CAN I STILL LIFT WEIGHTS WHILE PREGNANT? A GUEST POST FROM MOLLY OF BIRTHFIT
Written by Lauren Faison, Deana Cimalore, and Molly Powell of BIRTHFIT
This article does not constitute professional medical advice. We are not medical professionals of any kind. Always seek out the advice of your doctor for advice on how to handle your pregnancy, especially when it comes to exercise.
Over the last six years we have had many women ask us if they can still lift weights while pregnant. Outside of these walls, coaches are asked everyday if CrossFit is safe to do while pregnant, weightlifting, and other forms of physical fitness. Of those women we have here, a few have chosen not to, and most have chosen to stay with their routine to better help their pregnancy. The following article is co-written by our female members who all continued their training during their first pregnancy. Lauren and Deana are currently on their second pregnancy-based training at Performance360.
Molly Powell, a former member, is now a Regional Director for BIRTHFIT, a company that specializes in pregnancy and birth related issues surrounding women and fitness.
They provide their advice on perspective on how they stayed strong and fit during their pregnancy, and whether or not that approach is right for you.
How Long Were You Able to Train While Pregnant?
Molly of BirthFit: “I participated in P360 workouts throughout my entire pregnancy up until 39 weeks. After that, I did mostly just walking (baby came at almost 43 weeks!)”
Lauren: “I was able to workout at p360 until I was 38 weeks pregnant. I was also fortunate to feel well enough during the first trimester to keep going and never take any breaks. I wasn’t plagued by morning sickness, so I was able to continue training throughout. I knew it was time to stop when I was unable to finish a workout. The last two weeks of pregnancy were spent walking and going to yoga.”
Deana: “With my last pregnancy I trained from when I found out until I was 38 1/2 weeks. I am currently pregnant with my second so hope to make it just as far.”
How Did Functional Fitness Help Your Pregnancy?
Molly of BirthFit: “Physically, training past my comfort zone really trained my body and mind for birth—labor is no joke. P360 concentrates on all of the important functional, multi-plane movements that not only helped me stay pain free during pregnancy, but allowed me to heal more quickly during my postpartum time. Mentally, continuing to stay strong and see how my body was functioning in the gym all while growing a human seriously made me trust I was strong enough to grow and give birth to a healthy baby. I know a lot of women experience a lot of anxiety around having a baby, I know I would have, too, if it weren’t for P360. It was super empowering.
I was able to listen to and have confidence in my body, and know I could DO this. It really helped me enjoy my pregnancy, because I felt amazing—I was doing jump squats on the day I gave birth no prob! I know you guys have mentioned how the mental aspect of training is almost more important than the physical aspects, and I think it’s very similar in pregnancy. Outside of the gym, this then empowered me to become educated, understand my options for everything, and trust my gut (versus just being told what to do by doctors), which sparked a serious passion about learning and teaching more about this to help other women have positive, healthy pregnancies and postpartum times.”
Deana: “Even when I was utterly exhausted I always made myself go to the gym and NEVER regretted it. (This was especially tough during 1st trimester because I was so exhausted) I always felt so energized after working out. This current pregnancy has been a little tougher as far as nausea and exhaustion goes (might have a little to do with having a toddler to keep up with) however I’ve tried to keep the same mentality about showing up no matter what. I noticed last time that as I got bigger, common problems that I read about (swelling, back aches, etc.) never bothered me. I definitely can attest that to keeping active and lifting weights.”
Lauren: “Training helped me in so many ways! The biggest benefits of training while pregnant was the overall strength it afforded me. I was able to feel like myself and feel strong while making a person. I was giving all of my resources to growing a baby and I believe that exercise helped replenish these resources and fill me with more energy. Also, as you grow bigger sleep is more difficult. Consistent exercise helped regulate my sleep and maintain some sense of normalcy in my world which was completely foreign to me. There is also no doubt that training aided in labor. I channeled my competitive nature and had the stamina and strength to push.
Also, each trimester was affected differently. In the first trimester you feel like shit. You are beyond exhausted, feel hung-over without the benefit of alcohol, bloated and cranky. All of that and you can’t tell anyone why you feel so off. Continuing to work out and train made me feel normal! You don’t have to make many modifications during your first trimester, it is just important to listen to your body and how you feel. Hormones make you lose your breath easily so running is at a slower pace. I also found it beneficial to work out in the morning because I was so exhausted at the end of the day. Napping is almost mandatory during the beginning stages, so getting a morning boost of energy definitely helps.
