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Can/Should I Strength Train When Pregnant?



This is a subject that isn’t discussed that often but is very prevalent. There are approximately 3.67 Billion Women on the Planet, of which 84 Million are pregnant… right now! Therefore, it’s very important that people are educated on strength training during pregnancy.


You may wonder:


  • Can I train as normal?

  • Do my training goals need to change?

  • Do I need to modify my training?

  • Is it safe?

  • What are the benefits?

  • What should I and shouldn’t I do?


Let’s break it down and start from the beginning.


Strength training is any type of training where the muscles are working against a form of resistance. This type of training can increase muscle mass and strength, improve physical performance and wellbeing and help to lose body fat.


Is it safe?

This question doesn’t have such a clear-cut answer. There are many misconceptions when it comes to exercises during pregnancy that leads many women to be over cautious and some will avoid exercise completely. In actual fact, reviews within literature on the subject recommend women to be active and engage in at least 150mins of moderate to high intensity exercise per week for health benefits and to minimise the risk of complications during pregnancy (Artal and O’Toole, 2003). Therefore, from the declaration of many experts within the field, strength training is granted to be safe during pregnancy.


However, some considerations need to be made or strength training is declared unsafe. For example:

  • If there is a history of spontaneous preterm birth

  • Cardiovascular or respiratory disease

  • Malnutrition

  • Recurrent pregnancy loss

  • Or any other medical condition


This is where strength training can be more of a risk than a benefit and a referral to a medical professional for guidance is needed.


Why is it worth strength training during pregnancy?

As stated previously it has been shown strength training is safe when pregnant, but here are some of the many benefits:

  • Decreased risk of lower back pain

  • Decrease risk of high blood pressure associated with pregnancy

  • Maintenance of physical fitness

  • Prevention of depression symptoms


The specifics

When pregnant it is advised to continue strength training and there are still a wide array of exercises that are safe to complete. Variations of squats, hinges, presses, pulling and bridges still have the “all clear” as well as other activities like cycling, swimming, yoga and jogging.


However, there are still some activities that we should approach with caution if not avoid. These being: contact sports, scuba diving and high temperature activities such as hot yoga. When it comes to exercises here are some recommended to avoid (Girls gone strong).


  • Exercises that cause pain or discomfort

  • Exercises that cause the abdominal wall to bulge

  • Exercises performed at too high of an intensity that you are unable to speak properly

  • Exercises for a prolonged time in a supine position


With these recommendations in place, you can still perform most if not all exercises you did previously, however some may need to be adapted slightly. For example, if a Deadlift feels uncomfortable when performed from the floor, raising the bar slightly will reduce the range of motion and may alleviate any discomfort. But explosive lifts like the clean and jerk and snatch should be avoided once the midsection starts to grow simply due to the higher risk of impact.


Another safety precaution to mention is the valsalva maneuver. The valsalva maneuver is a breathing method used whereby you breathe in and then forcefully breathe out while keeping your airways closed. This is often used when bracing during a heavy squat or deadlift. This breathing technique is suggested to be avoided for pregnant women as blood pressure can be affected and force on the pelvic floor is increased.


Goals and Expectations

When pregnant with all the safety considerations and individuality of every woman's journey through pregnancy, strength and performance goals should be realistic. During this period, the aim should be to maintain activity levels and strength rather than looking to push on performance goals. Also, with the body changing rapidly through this period, aspirations and training should be adaptable and in accordance with the current situation and not set in stone. With this in mind, as the due date nears closer the intensity and load during strength training should gradually decrease with an awareness of the recommendations above, in order to not provide added stress to the body.


In summary, pregnancy is a beautiful thing and not a hindrance. Women are very much able to still participate in strength training, and the benefits are definitely worth it to maintaining physical as well as mental well-being. Don’t be subject to the myths or perceptions, take on board the recommendations and guidance and most importantly listen to your body.



References:


Artal, R., O’Toole, M. and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2003. Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Clin Obstet Gynecol, 46(2), pp.496-499.


Girls gone Strong - https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/blog/articles/strength-training-pregnancy/


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