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Congratulations mama, you’re growing a tiny human! For many of us, even at pre-pregnancy we were getting our bodies ready for a baby and focusing on healthy eating and exercise. Now, you want to continue or start weight lifting and need to know, how much can I lift while pregnant?
Of course, while we’ve done our best research, we recommend you to talk to your Doctor or OB-GYN before starting lifting weights or a new workout regime.
Now, the reason you’re here is because you’re concerned about risks to lifting while pregnant. So let’s start with a brief history tour of exercise during pregnancy in the not too distant past…
Pregnancy pre-Y2K and early Noughties
Ever heard the expression “wrap you up in cotton wool”? How about “barefoot and pregnant”? Up until recently, recommendations for exercise during pregnancy were based on social norms and urban myths saying that women during pregnancy needed to:
- Slow down
- Take it easy
- Don’t carry anything heavy, and worst of all…
- Don’t hurt the baby doing anything silly!
The underlying message to women was that pregnancy is a medical condition and that a mother must be always aware of the potential impact of any activity, food or choice on her growing baby.
Pregnancy today: Be yourself
We now know that pregnancy is a normal physical condition and pregnancy is a process. Not only for the growing foetus, but you as a mother and the relationship you are developing with your baby.
The good news is that while exercise has always been encouraged during pregnancy, today we now have validated research that the right exercise for trimesters 1, 2 and 3 are both beneficial during pregnancy, and have myriad ongoing positive effects for mother and baby postpartum.
For example, a 2022 study identified that a mother’s physical activity during the first half of her pregnancy is directly linked lung function in health 3 month old babies.
Aside from scientific research, mothers and mothers-to-be these days also have loads of social proof that a training routine and even competitive sports during pregnancy is safe, normal and awesome.
Thanks to the likes of superwoman Serena Williams, who won the Australian Open in 2017 when eight weeks pregnant.
Serena Williams, and many women like her, have proven that the health & fitness we already have before pregnancy doesn’t stop just because we’re growing a baby!
On the official side, we also like that physical activity during pregnancy is encouraged by Doctors and Obstetricians to help reduce pregnancy complications, improve mother’s physical and mental health, and reduce birthing complications.
How much exercise should I be doing while pregnant?
Whatever your starting point, mothers should include both aerobic and anaerobic workouts in your training routines. While aerobic exercises like dancing, swimming, and running are encouraged daily, anaerobic activities like strength training and bodyweight workouts are ideal at least three times a week for 20-45 minutes depending on if you enjoy HIIT or LISS style workouts.
But before looking at how much exercise you should you be doing while pregnant, let’s look at how much exercise were you doing before you got pregnant?
I was not working out, not lifting weights
If you were not exercising pre-pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week if starting from the couch. Building up as your stamina increases to 30 minutes every day. If you want to introduce a weight lifting regime, speak to your Doctor and reach out to a certified fitness professional.
I was doing daily incidental exercise, not lifting weights
Mothers who regularly climbed stairs, learnt tango and took yoga can still follow the ACOG guidelines, including the refreshing incidental exercises you were already doing. If you were not lifting weights before but want to introduce them into your workout routine, now is a good time to start.
I was working out 2-3 times a week and lifting weights
If you were already lifting weights, its good to know The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends moderate intensity exercise throughout pregnancy. However, existing guidelines around vigorous and high-intensity exercise is not explicitly defined, particular during trimesters 1 and 2. Accordingly, keep doing what you were doing, if it feels good, but don’t try to break any personal records.
Whatever your routine remember: Always test the weight before using it for your workout.
Now that we know how much exercise we should be doing when pregnant, let’s address the relative safety of lifting weights during pregnancy.
Is it safe to lift weights during pregnancy?
Putting Serena Williams and lifters like Meghan Leatherman aside, let’s acknowledge its still not that common to see pregnant women lifting weights. This may be because vigorous intensity exercise during pregnancy demands a significant increase in workload above resting levels of metabolism. So it may feel different, or even, harder than pre-pregnancy.
Also, vigorous exercise may feel different at each trimester. Remember mamas, pregnancy is a process. That means that as your baby grows, the weight you carry will get heavier, and you will need to make adjustments to support that change, including updating your workout routine.
For example, fitness experts recommend that during pregnancy, we focus on strengthening the back, core and upper body to help deal with the added weight and the change in movement. Aim to stay active every day of your pregnancy for optimum health benefits.
