My fitness trainer was the first person (after my husband) to know I was pregnant. I had been strength training for two years, and it was a big component of my self-care and mental health regime. I wasn’t looking forward to giving it up for a workout routine limited to leisure walks and prenatal yoga. I had done my research and was fully prepared to put up a convincing argument for why I should continue strength training, but I was also bracing myself for a workout hiatus. I remember vividly how people—strangers, my doctor, coworkers, etc.—made me feel so fragile during my first pregnancy. So much so, I was fearful of exerting too much energy or doing the wrong thing. As a result, I almost entirely avoided physical activity.
To my surprise, my trainer didn’t shy away from taking me on as his first pregnant client. Instead, he showed up to each workout session fueled with words of encouragement and more information on how to safely continue strength training through pregnancy. We adjusted workouts based on how I was feeling each day. Our sessions would range from short high-intensity movements to lower impact workouts. From light weights to heavier lifts. Because of the flexibility of strength training, I continued to show up to the gym 2-3 days a week until the day before I went into labor.
Working out as prenatal care
Pregnancy was a time I felt completely out of control from what was happening to my body. Strength training through my second pregnancy was one of the only things that kept me afloat, mentally and physically. My body was always uncomfortable. I was tired all the time. I was swollen. I was always nauseous. But two or three times a week, I would will myself to the gym and move my body. Moving my body was healing for me as I navigated the emotional and physical challenges I faced in pregnancy. In these moments, lifting weights was the only thing that made me feel better. My aches and pains would find temporary relief. It calmed my running list of anxieties and to-dos as I focused on the movement and how my body was feeling through the motions. Each workout felt like a deep sigh of relief.
Continuing to work out during pregnancy also helped me maintain a sense of self. As my body continued to change, strength training reminded me of the power of my body and allowed me to tap into the self-confidence and powerfulness that was easy to forget in the midst of the different changes my body was experiencing.
Many studies suggest working out through pregnancy allows women to better manage labor and delivery and aids in the length of postpartum recovery. Additionally, being a parent is a never-ending physical task. Building your strength throughout pregnancy will serve any new mom well.
If you have a healthy pregnancy and are cleared for exercise, take some time to incorporate activity into your prenatal care. It’s important to find something you enjoy and that fits into your lifestyle. Strength training is especially adaptable to beginners and novices alike and provides a well-rounded workout experience tailored to your needs. It allows for more flexibility than running or cycling and expands your options beyond prenatal yoga.
If it feels good, keep going
The key to successful strength training through my pregnancy was to listen to my body’s cues and to surround myself with an encouraging support team—one that didn’t look at a healthy pregnancy as a debilitating disease but as something my body was going through, and that we would work with and not against.
Whether you prefer a low impact or high impact workout, or somewhere in between, it’s important to tune into your body to listen to what it’s telling you during these activities.
Do you feel pain or discomfort? Are you experiencing any incontinence? Does the exercise cause your belly to bulge in a peak? Do you feel a bulging sensation in your perineum?
If you’re not feeling any of the sensations mentioned above, keep going and pushing yourself as long as it feels comfortable. Continue to check in with your body during and after each workout session and reevaluate if any changes occur.
It’s also important to check your intentions. There is too much pressure to be fit—but not too fit—during pregnancy. Strength training made me feel strong, confident, and proud of my body through my pregnancy, so I continued to push myself because it felt good. If you’re straining to get through your workout in attempts to keep your weight low, for social media likes, or other outside pressures, take a step back and make sure you’re pushing yourself for the right reasons and not putting yourself or your baby at risk.
I don’t want to provide a laundry list of exercises to do or to avoid, but rather a note of encouragement that there are significant benefits to working out during a healthy pregnancy. If you have a regular workout routine or want to start one, you don’t have to limit yourself completely just because you are pregnant. Working out should not be another reason for anxiety during pregnancy. In fact, it is the very activity that can help decrease your anxieties and reminds you of the powerful woman you are.
My favorite resource available to women for exercise and fitness is Girls Gone Strong,a website dedicated to body-positive, evidenced-based information about women’s health, strength training, exercising during pregnancy and postpartum, mindset, and so much more.