Seven months ago, in the midst of training for physique and powerlifting competitions, I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. As an athlete and wellness business owner who credits exercise in transforming my life, I wasn’t about to let morning sickness keep me away from my sanctuary- the weight room. Strength training in pregnancy has many potential benefits for both baby and mom, including a shorter and easier labor, a lower risk of pre-term birth, and less physical discomfort throughout pregnancy. However, what I’d anticipated on my journey as a flexing mama-to-be has turned out to be quite different from the reality of lifting weights with a growing baby bump! Here are five things you should know about strength training while pregnant:
1. No matter how closely you stick to your training plan, your body is going to do what it wants to do.
So, you think you’re going to remain a shredded mama-to-be, maintaining your fitness level and lean physique throughout your pregnancy, save for a cute little belly? You may want to rethink that! Expanding hips, bigger breasts, growing glutes and thicker thighs tend to be the norm in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy no matter what your fitness level is. Athletes especially tend to see pretty dramatic changes, due to the fact that many are starting out with lower body fat percentages and can no longer follow the near daily strenuous training routines that they're used to. Instead of focusing on your changing body composition and inevitable weight gain, celebrate completing workouts, practicing self-care and being able to pull your pants up all by yourself. Strength train for your overall health and to prepare for the birth of your baby, not because you want to look a certain way when you’re pregnant.
2. Weight training regularly in pregnancy will really rev up your appetite.
If you strength train regularly throughout your pregnancy, your appetite is bound to skyrocket beyond the hunger pangs of your less fit counterparts. Women with higher muscle mass tend to have better blood sugar level control and increased metabolic rates, making it easier for them to manage body fat. Add in pregnancy, which naturally boosts the metabolism while increasing daily caloric requirements in order to support baby's growth, and you may suddenly find yourself justifying those pre-workout donuts as “carb loading.” Proceed with caution, and plan accordingly! Excessive sugar intake during pregnancy can increase your chance of developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, or unnecessary weight gain. Eat several well-balanced meals throughout the day and pack a few healthy goodies in your gym bag like mixed nuts, peanut butter and natural energy bars to avoid gorging on empty calories.
3. Drop it like it’s squat, but be sure to train your pelvic floor as well.
Weighted squats are possibly the best exercise to prepare for a natural delivery, strengthening the muscles required to open up the pelvic outlet and help baby descend during labor while getting you used to holding that position in a relaxed manner when the time comes to give birth. Squatting (or using a birthing stool) is also a preferred position to assume when delivering a baby naturally, lessening the chance for a C-section and easing contractions.
However, when you’re under the squat rack at the gym, your chance of accidentally peeing in your training pants increases thanks to added pressure on the bladder from both baby and body mechanics. You'll also want to maintain a narrower stance during squat sessions as your pregnancy progresses to avoid pelvic girdle pain and instability (more on that in a bit). Be sure to practice those kegels regularly, wear a panty liner and bring along an extra pair of cotton briefs (not thongs, unless you’re gunning for a urinary tract infection)! I highly recommend investing in an Epi-No for pelvic floor and childbirth training.
4. Relax- no really. It’s the relaxin!
As pregnancy progresses, a hormone called relaxin increases its production in preparation for childbirth, softening and widening the cervix while relaxing the ligaments. If you’re weightlifting regularly, this can spell big trouble for your pelvic girdle, causing a painful and potentially debilitating condition, symphysis pubis dysfunction. If you continue to push through the pain in order to maintain your fitness level, you may soon find yourself in the physiotherapist’s office, or even in a wheelchair for a while. If you’re feeling increased pain and pressure in the pubic region or shooting pains throughout your hips and legs, you’ll need to bag the lower body weight exercises, including squats, deadlifts and even leg extensions. This is particularly true when it comes to single leg exercises, like lunges. Unfortunately, this condition is quite common, and has benched many a weightlifter in the third trimester, including myself. Listen to your body, relax, and know that if you take care of yourself now, you’ll likely be back in the gym in no time flat once baby arrives.
5. Just by showing up, you’re inspiring someone.
When your bump really begins to show, you may find yourself engaged more frequently in locker room conversations with random women who just happen to be mesmerized by the fact that you’re pumping iron while pregnant. The truth is, despite all we know about the many benefits of strength training throughout pregnancy, it’s still rare to see a woman working out with a protruding baby bump. In fact, fewer than 1 in 4 pregnant women meet recommended physical activity guidelines, and far less even consider lifting weights due to myths around bulking up, largely unwarranted safety concerns, and ignorant naysayers. So, indulge in some gym gab, keep it real (none of this, “I feel so glowing and gorgeous!” crap) and know that- even if you’re not feeling like your fittest and strongest self- you’re inspiring someone just by being there!
Thanks for reading! Do you have any tips for strength training in pregnancy, or any questions on exercise during this special time? If so, we'd love to hear from you- leave your thoughts in the comments section.
If you'd like some assistance in maintaining your fitness throughout your pre- and postnatal period, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org !
Our pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, Anna, is taking on clients for private sessions and small group classes.