Consult your obstetrician and talk to a professional trainer with experience training pregnant mothers to help you create a weightlifting program designed for you.
What are the benefits of lifting weights while pregnant?
We’ve compiled 19 major benefits of lifting weights while pregnant. We’ve broken this down into three categories:
- Day-to-day physical benefits
- Day-to-day mental and psychological benefits
- Risk reduction benefits
Day-to-day physical benefits of lifting weights include:
- Strengthened pelvic floor
- Reduced haemorrhoids
- Decreased lower back pain
- Less lumbar and sciatic pain
- Ease constipation
- Prevent pelvic diastasis
- Improve sleep quality despite frequent urination
- Maintain muscle strength and endurance
- Maintain cardiorespiratory endurance
Day-to-day mental and psychological benefits of lifting weights include:
- Stabilized hormones including dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins
- Reduced memory fog
- Improved mental clarity and focus
Decreased risk of health complications including:
- Gestational diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Gestational hypertension
- Prevent symptoms of postpartum depression
- Reduce pain during the peripartum period
What medical conditions make weight lifting and exercise during pregnancy unsafe?
While a healthy pregnancy allows you to exercise as you were before, if you have been diagnosed with any pregnancy complications and conditions, you should hold off on lifting weights and speak to your Doctor or Obstetrician to help you find a suitable workout during pregnancy.
In addition, preexistent medical conditions might also affect weight training during pregnancy, including:
- Certain types of heart diseases
- Certain types of lung diseases
- Cervical cerclage
- Twin (or more) pregnancy (for risk of preterm labor)
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy
- Preterm labor or ruptured membranes (water has been broken)
- Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Severe anemia
- Chronic bronchitis
- Intrauterine growth restriction
- Poor diabetes control
What are the risks not associated with weightlifting in pregnancy?
Mom guilt can be an absolute beast, and it shows its ugly head every time we are unsure if we are doing the right thing for our baby. Yes, it’s all those Y2K social and cultural norms rearing their ugly heads.
That is why it is essential to know what risks are not associated with lifting weights so we can be guilt-free about things we can’t control. Here are the pregnancy risks that are not related to weight lifting:
- Neonatal preterm birth
- Preterm rupture of the membranes
- Neonatal hypoglycemia
- Low birth weight
- Birth defects
- Induction of labor
- Birth complications
What are the recommended weightlifting exercises to do while pregnant?
A weightlifting program of 20 – 45 mins, 2 times per week, is a reasonable start, alongside an everyday aerobic workout like walking, swimming or running.
What is a good weight training routine during pregnancy?
Mamas, it’s critical to adapt your exercise to your body’s ever-changing needs.
It is recommended to workout towards a goal. For example, add exercises to strengthen your back for the added weight you will have in a few months. If you are overweight, consider a weightlifting program to shed some extra weight to reach a healthy BMI.
Weight lifting exercises to protect your belly and build your body
Free weights like a barbell, trap bar, dumbbell, kettlebell, and bodyweight training are helpful tools to incorporate into your workouts because they reduce the risk of being in contact with your belly.
Here are some examples of weightlifting exercises to introduce into your training
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- Bent-Elbow lateral raise
- Reverse fly
- Bicep curl
- Triceps overhead extension
- Calf raise
- Shoulder press
- Side lunge (add a nearby wall for stabilizing)
Trapbar or Barbell exercises
- Sumo squat
Yes Lifting your own weight is weight lifting!
How can I lift weights safely while pregnant?
The primary advice is to listen to your body as your pregnancy progresses. If you are the type of woman that likes to push herself, then listen to a medical expert and get a great trainer who can ensure your effort level is right.
If you decide to start lifting weights during pregnancy, here are some tips to ensure you can lift weights safely and keep you and your baby safe at the gym.
- Engage your pelvic floor, every. single. time.
- For balance, use a wall or an extra point of contact
- Get a gym buddy, in case you need help moving the weights
- If you haven’t already, consider a suitable pregnancy sports bra and belly support belt
- Use proper form for lifting, and if you aren’t sure – find out
- Work with a professional trainer that has experience with pregnant women
- Avoid anything that has contact with the belly
- No weight overload
- Stay hydrated
- Handle free weights cautiously (kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, etc.)
