How Lifting Weights Improves Pregnancy Looking to find out if working out is dangerous while pregnant? Find out why prenatal exercise is the most beneficial thing you can do for your baby’s health and some quick tips to find out when the exercise you’re doing may be too much. Also learn some easy ways to modify your workouts based on body changes during pregnancy.
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Lift Heavy & Have a Healthy Pregnancy

Do you look forward to lifting heavy at the gym and are worried you must stop now that you’re pregnant? Have no fear, your weightlifting workouts don’t have to disappear now that you have a baby on the way. 

In fact, it’s one of the best things for you and your baby. Strength training won’t be the same during pregnancy, but with a few things to look out for and some modifications, you can still do what you love in the gym.

Please consult with your OB/GYN or midwife to make sure your workout plan works best for your body.

What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Strength Exercise?

We have all been told that having a healthy diet and regularly exercising is good for the body, right? 

It’s no different during pregnancy. 

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends women continue the level of exercise they have been maintaining or begin an exercise routine while pregnant. The cherry on top is all the amazing benefits of working out (including strength training) while pregnant. 

Deadlifting while pregnant

Benefits to training during pregnancy include:

  • Less back pain
  • Decreased chance of a C-section
  • Avoiding excessive weight gain
  • Easier/shorter labor and delivery
  • Increased heart health. 
  • Lowers risk of gestational diabetes mellitus
  • Decreased risk of preterm birth or low birth weight

One of the biggest benefits of strength exercises specifically is maintaining muscle mass. We tend to lose muscle mass in pregnancy due to joint laxity and hormonal changes, so lifting weights during all trimesters will help you maintain muscle mass and prepare you for postpartum. 

The best thing you can do for yourself postpartum is to keep all the muscle you can for carrying your baby around all day. 

I know it might seem silly because they are so little but trust me, after 20 minutes, they start to feel pretty heavy!

What Strength Exercises Should I Avoid While Pregnant?

Exercises that you should avoid include ones that cause coning in the abdomen or if they require you to lie down and experience dizziness. Common exercises include overhead pressing and bench pressing. 

More importantly, if you exhibit signs of complications with a type of exercise you should stop and contact your provider. Some signs that you may need to avoid a certain type of exercise or lower the intensity include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Regular, painful contractions
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing before exercise 
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Fluid gushing or leaking from the vagina

How Much Weight Can I Lift During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, you can lift as much weight as you feel comfortable. Since every woman’s physical abilities are different, there is no set amount of weight that you should not exceed. 

Some women can lift 50 pounds with little effort, and some women may only be able to lift 10 pounds during their pregnancy. Always be in tune with your body and look for signs that something might be too heavy. If you feel any pulling, sharp pain, or are straining extraordinarily hard, use less weight. 

Working out is meant to release endorphins, keep you active and maintain muscle mass. Overexertion during pregnancy puts unnecessary strain on your body when it’s working very hard to grow a baby. It’s great to push yourself but don’t overdo it. 

pregnancy leg press

When Should I Stop Weight Training During Pregnancy?

You should stop weight training when you feel that it is necessary. I continued working out until the day I gave birth, so there is no harm in continuing strength workouts through the third trimester of pregnancy. 

If lifting weights becomes exhausting or is no longer enjoyable, feel free to find another form of exercise like walking, yoga, or bodyweight exercises. 

What is a Dangerous Heart Rate Weight Training?

The truth is, there is no definite answer to this question. There is more evidence supporting the benefits of high-intensity workouts (which cause a higher heart rate) than warnings for them. If you have been doing HIIT workouts before pregnancy and love them, keep doing it! 

If you are just starting and are worried about getting your heart rate too high, look for symptoms of overexertion. 

If you start to feel dizzy, feel like your heart is beating out of your chest, and are extremely hot but not sweating— these are signs of overheating which are dangerous. You want to avoid any of those symptoms and work to lower your heart rate. 

Listen to your body— if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!

Also, if you are just starting a workout routine, don’t try to go from no exercise to pushing your body to its limits during this time. Any movement more than what you’ve been accustomed to will help your physical fitness. 

Pregnancy Exercise Modifications

When the body is evolving during pregnancy, certain physiological changes need adaptations when strength training. Increased blood volume, widening of the hips, and abdominal weight gain are new experiences, and there are some ways to modify workouts. 

Increased Blood Volume

When pregnant, women start producing double the blood volume to circulate for the baby and mom. Since there is double the amount of blood, the heart has to accommodate the excess work. 

You may start to feel tired faster during a workout because your body is working harder to pump more blood through the body. 

If you are used to long workouts, try shortening them by doing fewer sets or fewer exercises. 

Hip Width

Pregnant woman barbell squat

Widening the birth canal to be able to birth your baby is amazing and needs to happen, but it can throw some things off when working out. 

Our body releases a hormone called relaxin that relaxes our muscles which can lead to decreased balance, achy muscles, and changes in our normal hid-width stance. 

Specifically, when squatting, you might notice that you will have to widen your stance to feel comfortable, and the weight you were once lifting may not feel so great. That’s normal and to be expected.

Try different variations of squats like box squats and goblet squats, or choose a new leg-building exercise like the leg press.

Weight Gain

And the most obvious change- that big ole belly growing! It will get more difficult to hold weights in front of you when you already have a ten-pound weight sticking out of you that wasn’t there before. 

Using weight machines in the third trimester may be easier during this time than holding free weights in front of your body where you already have extra weight. Also, your body is gaining weight which can be enough to maintain muscle alone. 

Bodyweight exercises in the third trimester are still a workout!

Enjoy Lifting Weights Safely During Pregnancy

We will always want what’s best for our babies, so it makes sense to be concerned with lifting anything heavy while pregnant. But truthfully, our bodies thrive on actively using our muscles. 

Strength training prepares and empowers us to birth our beautiful children with ease. With the right modifications, you can enjoy your workouts through all trimesters of pregnancy.