Sumi’s Complete Guide to Weight Training While Pregnant
If you’re reading this, you’re probably pregnant. Congratulations on your good news and your decision to keep your body as healthy as possible as you carry your baby to term!
And congratulations on considering weight training and exercising while on this exciting journey!
As a professional personal trainer in Austin, Texas with both pre-and-post partum certifications, it will be my pleasure to guide you through the many things you can do to stay fit while pregnant.
First things first; let’s talk about calories.
You may already be aware that pregnant women have increased caloric needs: pregnant, sedentary women need about an additional 300 calories per day. Active pregnant women need more, and this need increases as pregnancy progresses.
It’s very easy to satisfy that additional 300 calories. When I was pregnant, I easily met that need with an almond butter and jam sandwich on whole grain toast and some low fat milk (yum!).
And while this time in your life is not one to obsess about calories, you will want to focus on non-junk food calories that come from nutrient-dense foods.
That habit learning to staying away from junk foods and empty calories, and choosing unprocessed whole food sources, will be one you want to keep post-partum too!
In addition to eating smart, it’s a good idea to supplement with a pre-natal vitamin (as directed by your doctor), and drink plenty of water.
What about staying in shape? Working out? Going to the gym?
Whether you’re an exercise junkie or a woman who’s just concerned about gaining a bit too much weight over the course of your pregnancy, there’s good news; being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to be a coach potato.
In fact, you’ll find things go better if you’re not.
If you’re familiar with strength training, you can continue to lift safely.
However, it’s important to always listen to what your body tells you, and to adhere to your doctor’s recommendations.
For instance, my doctor told me not to pick up any weights heavier than 25 to 30 lbs.
Yours may recommend something different.
At the time, I was a well-trained strength athlete (still am!), so 25-30 lbs was light for me. That number may not be light for every woman.
The same holds true for cardiovascular training. I did away with all interval-type work, and performed jogging (it was comfortable for me), stationary cycling, brisk walking, hiking, and elliptical work for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4 to 5 times a week. I performed a 5 minute warm up and a 5 minute cool down. I wasn’t able to go much longer than 45 minutes. You’ll be drinking plenty of water while exercising, so running to the bathroom means you can’t really park yourself on a cardio machine anyway!
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even recommends up to 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity daily, but do check with your doctor and listen to your body. Although you may have heard of using a heart rate monitor to gauge intensity and exertion, I found the talk test to be the simplest. You should be able to speak short sentences (“Hey, what’s up?” or “Nice deadlift!”) but not be able to sing an entire nursery rhyme.
5 Benefits of Weight Training while Pregnant
There are a number of benefits of weight training that apply specifically to pregnancy. They are…
- Better energy and sense of well-being.
- Faster post-partum recovery.
- Reduced discomfort from having strong muscles (e.g., pelvic floor and back).
- Decreased likelihood of varicose veins from improved overall circulation.
- Decreased risk of excessive weight gain which can lead to stretch marks.
My Recommendations for Exercising or Weight Training While Pregnant
If you’ve consistently exercised prior to getting pregnant, have your doctor’s clearance, and want to continue to exercise, here are some of my general recommendations:
1. Hire a personal trainer that is certified in prenatal personal training or sign up for a prenatal group class (for at least a few sessions). Personal trainers can help guide you through safe exercises to keep your body strong and keep you motivated.
2. Always warm up. If you’re the kind of in-and-out gym gal who’s accustomed to jumping right into a workout, you’re going to need to restructure your schedule to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Use resistance bands. Resistance bands can provide a great workout, at home or at the gym. The adjustable tension means you are in full control of how much stress you are applying to a particular muscle group.
4. Hydrate before, after, and during exercise, and more if you’re outdoors or in a warmer climate. I had the pleasure of being pregnant over the summer time in Florida.
Below are some of the exercises I was able to safely perform while pregnant, for various muscle groups. Always perform exercises with smooth, controlled movements, and don’t hold your breath.
Chest: Flyes and presses with a light barbell, cables, and dumbbells. Incline pushups did not bother me either. You might want to try them against a wall to make sure you are not placing unnecessary stain on your wrists or shoulders. Some women develop carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy.
Back and traps: dumbbell shrugs, lat pulldowns with varying angles, and seated rows. Lifting up baby in and out of the crib will mean lots of back work!
Erector spinae: partial rep deadlifts, bird-dogs.
Shoulders: Overhead presses, side lateral raises, or seated shoulder press machine.
Arms: Bicep curls, hammer curls, rope pressdowns, seated overhead dumbbell extensions, kickbacks. Strong arms helped me when I had to cradle baby during marathon breast-feeding sessions.
Legs: Seated leg curl machine, squats, lunges, leg extensions, standing and seated calf raises, incline leg press machine. I’m convinced that my ease of recovery (getting in and out of bed) post c-section is attributable to my strong quads and hamstrings.
Abs: I was able to do ab work while pregnant, ab machine crunches, modified planks, curl ups in an incline position for instance.
Just remember, I was very familiar with ab work to begin would always stop if something didn’t feel right.
Always go with what your body tells you!
I had a very easy pregnancy, and whether that had anything to do with the fact that I exercised while pregnant does not mean the same holds true for everyone. Every woman is different and every pregnancy really is different-just ask mothers of 2 or more.
Some pregnancies are virtually symptom-free, while others can leave you incredibly exhausted early on.
I remember I taught my BodyPump class throughout the 9 months and right up to the day before I delivered my baby.
You can stay fit, strong, and healthy while pregnant, but this is no time to push the limits or expect to break any records. Just because the latest Victoria Secret supermodel is strutting the runway 6 weeks post baby does not mean that is realistic for everyone. Focus on eating sensibly, staying as strong as you can within reasonable limits, and always listening to what your body is saying.
Sumi Singh is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Austin, TX, an online diet coach, and the author of “Stay at Home Strong“, the complete program on post partum fitness.
Click here to learn more about “Stay at Home Strong.”