- Avoid working out in the heat or getting overheated
- Use proper belly breathing techniques and
- Continually review your workout to adjust to your changing flexibility
- Avoid High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Avoid exercises that start from the floor to a standing position
- Rest between weightlifting workouts
- Don’t try to break personal weightlifting records, though many women have ????
What exercises should you avoid while pregnant?
While there are benefits to weight lifting, once you are pregnant, you have to adjust some moves to your body. Some exercises pose too much of a risk to perform. Here are some examples to use as a rule of thumb.
- Lifting overhead weights, especially on the line of your belly
- Push-ups or any move that exerts pressure on the belly
- Explosive workouts like HIIT
- Medicine ball workouts, since the medicine ball doesn’t have handles, the risk of dropping on the belly is higher
- Bench press exercises, even with a spotter, risk hurting
- Any workout that has you lying on your back
What could happen to me if I overdo weight lifting?
If you overdo it and see signs of something being wrong, you should take a break and make an appointment with your obstetrician or Doctor as soon as possible.
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling faint
- Chest pain
- Leg swelling
- Vaginal bleeding
- Regular contractions
Why is lifting during pregnancy discouraged?
In many cases weight lifting during pregnancy is discouraged because of a “that’s the way it’s always been” attitude. These days, we now know that its possible, practical, healthy and has benefits extending to mother and baby even after birth.
Of course, some women have pre-existing medical conditions that mean weightlifting runs more risk than reward. Other women are diagnosed with pregnancy complications and disorders that put them at risk when weightlifting.
What are some warning signs that the weight is too heavy?
As your pregnancy progresses, you are adjusting to your growing body and might miss some signs your body is sending you to warn you to slow down. Here is a list of red flags to watch out for.
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Decreased foetal movement
- Vaginal bleeding
- Swelling of limbs
- Leaking fluid
What are the common risks of injury?
As you’ve probably already experienced, adjusting to your ever-evolving body takes time, and sometimes it’s hard to catch up with all the changes. But are there real risks of injury lifting weights when pregnant?
As our body changes with each trimester, risks to be aware of during weight lifting are:
- Falls from lack of balance as our point of center keeps changing
- Accidents caused by people around you not paying attention
- Impact on the belly
- Fractures or breaks of joints because our hormones are all over the place
- Strains and sprains are caused by not watching your steps or lifting something heavy
Why do I need to consult my pregnancy doctor/OB-GYN?
As your baby is developing, your body changes, impacting all areas of your body. This is because pregnancy is a process, so what works in trimester 1 may not in trimester 3.
Your obstetrician knows your medical history and pre-existing health conditions and has been monitoring your pregnancy.
Your medical team also has the knowledge and experience to guide and keep you both safe in your choices during your pregnancy.
What are other forms of weight training?
While there are many forms of weight lifting, the most popular are bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, power building, CrossFit, explosive power training, and bodyweight training.
Now, all this is either too heavy, too restrictive, or too explosive for you, mama.
Your priority is your and your baby’s health, and an aerobic and weighted workout focused on repetition and not on weight is the most suitable option.
What about aerobic exercises?
If you are wondering what the differences are between aerobic and anaerobic exercises and how they affect pregnancy, keep reading.
Aerobic exercises are often referred to as cardio. A cardio workout demands endurance and uses oxygen to draw energy. When we stay active during pregnancies, we allow our bodies to adapt to our growing bodies.
Anaerobic exercise literally means without oxygen. Your body does intense movements without oxygen for short periods of time to break down glucose in the body.
Exercises that strengthen your back and upper body muscles will give you the strength to carry your baby’s weight.
How does pregnancy affect my ability to lift heavy weights?
Pregnancy Fatigue – It’s normal to feel tired during pregnancy. Your body is going through so many changes, but it is essential to your well-being and the baby’s to stay active. Set up a daily goal of activity and try to reach it.
Back pain – Because your body softens and stretches to prepare for labor, this causes pain in the lower back and pelvis; weightlifting helps straighten your back and upper body to keep up with the increased weight.
Flexible joints – your joints are soft, pliable, and very flexible because of the hormones released during pregnancy; this poses a risk for your mobile joints. It’s important to avoid putting too much pressure on your joints, weight, or impactful movements.
Compromised balance – Your body is unstable because your center of gravity is ever-shifting. The extra weight in the front of your body shifts your center of gravity, and you will likely lose your balance. Keep a point of contact for workouts that rely on balance for extra support.
