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Women’s bodies are incredible. They can run, jump, hike, bike, be pushed to the limited, and can even do it all while growing another human. We’re always blown away by the mommas and mommas-to-be out there who are staying active during their pregnancies and after their new baby arrives. Tina Heath is no exception to this. Learn more about how she is staying active, how she’s had to modify her activities, and her advice for other expecting women who want to keep moving throughout their pregnancies.
Where are you originally from and where are you residing currently?
I grew up in Oneonta, a smallish town in upstate New York with lots of rolling hills and farms. I now live in Richmond, Vermont, enjoying the outdoor recreation mecca that it is.
When did you start biking and how did you get into the sport?
I started cycling back in 2006, when a family friend gifted me a road bike for my 19th birthday. I believe that bike was the gateway to who I am now and how I shape and live my life. I fell in love with the sensation of pedaling and moving quickly through the landscape using my own power. I dabbled in triathlon through college and a few years after. I also taught spinning classes for 6 years at various fitness centers through the off season. In 2010, my husband Ben (then boyfriend) kept nagging me to get off the road and into the woods on a mountain bike, where, according to him, “the real fun was.” I remember rolling my eyes and thinking mountain biking was kind of lame. But I agreed to trying and jumped on my Walmart bike and found myself instantly humbled and frankly, terrified. I had never been on anything narrower than a sidewalk and the rocks and roots threw me all over the place, and over the handlebars at one point. I remember screaming at Ben for my miserable time but secretly knew that this was something I wanted to get better at. I was clumsy and scared through 99.9% of that first ride, but there was the 0.1% of where I felt a bit of flow, a fleeting moment of enjoyment to be weaving around the trees, and not unlike the sensation of skiing through the woods. Right off I knew that mountain biking would be the sport to satisfy my skiing withdrawals through the snowless seasons. That same year I bought myself a “proper” mountain bike- a used hardtail from a friend. I threw myself into technical systems like Sleepy Hollow and Perry Hill flailing, falling, and at some points throwing my bike in frustration, but with stubborn determination to get better while desperately trying to keep up with Ben and our shredder friends. I would watch them session rock drops and jumps thinking “I really want to do that.” From that year on mountain biking has been my main passion through the warmer months, and it has given me not only some of the best experiences of my life but also formed some of my closest relationships.
How have you been staying active during your pregnancy?
I have been fortunate to have a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy so far (writing this at 33 weeks). Unfortunately, that is not the case for all women and it really can be the luck of the draw. So I’ve been embracing it while keeping the safety of the baby as my biggest priority. I work with a team of doctors and some are more conservative than others when it comes to activity choice. I understood they were required to provide conservative advice (no activities with a fall risk) but I also did a lot of my own research and assessed risk based on how I felt physically and mentally. I chose to continue to ski and had a great ski season (although cut short due to Covid-19), enjoying many days touring in the backcountry and doing some resort skiing as well. I continued to indoor rock climb and got out to ice climb when I was 14 weeks pregnant. I was running regularly up until 24 weeks but started to experience some pelvic discomfort and decided to give that up. I’ve been maintaining my strength training by continuing my workouts and yoga a few days a week. Now in the third trimester I focus on activities that make me feel good, which thankfully includes riding, modified strength/yoga routines, some hiking, and swimming (which is really more like floating, let’s be honest).
How has cycling changed for you during your pregnancy?
When I first found out I was pregnant back in December, I knew that I would continue to ski through the winter as long as there were no complications (being in the first and second trimesters), since I was so comfortable on skis. But I was unsure how I would feel about riding through the spring and summer while in the third trimester knowing that I would be pretty far along. Would my balance be off? Could I pedal and maneuver a bike being that “big”? Would my aerobic capacity be capable of hard efforts by that point? Would I be stressed about safety the whole time riding? I had all these fears – fears about not being able to do what makes me happy, fears about putting the baby at risk – but decided the only thing I could do is drop the expectations and anxieties and make decisions about my activities on a day-to-day basis. When the pandemic hit and the ski season got cut short, I naturally found myself wanting to get back out on my bike and pedal. I decided to test the waters and went out for a gravel ride in late March. I noticed I was just as comfortable riding a bike as I was being on my skis. Plus, riding kept my pelvis stabilized with zero discomfort, and it just felt really good – aerobically, physically, mentally. So I took it and “ran” with it, making decisions about riding on a daily basis by checking in with how I felt physically and mentally every time. And I have really surprised myself – since late March I’ve ridden just about 1,000 miles, all on a mountain bike. This is something I never would have expected when I first saw the positive pregnancy test. That being said, my biking shorts no longer fit and my riding style has changed. I’m an adrenaline junkie who loves long sufferfest rides, jumps and drops, steep technical downhills, and speed. Using common sense, these are things that should be tempered down or avoided while growing a tiny human. So, I do a lot of gravel riding and stick to mellower singletrack now. I’m riding trails that are way below my usual ability level and taking my time on climbs, being mindful that I can still go hard but avoid feeling breathless for long periods. I’ve got precious cargo on board and the baby’s safety is what matters most. Honestly, I’ve had no problems shifting my perspective on how I ride now. I have learned so much about myself through the last 7 months. I’m much more patient, dropped the ego (I have no insecurities about getting off my bike and walking anything I feel a little unsure about on the trail), and realized that just being able to pedal is pure privilege and joy at this point. I ride mostly solo now and I have no issues with that either – I’ve actually learned to really enjoy it. It’s just me and my son on the bike, and it’s an amazing experience to soak in.
