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Weight Training While Pregnant

Katlyn Joy |24, February 2014


When 35-year-old Lea-Ann Ellison posted photos of herself online last year doing her Crossfit routine, including doing some heavy weight lifting, she became the focus of much intense scrutiny.

Experts threw in their two cents, generally stating that while lifting heavy weights, free weights, and intensive workouts are not recommended, most also commented that if a woman was well-versed in safe practices for the sport and accustomed to such workouts, she would be fine as long as she made some allowances in her routine.

Guidelines for Weight Training in Pregnancy

The Mayo Clinic recommends strength training for pregnant women, as long as very heavy weights are not being used. For all physical activity, pregnant women should aim for a half-hour daily, or during most days of the week. If you weren't active before pregnancy, work your way up to this amount, beginning with as little as 5 minutes then slowly adding to the time each session.

Women who were doing resistance training prior to pregnancy can continue to do so, aiming for light to moderate weights in 12 to 15 reps to maintain their strength. It's recommended that by the third trimester, women no longer use free weights, but rather use machines, since their center of gravity and balance are affected by their expanding baby bump.

Women not used to lifting may not employ proper techniques and risk putting pressure on the uterus, cervix and abdomen which may lead to preterm labor. If you are trying to incorporate strength training into your workouts, get a doctor's OK first, and get some instruction from someone knowledgeable about lifting and pregnancy.

Risks Involved During Pregnancy

A hormone, called relaxin, is abundant in pregnancy and the upside of this is that it makes birthing much easier. The downside is that it makes it easy for you to overextend and pull muscles while expecting. You must be careful not to do exercises improperly to avoid these injuries.

A woman needs to be able to exert herself enough to get a good workout without overdoing it. A target heart rate of 140 may sound plausible, but is actually too vague. After all, a 140 bpm heart rate is one thing in a 40 year old expectant mom, and quite another in a 19 year old pregnant woman. Instead, make sure you never feel too exhausted, tired or unable to talk while exercising. This is a better test of overdoing it.

If you overdo, your baby may become deprived of oxygen, as blood will be directed to the muscles being worked out during exercise. According to the American Fitness Professionals and Associates, or AFPA, a carbohydrate heavy meal should be consumed before, during and after exercise to supply the mother with necessary calories and nutrients.

Women who are active while pregnant will have improved sleep, fewer aches and pains, be in better shape for labor, have boosted moods due to an increase in endorphin levels, lower their risks of complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, improved energy levels, possibly shorten their labors, make recovery from childbirth easier, improve posture leading to less back ache in pregnancy, and keep extra weight off.

Warnings to Heed While Working Out

Always listen to your body when exercising. While it may be recommended to work out most days for a half-hour, if you can only muster 10 or so minutes a few times a week without feeling exhausted, err on the side of caution. You want to feel like you can still carry on a conversation during and after your exercise session.

Stay well-hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and don't allow yourself to become thirsty. Avoid drinks that can dehydrate you, like caffeinated drinks.

Make sure you know the proper way to perform all exercises. Improper positions may place weight on the baby, instead of your muscles, and that's a big no-no.

Do not allow yourself to become overheated. Having an elevated body temp is dangerous for baby.

If any of the following occurs, stop exercising at once:

  • Vaginal bleeding (call your doctor immediately)
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fluctuating heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Uterine contractions
  • Leaking fluid from your vagina
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Shortness of breath

If the symptoms continue after stopping the work out, contact your physician right away.

Make sure you get your doctor's approval for any exercise program, before you begin. You may be told to avoid exercise if you have heart problems, lung disease, risk of preterm labor, problems with the cervix or placenta, multiple pregnancy, or high blood pressure.

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