Strength Training During Pregnancy
All about strength training and pregnancy, the do’s and don'ts, the benefits, what types of exercises to do and safety considerations.
By Sean Preuss | Updated 12/12/22
For a while, strength training was viewed as risky for expecting moms. There were concerns that strength training might excessively increase core body temperature, cause trauma to the fetus, disrupt blood flow to the uterus, cause a miscarriage, or lead to labor side effects.
None of these concerns are valid, though. Multiple studies show that strength training does not increase the chances of any of these negative events (Pujol et al., 2007; Schoenfeld, 2011).
Strength training is safe and incredibly beneficial for pregnant women. It offers benefits for the health of the expecting mother and the fetus, while also making labor less challenging.
Whether you’re expecting, have someone in your family who is, or have ever wondered if strength training was safe for those who are carrying, keep reading.
Strength Training Benefits for Pregnant Women
Pregnancy is not only a physically stressful time for the mother, but it carries risk. Inactive moms carry a higher risk for excessive weight gain and significant muscle loss (Schoenfeld, 2011).
Pregnant mothers are also at risk of developing gestational diabetes, which increases the risk for developing type 2 diabetes in the future (Brankston et al., 2003; Schoenfeld, 2011).
Pregnancy also triggers the well-known side effects of aches, fatigue, and being short of breath.
Strength training mitigates many of these issues, while providing other benefits. Below is a list of what regular strength training can provide for expecting mothers (Branskston et al., 2003; Fieril et al., 2014; Pujol et al., 2007; Schoenfeld, 2011):
- Better overall mood
- More energy/less fatigue
- Less weight gain
- Maintain more muscle
- Fewer headaches
- Better overall posture during pregnancy
- Less likely to have lower back pain
- Better quality sleep
- Greater overall quality of life
- Enhanced self-confidence
- A reduced risk of developing preeclampsia or gestational diabetes
In addition to this large list of benefits during pregnancy, labor is also aided. Women who strength train experience fewer labor pains (Schoenfeld, 2011). Also, they are more likely to have vaginal births (White, Pivarnik, & Pfeiffer, 2014).
Strength training is tremendously helpful, as a whole, for the mother. But how does strength training impact the newborn?
Benefits for the Baby
As stated in the beginning, strength training does not harm the blood flow to or cause damage on the fetus. It does, however, enhance the fetus’s health and physical state. Babies from trained moms tend to be longer and have more total lean mass (Schoenfeld, 2011).
These babies are also more likely to fall in a healthy weight range when born (Bakarat, Lucia, & Ruiz, 2009). They are also generally more alert and disciplined as children (Schoenfeld, 2011).
Tips for Training During Pregnancy
It’s important for any expecting mother to consult her gynecologist about strength training, especially if she was not strength training prior to pregnancy. The recommendations of the OB/GYN transcends all of the tips and research findings in this article.
Assuming the OB/GYN’s approval, below are a few simple precautionary steps to take when strength training during pregnancy.
In general, move between exercises to avoid blood pooling in the legs. (If you train with The Perfect Workout, you already know this is built into the program). This can occur as a result of veins relaxing after exercise, which could then create varicose veins in the legs and harbor blood that should go to other parts of the body.
Also, breathe continuously. Avoid prolonged breath holding, which could harm the fetus (Pujol et al., 2007).
After the first trimester, take the following precautions:
- Avoid overhead lifts, which could add stress to the lower back and also unnecessarily increase blood pressure (Pujol et al., 2007).
- Use a shortened range of motion on the hip adduction and hip abduction machines. Don’t push all the way out. After the first trimester, women produce more of the hormone relaxin, which loosens ligaments. This makes them more susceptible to injury.
- For the same reason, avoid pushing very far on stretches (if stretching is performed at all).
- Avoiding positions where the expecting mother is lying on her back or stomach.Lying on your back during the second and third trimesters may compress a significant blood vessel that carries blood to your uterus, making you feel lightheaded and perhaps decreasing blood flow to your fetus.
On the other hand, here are a few tips for maximizing the benefits of strength training:
- Train all major muscle groups, especially the legs. This is especially critical as the legs will be relied upon even more with carrying extra weight during the final trimester.
- For healthy pregnancies, put a full effort into strength training. Pushing to or near muscle failure does not appear to be risky for women who have healthy pregnancies.
- Strengthen the lower back. This will become increasingly valuable as the pregnancy carries on.
Strength training used to be viewed as being risky for expecting mothers and their babies, but several studies have shown that the concerns are not true and strength training is actually really helpful for the mother, the labor, and the baby.
The OB/GYN’s recommendations take precedence on if and how the mother should strength train. With the doctor’s approval, moms benefit by performing full body workouts, especially for the legs and lower back. A few precautions are important to take, including continuous breathing during exercises and avoiding back- and front-lying positions after the first trimester.
- Barakat, R., Lucia, A., & Ruiz, J. R. (2009). Resistance exercise training during pregnancy and newborn's birth size: a randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Obesity, 33(9), 1048-1057.
- Brankston, G.N., Mitchell, B.F., Ryan, E.A., & Okun, N.B. (2003). Resistance exercise decreases the need for insulin in overweight women with gestational diabetes mellitus. Elsevier, 190, 188-193.
- Fieril, K. P., Olsén, M. F., Glantz, A., & Larsson, M. (2014). Experiences of exercise during pregnancy among women who perform regular resistance training: a qualitative study. Physical Therapy, 94(8), 1135-1143.
- Pujol, T. J., Barnes, J. T., Elder, C. L., & LaFontaine, T. (2007). Resistance training during pregnancy. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 29(2), 44-46.
- Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Resistance training during pregnancy: safe and effective program design. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(5), 67-75.
- White, E., Pivarnik, J., & Pfeiffer, K. (2014). Resistance training during pregnancy and perinatal outcomes. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 11, 1141-1148.