Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pregnancy and Weight Lifting

Pregnancy: It seems to me that society treats this as such a delicate time. But, really, does it have to be like that?

What I'm referring to mostly is weight lifting exercise, and what pregnant women can and can not do to help them have a healthier and happier pregnancy and delivery.

When I did a Google image search for pregnancy and exercise (or weight lifting), all I saw were pictures of very pregnant women doing yoga or ball exercises. The only weight lifting picture I could find was the one you see above. And, I wouldn't even really consider that weight lifting (I think the last time I did a lateral shoulder raise I was 16 years old and a newbie). No squatting, no pushups, no chipups, nada.

But, what I really want to know, and what I need help from YOU (the female "you", that is), is how and can a pregnant woman lift during her pregnancy?

Obviously, in the first 3-4 months, almost anything that you can tolerate should be do-able (when there's not any nausea or uncontrollable fatigue). Then after the belly starts to bulge, any supine (lying on back) positions, should be avoided due to the potential to restrict blood flow through the vena cava.

The American College of Ob/Gyn has a one-sentence line about strength training:

"Strength training will make your muscles stronger and may help prevent some of the aches and pains common in pregnancy. "

But, other than this, it's really a grey (or gray) area as far as weight lifting and pregnancy goes.

So, I'm doing as much research as I can here, scanning the peer-reviewed literature, and reading text books. But as I said, I need some help from real women who have lifted during their pregnancies:

What did you and could you do for weight lifting during your pregnancy?

Did you stop and just walk or doing light aerobics?

Did you keep doing what you were doing prior, but with some modifications (and what were they)?

Did you train harder? Did you try a new training program (And which one)? Etc.

I'd love to hear what you ladies out there did. One of my readers told me she was doing pull-ups the day before she delivered (wicked!) and another said she road her bike 10 miles a few days prior to delivery (and she was 2 weeks late, so she was quite big at this pt).

You can post your reply here, or send me an email (

I promise that your thoughts and comments will be kept private if that's what you'd like. Also, this information might end up as an article in the next issue of Muscle and Fitness Hers and Fit Pregnancy.

Cheers to a healthy and strong pregnancy!


Anonymous said...

I am not a woman, but my wife doesn't read your blog. She didn't do weight lifting before pregnancy but she is now using NROL4W as a big part of her post pregnancy recovery.

3 weeks before she delivered we did a bicycle 3hr bicycle ride and she was wearing a heart rate monitor.

Her heart rate spiked like crazy. Her resting rate is around 70bpm, moderate bicycling sent her to 140bpm, a slight incline sent her up to 160bpm. It was quite strange how fast her her heart rate would spike.

Something to look for in the literature. Going up stairs had a similar effect any amount of exertion in 3rd trimester created very strong heart rate spikes with very little perceived effort.

Anonymous said...

Questionfit, when I was pregnant I also noticed that my heart rate would spike very easily during exercise. I also would feel tension in my lower abs during weightlifting, so I stopped. I stuck with spinning, elliptical etc

Love, Music, Money said...

I have produced two children (and I'm done). I was in my mid-30s, and maintaining a healthy weight, running 1/2 marathons, and doing a light weight-training program. I ended up cohosting a pregnancy and health discussion forum during those 3+ years.

When I got pregnant with #1, I stopped running early on, but wore a pedometer every day and walked at least 5 miles/day for the entire pregnancy. I got regular pregnancy massages.

2.5 years later with #2, I decided to keep running as long as possible (switched to walking after week 33), continued my moderate weight routine, and did modified yoga the entire pregnancy.

In both cases, I was in physically good shape by the time I delivered, which meant I could move around a lot during labor, which helped me have two manageable and unmedicated deliveries.

Why the difference between #1 and #2?
1. The running: I missed it.
2. The weight training: it got my body in good shape to carry the additional weight, and carrying an 8+ lb baby 24x7 is exhausting if you don't have any upper body strength! If I hadn't been doing calf raises, I wouldn't have been able to keep running as I gained weight.
3. Yoga vs. massage. Massage is nice for soothing the muscle pain associated with awkwardness of the pregnancy weight. But yoga did the same, helped me put my muscles back where they were supposed to be, and maked me stronger. Also, because I'm not flexible, learning to breath through the "sensation" of yoga was helpful when dealing with the "sensation" of labor.