The second trimester is a whole different story! Like a light switch, I instantly had energy back. I was still slower at the gym than I was before, but I didn’t have to take as many breaks as in the first trimester. However, this is when most of the modifications begin. When your belly pops out, it is no longer comfortable to do too may restrictive ab exercises. I was afraid of diastasis recti, or separation of ab muscles. Too much ab work can cause this separation which is tough to fix and sometimes is never repaired. You also need to be careful lying on your back because it can compress your vena cava leaving you nauseas and dizzy. Even though I had a growing bump and had to make some modifications, I still felt great and continued at the gym four days a week. I also didn’t cut back in weight too much at this point either.
The third trimester was a bit slower and I was much bigger! As my “weight belt” grew, I had to make more and more modifications and really relied on my coaches to help me with movements that gave me all of the benefits while doing them safely. Barbell cleans turned into dumbbells, burpees removed the flopping, kettlebells were done one-handed and planks were more frequent. Robby routinely had to help me pull down the green band to do my pull-ups when I was too big to do it myself!”
Was Your Doctor Helpful?
Molly of BirthFit: “Somewhat. (Most) doctors are really not knowledgeable regarding level of physical activity this, and many still say to avoid heavy lifting, running or other ‘strenuous’ activity during pregnancy. My midwives basically told me to listen to my body and not to start anything new, which is correct, but offered little else in terms of helpful information.”
Lauren: “Yes, because they gave me the approval to keep working out the way I had before! If you google what pregnant women are supposed to lift, the max is 30 lbs. That wasn’t going to work for me and thankfully it didn’t have to. I was so relieved to get reassurance from my doctors that I was healthy and could keep going to p360. I would ask every check-up and they always just advised not to overdue and to listed to my body. They really just stress not to start a new exercise. Since I had been at p360 lifting for years, there was no reason why I couldn’t continue.”
Deana: “I was honest with my doctor about what I did and said I planned on sticking to the same routine but with caution of course and she was very supportive. I am seeing a different doc this time around who is exactly the same.”
What Movements Were Most Helpful to Perform While Pregnant?
Molly of BirthFit: “Squats! Being able to squat properly is probably the best training for labor and being a mom that you can do. Deadlifts and KB swings were also great for training the posterior chain.”
Deana: “Definitely any back strengthening like rows (barbell and rings) and squats, kb swings to strengthen legs. Noticed that anything that involved picking something up from the ground and carrying it around helped a lot later on now that my kid is 30+ pounds!”
Lauren: “The workouts at p360 are so great at working out your entire body that I found benefits in so many movements. It is hard to pinpoint. I was very happy to incorporate yoga into my weekly routine. Julianne was great at giving me modifications and stretches that are specific to prenatal yoga. Yoga was instrumental in allowing me to recover. I would also say the overall conditioning helps a lot.”
What Movements Do You Recommend Avoiding?
Molly of BirthFit:”I really didn’t avoid anything other than burpees, although I will be modifying things differently the next time I’m pregnant. For example, Olympic lifting felt great through my pregnancy, but my bar path was screwed up for months after having my baby from routing it around my belly; I should have modified with kettlebells or dumbbells once I got bigger. Reaching L2 Barbell Club at 8months pregnant felt damn good, but it wasn’t necessary. I also should have avoided running once I was late in my third trimester and I couldn’t see my feet! That seems like a no brainer, but I felt great, so I kept going. But, I learned the hard way that not being able to see the ground and not having your center of gravity was a very good reason to stop running—I fell at about 38 weeks. Everything was fine, but it could have been way worse, and I learned my lesson.”
Lauren: “The main movements I avoided were ab related. I modified all ab exercises during the second trimester. I also avoided lying on my back beyond 20 weeks (no bench press, etc.). I also stopped cleans when my belly got too big. Also, towards the end kettle bells were tough to do properly with two hands so I switched to one handed Russian swings.
Deana: “From the start, burpees, after first trimester any type of sit ups or twisting and eventually hang cleans because my belly was in the way. I voluntarily stopped running and rowed instead because I fell (about halfway through my first pregnancy)-obviously everything was fine but I was still scared to run again. I also stopped box jumps after first trimester.”
