Pregnancy exercise: can you include kettlebell training?

I’ll lay my cards on the table: I LOVE training with kettlebells and have been doing so for many years. Why do I love them? Because they really work. So what do I mean by that? Well basically, they are a fantastic fitness tool that just about zaps everything in one fell swoop: cardio, resistance, core stability, stamina, the lot! So this makes them super time efficient, and guess what? As a mum of three, I’m not exactly wallowing in spare time and so anything fitness-wise which saves me time gets a big thumbs up from me, and anyway, I find them exhilarating.

Can pregnancy exercise include kettlebells for those new to them?

But would I suggest kettlebell training for mums-to-be. Well, the first thing to say is that there’s not much point in making a sweeping generalisation about all pregnant women and how they should or should not exercise. Although there is one generalisation that I really can legitimately make here and it is this: if you haven’t ever used kettlebells prior to pregnancy then now is most definitely NOT the time to give them a go. So there’s your #1 rule: never done kettlebells before? Then don’t make kettlebells part of your pregnancy exercises.


I'm a kettlebell user: can I incorporate them into my pregnancy exercises?

So what about those of you who have been enjoying the wonders of kettlebell training prior to falling pregnant? Well the picture isn’t black and white and I would suggest that you ask yourself the following questions and then answer them as truthfully as possible, in the interests of your safety and that of your baby:

  • Have you been given excellent instruction on using kettlebells and if so, is your technique spot on? So, for example, when you do your kettlebell swings, is your posture perfect with your back in a strong neutral position? In general, I would say that it is quite hard to acquire perfect technique within the format of a group exercise class but if you have had 1-2-1 instruction then the likelihood is that you are well on the way to having top notch technique, although this is not always the case.
  • What are your current fitness levels? Low, medium, high? How often do you train and at what intensity? The answers to these questions will govern how hard you can work during pregnancy. One person’s “low” intensity exercise will, quite literally, be another person’s “high” intensity. So are you a Jessica Ennis or perhaps a mere mortal like the rest of us?
  • Coming to the nitty gritty: how is your back feeling in pregnancy? Any aches and pains? And what about the pelvic area? Any twinges? If you are experiencing back pain – especially lower back pain – then swinging a kettlebell is most definitely off the cards, in my view. Again, pelvic girdle pain is to be treated with kid gloves in pregnancy – never ever do anything to aggravate it because, believe me, it could get worse. Much much worse.

I am fit and well so is it OK to use kettlebells in my pregnancy exercises?

So let’s assume that you have good technique, you’ve been using kettlebells for a good while prior to pregnancy and all is going really well on the mum-to-be front – it’s plain sailing so far. What’s the verdict? Well, here’s what I would advise:

  1. During the early part of pregnancy I would carry on exercising as before but at a reduced intensity and in this case, that means with a lighter weight. Why the lighter weight? Because I don’t want you overheating and breathless – it’s not good for the development of your baby – and I also want you to see exactly how you feel when swinging a kettlebell. Be vigilant: does your back feel strong and stable or is everything a little wobbly when you swing the kettlebell? I ask this because during pregnancy the high levels of relaxin in the body will make your joints less stable and more vulnerable to injury. In particular, the sacroiliac joint is prone to instability and if that “goes”, my goodness, you will know about it and regret it. So beware of this and never swing a kettlebell – however light it is – if you get the sensation of “wobbliness” though your lower back and pelvis. It’s not exactly a technical term but that’s how it feels, and I say that from personal experience.
  2. My gut instinct is to tell you to taper off kettlebell swings as your pregnancy advances and to focus on using the kettlebell as you would a free weight, a dumbbell. I am a great believer in keeping yourself really strong throughout the body during pregnancy. So by all means, use your kettlebell for pregnancy exercises such as resisted squats and lunges – just so long as you have no pelvic pain – bicep curls and bent over rows, as long as your back feels 100%. This will protect you from aches and pains. Having said this, you might as well use dumbbells which tend to go up in smaller increments, weight-wise, thus allowing greater flexibility.
  3. But swings? Not worth the risk in my opinion. Some people will tell you that swings are great because you have to stabilise through the core and pelvis as you perform the movement. Well yes, of course this is true but the way I see it is this: the abdominals are stretched, lengthened and weakened during pregnancy, which makes it mighty hard to fully stabilise yourself against the force of a cast iron ball swinging on the end of a handle. The posture has been hugely altered by your advancing pregnancy and this makes it very difficult for you to get yourself into the correct and safe position for swinging a kettlebell. The pelvis is far less stable than it would be in normal circumstances and when you swing a kettlebell properly, the whole force of your effort goes through this area, so again, a big no-no in my opinion… for most people, that is.
  4. Let’s not forget all those special exercises that can be done with a kettlebell and which are just so beautiful when done properly – the Windmill and the Turkish get-up for example – lovely as they are, please please please don’t do those in pregnancy. they really cannot be put into the "pregnancy exercises" category. If you know these exercises then you can probably figure out why they need to be avoided at all costs.
  5. Finally, let’s throw common sense into the equation: you might be super-fit, and a super mum-to-be but if pregnancy is making you feel rotten then don’t force yourself to carry on with a rigorous exercise regime. Do what makes you feel really good, not what makes you feel like you’ve had a killer workout. Listen to your body – corny but true – and listen to your health practitioners too. Remember this: you’ll be able to gradually build up your fitness levels post-pregnancy – when the time is right. That’s the great thing about fitness: it is always always achievable.  

So whatever your fitness levels and your pregnancy are like, just make sure that you do exercise which is right for you - not for the annoyingly fit gym bunny in your office, nor for the couch potato mum-to-be who lives two doors down – and which makes you feel truly happy, healthy and fit!