Weight training during pregnancy and beyond: facts not fiction

There’s more than a little confuion surrounding weight training during pregnancy and early motherhood - can you/ can’t you/is it safe/not safe – and thrown into this mix are regular stories that hit the headlines featuring incredibly strong women lifting very heavy weights right up to their due dates. And as always, these stories, when shared on social media, ignite a veritable avalanche of opinions from all quarters. In fact, everyone suddenly becomes an expert and feels an irrepressible urge to either condemn or condone. I’m all for people voicing their views although there’s no doubt that many of us are left wondering what to believe and what can safely be ignored. In short, there’s a lot of information out there but what to trust?

Given all this talk, I’d like to offer a pregnancy/postnatal weight training reality check:

  1. Keeping your body strong throughout pregnancy is a good thing. Think about it: your body goes through huge change at an incredible pace as your bump grows. This places a great deal of pressure on many parts of the body. If you come to your pregnancy strong, this will help you weather these changes and you are less likely to experience aches and pains. But please note that I said that keeping your body strong is good. In other words, this is about maintenance and not about suddenly launching into a full-on strength training programme when pregnant. This is a key safety point in pregnancy: you don’t work on increasing your fitness levels but on maintaining them.
     
  2. Having said this, it does not mean that you cannot at all work on your strength in pregnancy if you are new to fitness. By all means, join a pregnancy-specific fitness class that incorporates body weight exercises, the use of resistance bands or even some light hand held weights. If you are able to find an instructor or personal trainer who is fully qualified in pregnancy/postnatal fitness then this is always going to be the best option and s/he will tailored the exercises so that they work on areas that are most affected by pregnancy. You can search the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors website for trainers in your area.
     
  3. At the other end of the spectrum there are those of you who have been regularly training with weights pre-pregnancy: this might be in a class format, such as Body Pump, or in a gym using fixed weights machines, dumbbells or barbells. As long as your pregnancy is progressing well and there are no health or medical contraindications you can carry on with your weights workouts, albeit with lighter weights if you normally go heavy, and with certain adaptations as you move from first to second trimester and beyond.
     
  4. Let’s clear up the “heavy weights” controversy: it is true that a minority of women come to their pregnancies very strong indeed and they undoubtedly have the strength to keep lifting these weights throughout pregnancy. So why do I still suggest that they reduce their weights? Firstly, a key pregnancy fitness guideline is to exercise at a moderate level – moderate by your individual standards, of course, but nevertheless moderate. Secondly, however strong a woman might be, this does not make her pelvic floor muscles immune to the pressures placed on them by pregnancy and childbirth. Add heavy weights into the mix and you can start to see why the pelvic floor could suffer serious damage potentially leading to incontinence.
       
  5. Breathing correctly when lifting weights is always important but in pregnancy and postnatally it is an absolute priority. Correct breathing involves exhaling on the effort of the movement. So, for example, when doing a shoulder press you exhale when lifting the weighted bar and inhale as you control the bar back down to the start position. It is very common to feel the urge to hold one’s breath when lifting something heavy – whether it be the shopping, your toddler or a weight in the gym – but doing this creates a sudden and significant increase in pressure within the abdominal cavity. This pressure then has to go somewhere and that somewhere is through the pelvic floor putting these muscles under even greater strain.
     
  6. Postnatally, if you are suffering from diastasis recti – significant separation of the outer abdominals along the linea alba – then any intra-abdominal pressure is going to push out through this area of weakness slowing down the healing process and potentially aggravating the situation. From the perspective of lifting weights this means that exhaling on the effort is key and even if you do consistently breathe out when lifting, if the weights are too heavy you may compromise progress in terms of abdominal strengthening. Ideally, you need to work on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and the deepest layer of abdominals after giving birth: this can be seen as laying the foundations for strong, long-lasting postnatal fitness. Miss out the foundations and your fitness could well end up with “cracks” in it, just like a poorly built building.      

 

More from Jo...

What the professionals say about us!

My clients who have done the FitBumpBox programme really reap the benefits, learning correct techniques for effective rehabilit...

Kathryn Peden, Women's Health Physio

The FitBump Box is a fabulously unique support system for new mums & mums-to-be, helping to regain confide...

FitPro, the leading fitness industry organisation, UK

FitBumpBox is exceptional & encourages a safe, sociable way to prepare for a fit, healthy & fulfilling pregnancy &...

Sarah Bournon, doula

At last! A birthing ball - the FitBumpBall - that includes a guide to safe & effective exercise in pregnan...

Sarah Bournon, doula

Joanna has vast experience & her award winning FitBumpBox program will help benefit baby & you.

Nicola, midwife

I highly recommend the FitBumpBox which is tailored for pregnancy & postpartum. It makes es...

Dr C. Eddleston, GP

The FitBumpBox with Dr Helcke's expert guidance helps remove the fear that women often have about exercising du...

Katie, physiotherapist
 

What the mums say about us!

Very pleased with Fitbumpboxball - great for pregnancy and early labour. Videos are easy to follow and informative, particularly in ...

Louise Hawke

The FitBumpBall is just simply amazing. After only a few days I saw signs of it working. Fantastic quality & I will be...

Samantha, BizzieBaby tester

From the minute you receive the FitBumpBox you feel welcomed into part of a whole new community where you can get so much help, advi...

Nicky, BizzieBaby Tester

I have the complete set of "The LITTLE BOOKS to keep you fit safely in pregnancy" & I would highly recommend them...

Agnieszka, mother of 3 (soon 4)

I love that the workouts are varied from week to: It’s just the way a pregnancy workout should be: gentle but effective and ju...

Emily of My Petit Canard

Simple movements as shown by an expert, in the comfort of my own home? Yes please! The FitBumpBox makes for a lovely gift, eith...

Katy of What Katy Said

Gorgeously presented & including brilliant online workouts that I have used both pre and postnatally. A definite must!

Debbie Barrett
 

What the celebrities say about us!

Perfect day for a workout with my FitBumpBox. Really helpful post-baby. Loving it!

Verity Rushworth

The thing that stands out is the simple nutritional advice - a favourite being 'An Avocado' when pushed for time. I liked th...

Paula Lane

Thank you for my FitBumpBox. Time to strengthen my body & give it some loooove! xx

Giovanna Fletcher