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Strength Training in Pregnancy. Yes or No?

I am sure you heard many times: 'Don't lift your shopping bag', 'Is it not too heavy for you?' when you were pregnant. The old-fashioned way and a safe blank answer is: don't lift weights during pregnancy.

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Benefits of strength training when pregnant

However, it is not necessarily true that you need to give up on your routine, if you like to incorporate weight training. The benefits of weight (or resistance) training may outweigh any risks. Strength training can provide a pregnant exerciser with a number of benefits including:

  • The improvement or maintenance of muscular strength, endurance and tone

  • Improved postural alignment

  • Reduction in lower back pain

  • Reduction in the effects of ligamentous laxity on joint stability

  • A possible reduction in the time needed to resume activities without undue fatigue after the baby is born

  • Let’s face it: it’s fun

  • You can do it at home or gym

General guidelines for strength training

Resistance training guidelines for pregnant exercisers are generally consistent with the standard guidelines for enhancing muscular strength and endurance with a few minor adaptations and ensuring correct design of the workout/programme:

 

  • To avoid creating postural problems or even possible injury it is usually beneficial to work opposing muscle groups e.g. if you work the biceps then you must work the triceps. 

  • Exercises must follow the order of larger to smaller muscle groups but finish with the core.

  • Compound (multi-joint) exercises should be performed before isolation exercises (squat, deadlift before hamstring curl, triceps extension)

  • Don’t train till failure but to moderate fatigue. So generally speaking we are looking at muscle endurance with 12-20 repetitions of each movement. 2-3 sets in Trimester 1,2, most likely reducing to one set in trimester 3

Potential adaptation to your resistance routine

Minor adaptations may be needed as the pregnancy progresses, and could include:

  • Holding wall, chair for support and balance (e.g. during squats)

  • Removing weights and using just body weight (as our weight increases anyway)

  • Don’t lie on your back after trimester 1. So e.g. bench press could be changed to inclined bench press or chest press resistance machine

  • Swap big barbell to dumbbell to accommodate growing belly and keep the form right (e.g. for clean and press). You can as well use resistance bands, which are very effective and safe in pregnancy

  • Reduce the weight: typically by the end of the trimester 2 you should reduce it by 10-20% and further 10% by trimester 3. We don’t want to strain and create intra-abdominal pressure that then impacts our pelvic floor.

  • You may wish to swap standing exercises (e.g. shoulder press) to seating equivalents.

 

This is only a general approach and each of us is different. That is why a personalised approach by a specialist is the safest way to create a sustainable programme that will keep your strength up without risks.

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