Was it Easy to Work Around Your Pregnancy and Modify?
Molly of BirthFit: “Yes, absolutely. I think the beauty of functional movements is that we were born to move this way, regardless of if we are pregnant or young or old or big or small. The modifications more came from my exertion level, which really depended on where I was in my pregnancy. During the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I could barely breathe on the warm-up run, for example, so I just really took my time.”
Deana: “Yes! The coaches were always very helpful in coming up with modifications and made sure I was never in harm’s way. I’m not going to lie, I got a little sick of planks but like I said earlier those helped strengthen my back which was very helpful when you are carrying an extra 30 lbs in front of you.”
What Were Some Personal Issues You Had and How Did You Overcome Them?
Molly of BirthFit: “The hardest time for me was the early first trimester– I just couldn’t catch my breath and felt lightheaded during pretty much any cardio. Otherwise, the main challenge was working with extra body weight as I got bigger, so things like pushups, pullups and ring dips required more help.”
Lauren: “I covered much of this above and how each trimester felt different. I really believe that exercise kept me feeling happy and healthy throughout my pregnancy. Working out is as much mental as it is physical for me. Exercise is such a big part of my life and I am so fortunate that I was able to work out. I also realize that I was lucky to have a relatively smooth pregnancy, but I believe the healthy shape I was in before I was pregnant certainly helped. Since I was able to maintain a high level of fitness it only made my pregnancy better. Plus I felt less guilty giving in to cravings….(helloooo pop tarts!).”
Deana: “I mentioned the running thing before which was a challenge to not be able to do (I know many pregnant women that ran mostly their entire pregnancy) however I knew it wasn’t forever so just dealt with having to row all the time. Also just gaining the extra weight and doing things like pull ups and push ups. But it did make me stronger!”
What is Your Opinion on the Stigma of Pregnant Training?
Deana: “I think it’s actually getting better as the motto is to keep up with whatever you were doing before you got pregnant so that’s better to hear. However I had people say you shouldn’t lift heavy, etc. and as long as I knew I wasn’t straining myself I knew it was fine to do and just ignored their opinions.”
Lauren: “Thankfully I think training while pregnant is becoming more and more destigmatized. I didn’t shy away from letting it be known that I was pregnant, weightlifting and HIIT training. I was very proud of how strong I was before, during and how quickly I rebounded after Graham was born. There are still people who are shocked to hear I lifted while 15, 25, 35+ weeks pregnant but most people were supportive.”
Molly of BirthFit: “There’s so much poor information and ignorance out there, and women can be given horrible looks or comments in typical gym settings if they choose to continue working out (my friends have told me stories). That’s one of the many reasons I LOVED P360 during my pregnancy—I was never given anything other than encouragement and support. On the other hand, I’m now seeing a lot of women (mostly in the CrossFit world) go balls to the wall during pregnancy and postpartum, and that’s not necessarily smart either. Lots of coaches outside of these walls are asked if CrossFit is safe to do while pregnant? One of my goals with BIRTHFIT is to stop that misinformation and give women sound, evidence based info to help them continue to kick ass, but in a safe way.
A great resource is Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by Dr. James Clapp, MD. In that book (which is super easy to get through), he details out all of the amazing reasons women should continue training through pregnancy. BIRTHFIT uses this book as a main reference for advocating for exercise during pregnancy.
- 35% decrease in need for pain relief
- 75% decrease in the incidence of maternal exhaustion
- 50% decrease in need to artificially rupture membranes
- 50% decrease to induce or stimulate with pitocin
- 50% decrease in the need to intervene because of fetal heart rate abnormalities
- 55% decrease in need for episiotomy
- 75% decrease in need for operative intervention (forceps or cesarean)
I think how you guys (P360) program and coach is the best in the business, and your attention to detail (seriously, wow) being able to scale anything up or down allowed me to always feel comfortable participating and being supported by people who knew what they were talking about. Again, the functional movements programmed at P360 are movements everyone can and should do, regardless of if they are pregnant or not—it’s how humans inherently move from an early age on. Realizing this was huge for me.”
If you need help with pregnancy related training or questions, please feel free to contact our Coaching Staff.