Fit Pregnancy Interview Series Part 8

My next interview is with my very good friend Helen Kollias. She is also one of my nerdy PhD buddies who I consulted with during my own fit pregnancy to ensure I was doing the right thing and being good to my baby and myself.

Helen is a woman with both mucho brains and brawn. She's a former varsity soccer athlete, a certified Level II NCCP (National Coaching Certification of Canada) soccer coach, and has been involved in fitness and weight training for over 16 years. 

Currently, she works in the lab at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, as well as with Precision Nutrition, writing their Research Review column. Her job is to translate lab work and clinical studies into information that real people can use to improve their lives.

She has her doctoral degree in Molecular Biology from York University, specializing in muscle development and regeneration. She has has her MSc in exercise physiology and biochemistry and a BSc in biochemistry.

As a result of her academic training –- covering exercise physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and biomechanics –- she's got a broad scientific knowledge that ranges from the cell to the whole body.

She also had a super fit pregnancy, which she researched in detail before commencing. Read below to hear what this very educated, very talented fit mama has to say:


Helen, this interview is for you to share your fit pregnancy experience with other women. Unfortunately so many women are scared to exercise while pregnant for fear it is harmful for their unborn babies. How do you feel about this now that you’ve had your own fit pregnancy?

I was in the same boat going in, feeling that I might hurt myself or compromise the health of my baby so I backed off more than I should’ve at the beginning. As I did research on the topic and saw that there was no harm, I started doing more and I think it made my pregnancy easier, my labour easier and my baby healthier and happier.


How hard were you exercising before you became pregnant? What were you doing?

I was working out pretty hard with  heavy weights (>80% 1RM) four days a week. Upper/lower body split, nearly all free weights, focusing on hypertrophy & strength. No cardio.


When you found out your were pregnant, did you modify your workout routine? How & Why?

Like I mentioned earlier, initially, I backed off quite a bit at first, not going as heavy or pushing myself as much. I was worried that I could compromise my baby’s health so that’s was why I backed off.

In retrospect I should’ve stuck with my pre-pregnancy program and only made sure I didn’t hold my breath (valsalva maneuver) that would increase my blood pressure and potentially cause damage to the placenta.

When you first found out you were pregnant what was your primary concern with respect to your exercise routine?

I guess the intensity was my primary concern. Not necessarily weight but how hard I would push myself. If I could do say 10 reps should I only go to 8 reps, basically should I avoid failure.

Overall, during your pregnancy, describe what did you do for exercise?

I ended up with a 3 day whole body workouts plus intervals either on a bike or on the treadmill.

For the first and second  trimester I did 30 minute of intervals on a bike with my heart rate getting pretty high (160 bpm), but I have a pretty high max heart rate (200) so it worked out to about 80% of my max heart rate. Intervals were about 60 seconds hard and 60 seconds easy.

Once my belly got too big to pedal the bike I switched to walking on a treadmill and 15% incline (the highest it would go) intervals  for 30 minute.

I also had to stop doing deadlifts in the last month or so because my belly was getting the way. The only other modification was to do all bench presses at a 45 degree angle because there is some concern that lying on your back could lead to the baby pressing against arteries feeding the placenta possibly cutting off blood to the baby. Very unlikely but I was really conservative with my exercise during my pregnancy.

For my back health I did birddogs, planks (side & front) and crunches as per Dr Stu McGill. Though I dropped the front planks and crunches in the last couple months.

How did other people around you react to your fit pregnancy? Was it positive or negative?

People were pretty positive, but I did get people who were worried that I was pushing myself too hard, so I stopped telling them what I was doing.

What was the most supportive thing someone told you about your fit pregnancy? The most unsupportive?

Hmm, most supportive that I looked great and I'd have an easier labour because of all my hard work during my pregnancy. The most unsupportive was that I was going to hurt myself or my baby, but I general keep what I was doing to myself.

How was your first trimester, with respect to exercise?

It was pretty good. I did have spells of feeling hypoglycemic, but that happened whether or not I was exercising.

Second trimester?

This was probably the best I felt.


Things were getting pretty awkward in the gym and exhausted despite sleeping over 10 hours a day. If anything I think exercising helped with the exhaustion.

How did you know what you were doing for exercise during your pregnancy was ok/safe? Did you ever doubt your decisions? Were you worried during your pregnancy that you were exercising too hard?

I talked to my doctor (ob/gyn), talked to a lot of health professionals (message therapist, naturopath, chiropractor) and researched  medical literature. Truth be told, there isn't much research out there, but my doctor was very supportive about doing everything I had done before except holding my breath during exercise.

I doubted my decision to reduce my intensity early on. I wasn't particularly worried about exercising too hard.


During your pregnancy, did you have any complications such as hypertension or extreme water retention?

I had no complications at all. Blood pressure was on the low side as it always is/was (100/60).

If you could do things differently for your fit pregnancy, what would that be?

Do more in the first 6-7 months and just listen to my body. If I feel good I'll keep doing what I'm doing if not then I'd back off. Really just do what I normally do when I train.

How much total weight did you gain during your pregnancy?

I gained 25 lb.

Did you get any stretch marks? If you didn’t, why do you think this happened? If you did, do you think they could have been prevented? Do you think creams or oils prevent them?

I did get stretch marks which surprized me because my mom didn't get them and it seems to be genetic. I was using a stretch mark cream and I didn't gain much weight in the last month or so (8lb).

How was your labor and delivery? --  Natural or Assisted? – Long or short?

Labor lasted for 7.5 hours. Natural - not even a tylenol.

I started labor at 1am a week after my due date, stayed home until my water broke, got to the hospital at 7:30 am completely dilated and had my daughter an hour later. They did end up use a vacuum because Maria's heart rate was dropping periodically.

Within an hour of being born she was breastfeeding and slept pretty well from the get go (except a rough patch at 4 months).

What was the weight/height of baby?  APGAR scores?

She was 6lb 13 oz, 18 inches. Responsive, but a little cold.

How much of your weight gain have you lost since having your baby? How long did it take?

I lost all the weight by 6 weeks post-partum.

How do you feel about your body now?

Besides peeing when I sneeze LOL!), everything is back to normal though I should do more squatting and Kagels.

What advice would you give other women who want to have a fit pregnancy?

Get fit before you get pregnant, once you're pregnant keep up your activity level just listen to your body, don't eat for two, do McGill's big 4 abdominal exercises for as long as you can.

Thank you, Helen!

Posted Jan 04, 2011 by Cassandra Forsythe.

Comments for This Entry

GravatarIris09:16AM on January 05, 2011

I like the interview series a lot! It would be great if you considered to do a follow-up on nutrition; it would be interesting to learn about the ladies` favourite recipes during pregnancy and what they ate during a day to support their healthy pregnancies and active lifestyle!

Due to spammers and their disrespect, comments are no longer allowed for this site.