Strength training is a great way to build muscle, boost your metabolism and even stave off aches and pains. And although there’s a misconception that weight training causes you to bulk up, this practice is an essential part of a healthy fitness routine for both men and women.
But is weight training safe when you’re pregnant?
Strength training is beneficial for women at nearly every stage in life, including pregnancy. Resistance training, for instance, shows some potential for strengthening parts of the body used during the labor process. That being said, if you are pregnant, you should be prepared to make a few adjustments to accommodate your changing body.
Unfortunately, because lifting is still picking up steam among women, there’s not a ton of information out there about pregnancy and weight training. In addition to consulting your doctor, keep these tips in mind before you start training for two.
Benefits of weight training during pregnancy
For the most part, exercise is safe during pregnancy. Unless you’re dealing with an illness or injury, you really should engage in some level of physical activity during this time. Weight lifting can help prevent the lower back pain common in pregnant women, especially as they get closer to the due date. It can also help you increase your stamina, which can power you through the delivery process.
Lifting weights can also keep excessive weight gain at bay during your pregnancy. Some studies show that weight training while pregnant may help women with gestational diabetes keep their blood sugar in check. In some cases, lifting weights helped eliminate the need for insulin therapy for pregnant women with diabetes.
Exercise during pregnancy could also have a positive effect on your growing baby. One study showed that exercise during pregnancy could help stave off cardiovascular problems for the baby later in life. Another found that babies born to women who exercised throughout the pregnancy had brains that appeared to mature faster than their counterparts with more sedentary mothers.
How much weight can you safely lift?
While weight lifting is safe for healthy pregnant women, you’ll want to take some precautions to ensure you and the baby don’t get hurt.
Common wisdom says pregnant women should not lift more than 25 pounds, but that number varies depends on the stage of pregnancy, as well as how experienced a lifter you are.
Lifting isn’t necessarily the problem, either. The bigger issue is lifting weights that are too heavy, according to Raul Artal, M.D., author of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) guidelines on exercise during pregnancy. Dr. Artal explains that when you lift heavy weights, blood flow between your internal organs to your muscles is temporarily cut off. It could prevent the baby from getting essential nutrients if you’re lifting too much for too long.
The solution? Consult your doctor first, especially if you’re just starting weightlifting or are used to intense weight sessions and want to continue them while pregnant.
During pregnancy, joints become looser, and as a result, it’s easy to move outside of your normal range. That means it’s harder to maintain proper form than when your body is in its normal state. Weight machines, in particular, are a good fit for those who are newer to the gym because they can help minimize injury. It’s also worth pointing out that you should avoid any lifting that presses against your belly. So skip the rowing machine or any bench press that makes contact with your bump.
If you’re already using free weights regularly and want to continue your routine, pay attention to your body and stop if you feel any sense of discomfort. Squats are one of your best bets, as you’re avoiding contact with the belly and strengthening the hips and lower body—both of which should come in handy during labor. Shoulder presses and bicep curls are also good options for pregnant women who want to stay fit.
Pregnancy myths have long said that food cravings and major weight gain are the norm. While you shouldn’t be actively trying to drop major weight while pregnant, it is important to continue your healthy diet and exercise habits—for the betterment of you and your baby.
Weight training can be a real asset when performed safely, preparing your body for labor and keeping your circulation going as your body is changing due to your pregnancy. It can also help you gain endurance and ward off the aches and pains that keep many pregnant women from feeling their best.