Weight training for a healthy pregnancy

Before deciding if you can continue your weight training routine, the number one question for all exercise during pregnancy must – is it safe?

For most women who have been involved in weight lifting prior to becoming pregnant, the answer is likely to be yes (to a certain extent), but there are extra precautions you need to be aware of as well as modifications to your technique you will need to make.

If, on the other hand, you have never lifted weights before, then it may be best for you to look into a lower intensity activity to take up during pregnancy.

Before we dive in and look at how you can safely continue using the Pec Deck and the Lat Pull Down machines, it is important to note that this general safety information will not apply to every expectant mother. Every body is different, and therefore it is paramount that you discuss any exercise routine with your midwife or doctor as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, regardless of how long you’ve been doing the exercise. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when carrying a baby, and there are no better people to advise you than medical professionals.

How will weight training help you and your developing baby?

As your body is going to be home to a growing human over the nine months of your pregnancy your shape and bodily structure will be continuously changing. So, it will help to have good strength in order to properly accommodate the extra weight.

For instance, a big worry for many pregnant women is that they’ll develop back pain. If done correctly, weight training can help you build up your crucial abdominal and back muscles so that they offer your bump more than enough support later on in the pregnancy.

Plus, as with most forms of pregnancy-safe exercise, weight training can also relieve stress, help you maintain a healthy weight, and improve stamina (something you’ll likely be thankful for when you eventually reach labour).

Adjusting your technique and routine

You don’t need to adopt the regime of a bodybuilding champion to receive all the benefits of weight lifting. In fact, doing so can be dangerous. So if you’re currently training in an effort to bulk up your physique in terms of extreme gains in muscle mass, then you will need to dial the intensity down.

Instead, your priority should be on maintaining your current levels and keeping fit, rather than in making improvement. Now is not the time to push yourself, so why not try switching to lighter weights but completing a higher number of reps. Doing so will help tone your existing muscle rather than building it, which is typically done by lifting heavier weights for a lower number of reps.

This approach will also minimise the risk of putting too much strain on your muscles and joints. You are far more likely to injure yourself during pregnancy because a hormone released by the placenta, known as relaxin, loosens your ligaments and pelvis in preparation for childbirth. You should choose a weight that you will be able to comfortably lift for a high number or reps. You want to feel a good amount of challenge during your session, but you don’t want to be exhausted.

With each lift, remember to go slow and breathe. Trying to lift the weights as quickly as possible will just increase the risk of injury. Instead, try counting to three as you lift and again when you lower the weight back down. As you exert force to lift, exhale slowly. Holding your breath while trying to lift something heavy may cause you to feel lightheaded and restrict the flow of oxygen to your baby.

If you feel you’re having to exert too much force, then think about dropping to a lower weight. Don’t worry if you can’t complete the set. Exactly how much weight you should be lifting is obviously very subjective and dependent on how advanced you already are. Again, you want a weight that provides you with a moderate challenge, so if you’re starting to strain by the eighth rep and can no longer lift at the same steady pace, then you need to think about dropping down to something a little more manageable.

To get the most out of your workout, don’t limit yourself to just a handful of machines that all exercise the same muscle group. You should try to work all of your muscles. The most useful areas to strengthen are your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteal muscles, upper back, and your deep abdominal muscles.

If you feel you’ve got any energy left, you can further mix up your routine by taking a break from the weights room and doing some work on the cardio machines.

Staying safe

Use free weights with caution – The case may be that you don’t go to a gym and instead exercise in the comfort of your own home using free weights (weights not attached to a machine – such as dumbbells and barbells). Most gyms are also likely to have an area for people to use free weights. Such weights should be approached with caution. While they are a good alternative to using a machine and provide you with the same benefits, there is the risk of them making contact with your stomach if you are not confident using them.

A resistance band may be a far safer option than using free weights, and offers a lot of variety in terms of how many exercises you can do.

If something feels wrong, don’t do it – Be sure to stay aware of your body and how you’re feeling. Exercising some muscles may feel more uncomfortable than others. Two main symptoms of the first trimester, as you may already be acutely aware of, are nausea and vomiting. Straining too hard can worsen the feeling of nausea, so don’t be afraid to take time out or skip a session entirely if you’re not feeling up to it.

At week 9, the foetus is still not big enough to cause you many problems when you lie flat on your back. As you enter the second trimester, however, the weight of the baby can put pressure on a major nerve, reducing the blood flow to your brain. This can make you very dizzy.

You may not have experienced this effect that much so far, but it’s a good idea for you to stop the habit of lying flat on your back now instead of only acting once it becomes a problem. Most machines that require you to lie flat on a bench should allow you to adjust it so that it has an incline. Making these adjustments early on mean you will get used to using the machine in this way as early as possible.

Give your body enough time to rest – While getting regular exercise is a good thing, you want to give your muscles time to rest and repair. If you want to keep up your weight training, then three sessions a week with a 48 hour rest in between should be enough.

Lastly, while we encourage almost any type of physical exercise in pregnancy, as always, it is vital to check that what you are doing is not harmful to you or your baby. Ask the experts – and we don’t mean the staff at the gym – always consult your GP or midwife.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.