Pregnancy was by far one of the best times of my life but also among the scariest. During this time, I was constantly bombarded with a boatload of conflicting information and advice on what I should and should not do, particularly when it came to lifting weights. In fact, around my second trimester some women at the gym suggested I stop doing the overhead (shoulder) press since “holding my arms above my head during pregnancy could cause the umbilical cord to wrap around my baby’s neck.”
Nevertheless, while many delusions behind pregnancy-related dos and don’ts are based on superstitions, beliefs and old wives’ tales like this, some are more concrete, having a bit of truth surrounding them.
Like the time I was told that heavy lifting in early pregnancy could trigger a miscarriage, which initially struck a major blow at my self-confidence.
But, as a scientist, I’ve remained the skeptic, especially given the utter stigma attached to women and weight training in general.
Without a doubt, the health and safety of my unborn baby was always first and foremost my primary concern while pregnant. Still, I’m one of those women who chose to remain very active and physically fit during pregnancy in order to foster an enjoyable and unintrusive experience as opposed to living as if being pregnant was some sort of disability.
Needless to say, engaging in heavy lifting would get me a lot of snide looks from other women, especially when my workouts were more intense than theirs. But, trusting my own wisdom, intuition and gut instincts, I decided to stick with my weight lifting routine to the best of my physical ability and, ultimately, succeeded in doing so for at least 35 out of the 40 weeks I was pregnant.
As an exercise scientist with an extensive health and fitness background, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my personal insights along with some of the real truths about weight training in pregnancy.
Interestingly, and unbeknownst to many women, moderate-to-high intensity exercise has actually been proven safe and highly effective in the prevention of excessive weight gain and common prenatal disorders like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. In addition, exercising over the entire course of pregnancy has beneficial affects on infant development and growth while also aiding in the prevention of numerous chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity) through childhood and adulthood.
When it comes to exercising during pregnancy, weight training comes with its own unique set of benefits.
Weight training inherently preserves muscle and supports the maintenance of adequate levels of strength and endurance. This is especially beneficial, as many women tend to experience muscle wasting and weakness in pregnancy and postpartum.
Muscle naturally fuels the fat burning process that’s necessary for sustaining a healthy body weight over the course of pregnancy. This makes it that much easier for women to lose the baby weight afterwards. In addition, the maintenance of muscular strength and endurance with weight training promotes good posture, balance and stability, aids in the alleviation of pregnancy-related aches and pains, and has also been shown to ease the labor and delivery process.
So, what are the best weight lifting exercises to perform during pregnancy?
Well, interestingly enough, the best types of exercise to perform in pregnancy are exactly the same as those that would be performed in the non-pregnant state. The level of exercise intensity, however, may vary from person to person and throughout the course of pregnancy. Now, let me emphasize here that muscle maintenance should be the number one goal of your weight training routine in pregnancy. This is not the time to train for physique enhancements or dramatic gains in muscle size.
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