with her. I was 22 and invincible and like, ‘Ah, whatever. I’m gonna eat whatever I want and do whatever I want.’ You know, you’re 22 and you can bounce back from anything. Fast forward to me at 29, and my husband and I are super active people, so this [second pregnancy] was a whole different ball game for me,” she said.
Along with taking her regular vitamins, she would drink a protein shake before and after her workouts, trying to eat as healthy as possible. She admits her husband and her are realists though. “As much as we love to eat food that’s good for us, we’re also not ones to turn down pizza,” she said with a laugh.
She reminded herself that by being active during pregnancy, the weight would come off much easier later. “It’s always going to be harder if you just sit there, you know?” she said.
“I just told myself to just keep moving, whether it was walking, or something else.”
For women out there who hesitate to workout while pregnant, Dowdy said to not worry about it. “If your body is used to [working out], then go for it. You’re not disabled, you’re pregnant. Don’t be afraid of it; there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Dowdy’s daughter Ava appears to be following in her mom’s fit footsteps. At the age of 7, she’s already participating in cyclocross races in the Austin area.
“She thinks the way we live is normal,” Dowdy said. “If she were to hear about parents who weren’t active, that would be foreign to her. And that’s always been our goal—for her to think that taking care of yourself is normal and that’s how you should live.”