The advice given to women about training through pregnancy varies from thoughtful to outright crazy. Even many doctors aren’t qualified in training during pregnancy and postpartum, so they often give the advice to simply stop training altogether as it’s easier than explaining how to train safely.
I cannot stress enough how EVERY pregnancy is different and no coach or doctor can prevent or promise anything. Our job as coaches is to prepare you for your postpartum journey by educating you whilst helping to keep you active and healthy during your pregnancy. This is an awesome period of your life to focus on you and your baby, not to worry about achieving a new PR.
“Control what you can and surrender to the rest” - Brianna Battles.
1. Can I lift weights during my pregnancy? Yes
We hear “Don’t lift over 10 lbs” far too often. A newborn baby can weigh around 8 lbs, 1-2 month-year-olds can weigh 10 lbs +. If you don’t lift over 10 lbs during your whole pregnancy, how do you expect to be prepared when your child arrives? How much does a car seat or a pushchair weigh? When you’re 8 months pregnant and starting to finalise the baby’s room, are you meant to weigh everything before you pick it up to make sure it’s less than 10 lbs?!
Of course, as time goes on, training weights will lower and certain movements will adapt or be cut out. That does NOT mean you can’t lift. Now before you start trying to find your 1 rep max.
When lifting you need to be thinking about where you are creating pressure in your body. When you attempt a heavy lift, its common to take a big breath to brace and hold our breath, this creates intra-abdominal pressure (pressure in your tummy). During pregnancy we aim to avoid this; your little bubba is already creating enough pressure down there!!
Therefore, yes you can lift! However, make sure you’re lifting weights that you don’t need to hold your breath for.
2. Keep doing what you’ve always done? - False
Things will need to be adapted during your pregnancy and here’s why:
Jumping & Impact create excessive downward pressure towards your pelvic floor which (even if it feels totally fine) can contribute towards complications such as incontinence and a weakened pelvic floor.
Olympic Weightlifting - this is totally dependant on the person, pregnancy & circumstances, however, you’ll eventually start to lower the weights of your lifts then as that belly grows, you’ll likely cut it out altogether. “But I’ve been lifting for years and my body knows what to do.” Yes, and you’ve been striving for the perfect bar path and constantly drilling “keep that bar close” - now you have a tummy in the way, so not only are you creating bad habits but also increasing the risk of injury by swinging the bar around your belly. We need to keep Mom safe as well as baby!
You can scale these movements by using a dumbbell or kettlebell.
Be aware of symptoms - of all my clients, each one is so different. One client was symptom-free with no complications during her pregnancy, and we didn’t have to change a whole lot until later in her pregnancy, on the other hand, another developed PSD (pelvic pain) early on, through no fault of her own.
Some women get this while others don’t. Therefore, we had to adapt her training early on to manage this. She is not able to simply “keep doing what she’s always done” and that’s fine!
Breathing Tendencies - as I touched on before, you want to be performing movements and lifting loads that allow you to control your breathing and pelvic floor. This will likely become quite challenging with complex movements and heavyweights.
3. Only walk & do yoga - False
If Yoga is what you enjoy and you have a coach who can help you to adjust the poses and flows then go for it. BUT if you love lifting weights or swimming or cycling, don’t think “I have to stop what I love”.
Our goal as coaches is to prepare you with the knowledge to equip you as best as possible for postpartum, therefore it’s important to be taught how to correctly activate your pelvic floor & whole core system while doing a deadlift or a squat or carry for example.
Otherwise, what happens when you’re having to pick up your baby or car seat constantly and you don’t know how to do that with correct form and activation?! It’s your coaches job to listen to what form of exercise you enjoy and find a way to adapt your training so you can continue doing that as long as possible. If you do have to stop that particular sport at some point during your pregnancy, your coach should be able to find a training method that will compliment it so you can get back in a safe way postpartum.
4. Can I prevent Diastasis Recti during pregnancy? - No
DR is the separation of the abs creating a gap along the linea alba. 100% of pregnant women will experience DR; it is literally the body widening to make space for your baby and prepare for birth. Some women may never notice it and it can return to normal up to 8 weeks postpartum. Others will experience significant DR long term which may result in surgery.
There is so much fear-mongering around this topic. The first thing to know is, it doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong or you are less fit. You have done NOTHING wrong!
Things you can’t control that can contribute to DR :
Size of your baby
How your baby sits or grow
What you can control :
How you exercise
which can all help but will not promise to prevent.
If you do experience DR, you should visit a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist who can help assess you properly and guide you in your next steps to rehab.
To reiterate, every pregnancy is different and there is a lot we cannot control. So take this time to dial back the intensity, focus on core and pelvic health, and really work on the functional movements.
Ensure you don’t stop exercising all together unless you have a high-risk pregnancy. Doing this will educate you about your body, build strong foundations for getting you back to exercise postpartum, and aid in preparing you for motherhood.
Your body will Thank You!