Written by: Catherine Cram, MS, Owner of Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting
You may have heard people warn that pregnant women shouldn’t raise anything over their heads or lift objects that are heavier than ten pounds when pregnant. These warnings that still are being told to pregnant clients aren’t based on research findings. In fact, there’s no evidence for warning pregnant women to avoid lifting over their head unless it causes discomfort or balance issues, and the ten-pound limit is even more questionable, as ten pounds would be too heavy for some women and too light to improve muscular strength for others.
It’s important to keep in mind that each pregnant woman has a specific fitness level and ability, so setting arbitrary limits is an ineffective way to provide guidelines for this population. In addition, when confronted with statements such as these, always research whether there is any evidence that supports the claim before implementing the information into your training guidelines.
Many women choose to continue their pre-pregnancy strength training program while they are pregnant, and the guidelines support starting a strength training routine for women who haven’t been strength training as long as they are cleared for exercise by their healthcare provider. When developing a pregnant woman’s fitness program, you should consider her current level of fitness and strength and pay close attention to how she feels during and after exercise. The key to maintaining a safe and effective routine is through consistent modification of the exercises for comfort as pregnancy progresses.
Strength training is an essential prenatal fitness component, providing the muscle power needed to compensate for posture adjustments and weight gain that occurs with pregnancy. Women who continue or even start a strength training routine during pregnancy can help prepare her body for all the lifting done with a new baby and reduce the risk of low back pain. Strength training has not been shown to pose any harm to either the fetus or the mother as long as these general guidelines are followed:
- A gradual reduction in weight loads from pre-pregnancy will likely occur as the pregnancy progresses.
- Women may continue their pre-pregnancy strength training routine (wt/reps/set) as long as they modify the exercises for comfort as pregnancy progresses.
- If training causes muscle soreness during the pregnancy, it is recommended that overload be progressed by increasing the number of repetitions versus the resistance/wt.
- Monitor exercise techniques carefully by mirror observation or supervision to correct for progressive postural changes that occur with advancing pregnancy. Improper lifting techniques may aggravate back problems and increase soft tissue injuries.
- Avoid maximal static lifts. They may cause a sudden increase in cardiac output and blood pressure and employ the Valsalva maneuver. During the Valsalva maneuver, there is a significant diversion of blood from the internal organs (such as the uterus) to the working muscles.
- Never overload an unstable or weakened joint.
- Modify supine position exercises after the first trimester of pregnancy by using an incline board, wedge, or pillows.
- A strength-training workout involving all the major muscle groups should be performed three times per week, with a rest day between each muscle group training bout.
- Machines, free weights, resistance bands, and body weight are all options for a strength training routine.
- Remind client that she should exhale with the lift and avoid holding her breath or bearing down and straining as she lifts.
- If a particular exercise continues to produce pain or discomfort after modification attempts, it should be discontinued. If pain persists, the client should stop the exercise consult with her healthcare provider.
As always, all pregnant women should check with her healthcare provider before starting or continuing an exercise program during pregnancy.
Catherine started her company, Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting in order to provide current, evidence- based guidelines maternal fitness guidelines to health and fitness professionals. She was a contributing author for the textbook, Women’s Health in Physical Therapy and co-authored the revision of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy with Dr. James Clapp. Her company offers the certification course, “Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise Design” which provides continuing education credits for over 30 health and fitness organization, including ACSM, ACE, ICEA, and Lamaze. To learn more please visit: www.ppfconsulting.com
Interested in learning more about Prenatal & Postpartum Fitness Training? Check out Catherine’s continuing education courses on these topics below:
Current Guidelines for Developing a Safe and Effective Prenatal Fitness Program