What are you cycling plans for after the baby comes?
Like pregnancy, I’m trying to not to put pressure on myself or set up expectations about what I’d like to do or think will ensue since birth, recovery, and postpartum are unpredictable experiences where I’m just going to have to go with the flow and accept whatever happens. Plus, the postpartum exhaustion is real and will be part of the process. This is my first child so I am a bit clueless about early motherhood, but what I do know is that I will still need “me time.” Being able to incorporate some sort of daily movement into my schedule is very important to me. Riding and skiing are big parts of my identity and I do not see myself giving up these passions as a new mother. Knowing myself (and having a very supportive husband), I imagine that I will continue to find time to ride and enjoy the fall season, even if that means I might only have a half hour to squeeze out for myself. I’m fortunate to live in a location where the Cochran’s trailhead is right down the road or I can hop on my bike and enjoy a quick gravel loop. I’ll be honest, I do find myself dreaming of big long rides with lots of elevation, fast descents, and lift-service downhill, the stuff that I really miss. But I imagine I’ll be able to enjoy those experiences again this fall in some capacity while keeping an open mind about priorities and staying flexible with expectations. The best part of the daydream is coming home feeling refreshed after a ride and spending time with my new son, which makes me so excited!
Is there anything you wish you knew before that you know now when it comes to being pregnant and staying active?
I always had severe anxiety about losing my identity if I got pregnant and became a mother. I feared the physical, mental and emotional impacts of such a huge decision. My lifestyle had always been independent and to be honest, selfish. I did what I wanted whenever I wanted, and really enjoyed the freedoms of living life that way. Mountain biking and skiing are ingrained in me and I often would plan my life around my adventures. I thought pregnancy and motherhood could take that all away. However, when I entered my thirties that “selfishness” started to subside, and I realized I wanted to also experience the journey of being a mother. We took the leap and so far, this pregnancy has relieved a lot of those identity anxieties. Although pregnancy is very much a huge change to a woman’s life, and can be unpredictable and difficult, you are still you and have the power to shape it into a positive experience. If a woman is cleared by her medical professionals to have a healthy pregnancy, then the sky really is the limit. One of my doctors said I could train for and run a marathon while pregnant, so I took that advice and applied it to the bike. It’s amazing to witness how capable and adaptable the female body is. To still be able to work hard AND grow a new life – that’s pretty incredible. I do not think women get enough recognition for that. We are super tough and aren’t made of glass, like I feel society paints us to be, especially while growing babies. I wish I knew that prior to getting pregnant, because I don’t think I would have been as fearful or anxious about the potential of losing my identity as an athlete. Although it feels like my belly is literally growing bigger and bigger each hour, I still feel comfortable and natural with my bike handling skills, and the being on the bike is where I feel most like my old self.
Do you have any advice for women who want to keep cycling and stay active during their pregnancy?
Pregnancy is an extremely personal journey, and no two pregnancies are the same (coming from my own experience). I would say the most important steps to take if a woman wants to stay active or continue to ride is to consult with her medical professional(s) to understand if there are any heath limitations, acknowledge their guidelines, but also listen to your own gut. Only you can make the decision of whether you want to continue to pursue your activities or not. Personally, I was not satisfied with the standard “black and white” guidelines about pregnancy (“deli meat is bad, skiing is not advised, limit your caffeine to 200 mg, etc.”). I performed my own research, read blogs of other pregnant athletes, and made decisions based on all the factors described above, with heavy reliance on my own intuition. Two books I highly recommend in helping women feel confident with their choices are “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster and “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” by Dr. James F. Clapp. These books break down the “yes and no’s” of pregnancies and dive in to explain the gray areas using peer-reviewed studies and science. They were hard to put down once I started reading and influenced what felt right for me and my pregnancy. Lastly, I think the most important take away is to liberate yourself of expectations and pressure. Only you know what feels good and what feels right, for you. Some women feel comfortable riding all the way up to birth, while others stop riding as soon as they start to show or see a positive pregnancy test. There is no right or wrong decision. You do you. Pregnancy is a wild, beautiful experience. It can be scary, and it can be stressful. But it can also be tremendously empowering.
Tina is wearing the Cady-V Jersey in deep burgundy. Check out our full line of women’s mountain bike shorts and jerseys here.