Anonymous said...

Pregnancy isn't a time to start anything new. Plus, it's a relatively short time in one's life. If a woman was doing serious weights prior to pregnancy - great - keep lifting - but don't push it. Who would want to be responsible if you pushed it just a little too hard and caused injury to either mom or baby?

With my 2 pregnancies I had to step back a lot. I wasn't happy about it, nor did I plan on it. But it's what happened with me and my body. So, I always recommend people to listen to their bodies and their doctors. Moms carry so much guilt to begin with... why risk it?

Somerset said...

There is some one who tried doing NROLW while pregnant. She created some postings of her experience, which you can find at first trimester and second trimester.

I would be interested in know ing what you find. I've heard that woman aren't supposed to lift over XX amount while pregnant (I think it might be 20lbs?) due to the stress it puts on the ab area and the changes in heart rate (you're heart rate goes up and so does the baby, which can be bad for it). I'm not sure what research any of this is based on, since I'm sure there are women the world around who lift more than that out of daily necessity.

BeFit-Mom said...

Pregnant women should focus on strength training exercises that are done in the neutral spine position. These include seated rows, upright rows, lat pulls, overhead press, bicep curls, and tricep pull downs.

Due to ligament laxity, great technique is an absolute necessity during pregnancy. Never allow the momentum of the weight to overpower the core.

Pregnant women should also strengthen their deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse Abdominis, or TvA. This is the body's internal "girdle" and when contracted, compresses the abdominal wall. TvA strength helps to prevent common pregnancy complaints such as back pain and abdominal separation. And because it is the major "pushing" muscle during childbirth, a strong TvA speeds the latter stages of delivery.

More information on strength training during pregnancy can be found at

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Thank you all for your comments! I'd love to hear more if there are those out there that would like to share.

Katie Munger said...

I must first mention that I am a strength and conditioning coach at a college, so I was pretty fit going into the pregnancy. I lifted and did cardio right up until the day I delivered my baby. My rule of thumb for lifting was no straining (or struggling) to get a rep in. So, I still lifted decently heavy (until the last month when I was huge). I did Olympic Snatches and overhead squats until my belly got too big (25 weeks). But by the end of it lower body work ended up being mostly body weight because of the excessive anterior tilt from the big belly and groin issues. But I could still do weighted upper body stuff (except lying on back).

I stopped running around month 5 because it just didn't feel right-groins felt like ripping out (and Dr. recommended it), so instead I did non impact stuff like elliptical, step mill, and bike. At the beginning of the pregnancy I tried to follow the no heart rate over 140bpm... And I could hardly do anything at that HR, I figured you might as well not work out, so that didn't last long. My heart rate would stay around 180BPM on the elliptical and I could be talking easily to someone and have a low perceived effort level. It is crazy how high the heart rate gets when working out, and I was never out of breath. So, I let 180BPM be my max. If I felt tired or weird I always backed off.

My baby was healthy and I had no complications during the pregnancy (did end up with a C-section). Baby is almost 4 months old and I have lost about 34lbs, only a few pounds from pre-pregnancy weight (but don't ask me my body fat...its not there yet). And I attribute the quick loss to working out during pregnancy and breastfeeding, because I am not dieting or doing hardcore workouts to lose the weight. I am focusing on making sure I eat right/enough for food for the baby right now.

Cassandra Forsythe said...

Katie: Thank you.

The breastfeeding and weight loss is interesting. A few women have told me they felt the breastfeeding inhibited their fat and weight loss because only once they stopped, did it come off.
I hear ya on the body fat issue: you're hormones are still primed right now for fat storage. At about month 9, they start to return to normal and the body fat should drop easier and to your liking.
Congrats on a healthy and wonderful pregnancy and baby!

spiruline said...