Breathing – Because your organs are shifting, making space for the baby, the diaphragm below the lungs gets squished, pushing the lungs to cause shortness of breath. This is why it is essential to do slow, repetitive workouts instead of fast and explosive.
Swelling – Your body produces more blood and fluids, which accumulate in the lower body and limbs; stay active to keep it circulating but don’t overdo it.
What is the proper form and technique to safely lift weights while pregnant?
Knowing basic lifting techniques is helpful if you are at home or at work. Here is the recommended lifting form from Mayo Clinic.
- Bend at the knee, not at the waist.
- Keep your back straight.
- Use the leg muscles to stand
- Keep the object close to your body
If we are focused on weightlifting form, here are some tips for you to keep in mind for every workout:
- Tuck in your elbows – Keep your elbows close to your ribcage
- Knees to toes and no further – When squatting, keep your knees from pushing past your toes; this will help you stay in proper form
- Don’t arch your back – For squats, keep a flat back, squeeze your core and bring your shoulders down.
- Don’t shrug on a lift – relax your shoulders to a neutral position when lifting
- Neck strains – Keep a relaxed neck through each workout; use your core and shoulders to keep a straight back and remove pressure from your neck.
- Planks – keep your body diagonal, tightening up all your muscles, core engaged
- Root your legs – Good posture comes from a strong foundation. Plant your feet straight on the ground. If you can find your balance, grab a wall. Even if you’re sitting on the bench.
- Posture – Don’t hunch forward. Instead, keep your shoulders back and your spine neutral; this helps strengthen the back to carry the extra weight.
- Adjusting your equipment – Before you start a workout on a machine or with free weights, adjust the equipment to be ergonomically suitable for you.
Is there a maximum weight I can lift safely when pregnant?
The right answer to this is personal to you and should be informed by a certified trainer or your doctor. The critical point is that as your body changes, you will notice that your strength changes.
So no matter how familiar you are with your weights, or how much you were lifting before pregnancy, always test the weight before using it for your workout.
Let’s use the American American Medical Association Weight Limits for Occupational Lifting During Pregnancy as guidelines to answer this question.
- Lifting more than 23 kg (51 lbs) is permitted repetitively for the first half of pregnancy (up to Week 20) and intermittently through Week 30.
- Between Weeks 20 and 24, repetitive lifting up to 23 kg (51 lbs) is permitted. A weight limit of 11 kg (24 lbs) is specified after Week 24.
- After Week 30, intermittent lifting up to 11 kg (24 lbs) is permitted.
Consult your obstetrician if you are experiencing extreme swelling or back or pelvic pain.
Can you lift more than 20 pounds (9kg) while pregnant?
The answer is ‘yes’ if you lifted more than 20 lbs (9kg) before pregnancy. If this is something you didn’t do before, speak to your obstetrician about increasing your weight on your weightlifting program.
If this is your weightlifting pregnancy goal, then work towards it by adding weight slowly.
How do you know if you lifted something too heavy while pregnant?
You may experience some physical symptom, such as dizziness, feeling faint, increased heartbeat, or loss of breath. If that happens immediately stop what you were doing, breathe deeply and take a rest. If you think you have sustained an injury lifting something too heavy, see your doctor.
Can I lift my toddler when pregnant?
Do what feels natural to you.
If you choose to pick up your toddler, use the proper form for lifting and bend at the knees to pick them up. If you are not reassured, speak with your obstetrician about it, particularly if you’ve recently had a cesarean section.
Because we all go through different pregnancy journeys, there is no “one size fits all” approach for the question how much can I lift while pregnant? The most effective way to tackle each trimester is by listening to your body, speaking with the right health care professionals and using that mama bear instinct.
We recommend that you talk to your obstetrician about all you read here and share your fears, hesitations, and goals to get professional medical advice and move forward with your pregnancy.
Nadia is a USA-HomeGym.com Senior Editor with 15 years+ experience in the health, supplement and nutrition niches. Nadia became a health & fitness evangelist after rebuilding her gut health in 2008 using the Weston A. Price method. She developed a Facebook group that grew to more than 15,000 members sharing information on diet for allergy reduction, eczema & psoriasis cessation. Since 2011, Nadia has been an avid stair climber, achieving race times in the top 5% of her age group and maintaining average times of 3’40 – 3’55 minutes per 12 floors.