Hey, Mama! If you’re here, you’ve probably heard conflicting information about exercise—specifically about strength training during pregnancy. The good news is that strength training exercises in pregnancy are safe as long as you’ve been cleared by your doctor! Resistance training is now recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
So, with that out of the way, let’s get into the why behind strength training and exercise in pregnancy when you should do it, and how!
The Why Behind Strength Training During Pregnancy
Strength training and exercise have a wide range of benefits during pregnancy. Here are a few of the reasons we recommend it.
Reduction of Common Pregnancy Aches & Pains
Aches and pains are common in pregnant women due to a variety of factors. As your uterus grows, it shifts your center of gravity and also stretches out (and weakens) your abdominal muscles, affecting your posture and putting strain on your back. Back pain is one of the most common pain points. Hormonal changes can also cause you to feel less stable in your movement.
Strength training can help you build or maintain the core muscles necessary to support your growing belly and maintain good posture throughout your pregnancy, which can lessen aches and pains.
Maintenance of Healthy Weight Through Pregnancy & Beyond
Many women are concerned about gaining an excess amount of weight during pregnancy, with good reason. Gaining too much pregnancy weight can increase your risk of gestational diabetes, c-section, and can make your delivery more challenging because it can increase the size of your baby.
A study by Barakat et al. found that resistance training during pregnancy substantially reduced maternal weight gain over the course of her pregnancy. Other studies have shown that women who gained more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy were significantly heavier at long-term follow-up than women who gained the recommended amount or less, which can have consequences for longevity.
If you need help maintaining your weight during pregnancy, consider consulting a nutrition coach who is experienced in pregnancy and postpartum nutrition, a WAG Coach!
Reduction in Risk of Certain Birth Complications, Including Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a complication of pregnancy that can lead to serious health problems for both a mom and her baby. However, strength training can help reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. It can also help regulate blood sugar levels, making it easier to manage this condition if it does develop.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Physiotherapy found that exercise, including resistance training, during pregnancy was associated with a reduced risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.
Researchers also found that Light exercise may reduce the incidence of preeclampsia by 24 percent. Vigorous exercise, on the other hand, may reduce it by as much as 54 percent.
Improved Body Image & Mood
You may have heard that exercise can boost your mood and even battle mild depression; in pregnancy, it is no different! There are a lot of changes going on in your body that can affect body image and mood.
Marquez-Sterling et al. found that women who exercised during pregnancy had a significantly better body image than nonexercisers, a trend that extended into the latter stages of pregnancy.
Nordhagen and Sundgot-Borgen found that women who performed a moderate amount of neonatal exercise had lower scores on a test measuring depressive symptoms during pregnancy and into the postpartum period in comparison with those who were not active.
Easier Labor & Postpartum Recovery
Exercise has been shown to have positive effects on multiple indices of labor, with high levels of resistance training showing a particularly beneficial effect.
Women who are physically active during pregnancy have been shown to have a decreased risk of premature labor, a reduced incidence of cesarean delivery, and shorter hospitalization. Maintaining strength during pregnancy (within reason) can help you recover more quickly postpartum, rather than feeling like you’re starting over from scratch.
Positive Impacts on Baby
A study showed that children born to women who performed weight-bearing exercises 3–5 times per week throughout pregnancy were longer and had more lean body mass than matched controls.
The positive effects of exercise on the fetus appear to extend further into their life as well. Children of women who perform vigorous exercise throughout their pregnancy have been found to exhibit signs of heightened attentiveness and discipline, and by the age of 5, these children are neurodevelopmentally more advanced compared with control subjects.
When to Perform Strength Training Exercises During Pregnancy
In the past, it was common to hear warnings like, “If you weren’t active before pregnancy, now is not the time to start.” Fortunately, this myth has been disproven.
In fact, staying sedentary during pregnancy can have worse outcomes like increased back pain, increased weight gain, and a harder postpartum recovery. As long as you are cleared by your healthcare provider to exercise, beginning a strength training program in pregnancy is encouraged, regardless of your trimester. This doesn’t mean that if you’ve never picked up a weight before, now is a good time to start powerlifting. More on this in the “how” section.
If you have been exercising and have been cleared to continue doing so, continuing to exercise through your entire pregnancy is a great way to help you feel good mentally and physically! During the second and third trimesters, we want to begin modifying and scaling some movements that put greater pressure on your core and pelvic floor and lowering the intensity of your workouts a bit. If you’re feeling sluggish or nauseous in the first trimester, give yourself grace to slow it down or lower the intensity. Remember, this phase is temporary.
MINT’s Free Movement Modifications Guide will help you make necessary adjustments through your pregnancy.
How to Safely Add Strength Training to Your Routine
If you haven’t been exercising or strength training, start slow with light walks and bodyweight movements like air squats or elevated push-ups and see how you feel. You can then progress to lighter weights and longer walks. It can also really help to work with an experienced coach who can teach you solid movement patterns and progress you appropriately.
While strength training is safe for most women in pregnancy as long as they’ve been cleared by their doctor and aren’t experiencing pain or complications, there are some movements and intensities we recommend modifying or adjusting in pregnancy to take into consideration the changes occurring in our bodies. You can find most of those in the MINT Movement Modification guide.
Another good cue for intensity in pregnancy is to make sure you can hold a conversation through your workouts. If you’re having a hard time catching your breath or talking, it might be time to scale it back.
Need More Help?
Want to avoid the guesswork or programming and/or modifying workouts? Experts at the MINT Prjct created their Pregnancy Fitness Program that is designed to guide you through pregnancy so that you can feel confident in your movement. You’ll also have access to Coaches the entire time who can answer any questions you have along the way as well as a group of other Mamas going through the same program for support.
Get 20% off programs from The MINT Prjct with the code WAG at checkout.