I think it would be helpful for that women near to become a mother.
You've mentioned a good information about the women that which would be appropriate exercise for them during those time.

Fitness Freak said...

I've also wondered about exercise and general fitness whilst pregnant. I've found a site which had a Pregnancy Yoga fitness DVD at which was very helpful, very relaxed, but tones up the body whilst you exercise. The woman taking the DVD is easy to follow and very calming.

Great idea, as I had my reservations on full on exercise.

Keep them coming...!

Jennifer Myers said...

I am due in three weeks, and I have worked out around 5 times a week for the entire pregnancy. I was in great shape when I found out I was pregnant and really took it easy for the first three months. At that point, I stepped up my intensity again, because I felt much better. I ran until my seventh month, because it was causing contractions, and I continue to do spinning on the stationary bike and interval strength training. I tried many pregnancy workout DVD's, but found most of them boring and not worth the time. My doctor told me to use common sense with weights and heart rate. He also said that if I am getting enough oxygen to workout comfortably, than so is the baby. My question to all of you is when I can resume some moderate level of exercise (bike, light weights, etc...) after the baby is born. This is my third child, and in the past, I waited until the six week check-up, but I did not work out much with either of the other two pregnancies. I will be disappointed if I have to wait 6 weeks, since I have maintained a decent level of strength and cardiovascular output the whole pregnancy. Any ideas?

Amy said...

Have you checked out ?

fusion said...

hi every body The Motherhood requires muscle, and according to the latest American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists exercise guidelines, there is no reason that a healthy woman can't strength train in moderation during pregnancy. But for a variety of reasons, pregnant women must be certain to use good form when lifting weights.

Pregnancy increases the level of a joint-loosening hormone called relaxin, so lifting improperly can boost your risk of joint injury. With that in mind, be sure to keep your spine in a "neutral" position -- that is, don't let your back arch or move into a "swayback" position, and try to keep your knees relaxed rather than "locked." Before lifting weights, warm up by walking briskly for five minutes or pedaling easily on a stationary bike, and follow each session with a series of stretches.

If you have never lifted weights before, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you begin this or any kind of exercise program. If you do lift weights, remember to listen to your body. Avoid weights that strain the lower back. Start slowly and have modest goals. Don't try to make up for years of inactivity now that you're pregnant. If you have doubts about your ability to do this without help, consider working with a trainer who has experience coaching women who are pregnant. Experts recommend the following exercises for pregnant women:
weight training

Anonymous said...

I found your blog searching for weight lifting limitations in general, not talking about weight lifting in exercising. I live on a farm and i am 19 days away from having my second child. Daily chores include lifting straw and hay bales and 50lb feedbags. I always thought as long as I am careful and listern to my body it is fine. Your body tells you to stop. Mine did yesterday when sharp pelvic pain occured after lifting bales around and carrying a sleeping 50lb child upstairs. I feel better today but the pain was scary. I guess that goes for regular excersing routines as well. no matter what you are used to. If it hurts, stop.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am 7 weeks from my due date and have been working out since I was 16 years old. I am now 39 years old and expecting my first child. I have carried on with my workout on both cardio and strength training with a slight modification during the first trimester. I listen to my body and there are days when my energy level would be high and days when I'm tired. I have carried on with most routines except for crunches, hanging leg raises and anything that could hurt the abdominal area. Ab routine consists of straight and side full body planks. I still perform full body push ups and sets of pull ups. I don't lift very heavy but the competitive nature sometimes would take over. I listen to my body and when I feel strange, I would either stop or modify the intensity. My cardio intensity has been mainly around 120-140 range with limited spikes to 160 during spinning or while using the elliptical. I no longer run. I may skip cardio on some days but never on strength training. It is getting harder to spin as my belly gets larger and I don't do a lot of the standing runs during class. My weekly progress has been good according to my doctor and I hardly experienced any back pains. I have been blessed to not have any swelling or edema on my legs so far and am keeping my fingers crossed. I also make sure that I eat something every 2-3 hours, including post workout protein and carb snacks. So wish me luck in a healthy and quick delivery.