There is a common opinion that women should simply rest during pregnancy. That they need to allow their body time to appropriately adapt for the rigors associated with childbirth and minimize exercise.
But what if I were to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth?
The body does indeed undergo some pretty serious changes during pregnancy. There is a reason to suggest that performing an exercise during this physically demanding time can have some substantial positives.
Especially when we focus on resistance training.
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What are the benefits of resistance training during Pregnancy?
Lifting weights was once thought to be solely for bodybuilders and athletes – meatheads and jocks if you will.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being either of these things (I can tell you now that I certainly am one of the two… and I’m not an athlete). But there is a problem suggesting that resistance training isn’t suitable for people who don’t fit into one of these two categories.
Resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass, improve body composition, enhance cardiovascular, metabolic, and mental health, and even boost cognitive function. I would argue that it’s pretty suitable for everybody.
Including pregnant women.
In fact, this type of training offers women some key benefits during pregnancy that makes it extremely important to this population group. With this in mind, I have put together a list of the key benefits of resistance training during pregnancy.
Related Article: Exercising While Pregnant – To Run Or Not To Run?
1. The Maintenance of Health
Pregnancy is a trying time that places the body’s cardiovascular and hormonal systems under a huge amount of stress. This stress can lead to chronically elevated blood glucose levels, in conjunction with chronically high blood pressure.
These two conditions are known as gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension (which can also develop into what is known as ‘Preeclampsia’ – a severe gestational disease), respectively.
Interestingly, the act of regular weight training during pregnancy has been shown to improve both the management of blood glucose and blood pressure. This not only ensures the maintenance of normal cardiovascular and metabolic health but also significantly reduces the risk of developing these two common gestational diseases (Roberts, 2003; Sklempe, 2018).
Additionally, resistance training throughout pregnancy has also been shown to reduce the risk of excessive weight gain between conception and birth – something that can obviously have undesirable health implications after birth (Barakat, 2009).
2. Ensuring Fetal Health
While there is currently minimal research demonstrating the effects of resistance training on fetal health and development, there are certainly some positive early signs.
Recent evidence suggests that performing resistance training throughout the pregnancy period can increase the likelihood that the child will be born within a normal and healthy weight range, while also reducing the chance of experiencing complications during birth (Haakstad, 2011).
While this may sound rather insignificant, it is actually quite a positive outcome given that both of these complications have shown associations with increased incidences of postpartum hemorrhaging, cesarean sections, and birth traumas.
3. Enhancing Post-Natal Recovery
Common post-natal complications can include both incontinence and the onset of lower back pain – both of which have very strong relationships with the strength of the pelvic floor and the abdominal musculature.
By partaking in regular weight training throughout pregnancy, there is the capacity to maintain the strength and resilience of these muscle tissues right up until childbirth.
Not only has this been suggested to reduce the likelihood of damage being incurred to these tissues during childbirth, but it is also thought to enhance the post-natal recovery period, thus reducing the risk of these key post-natal complications occurring at all (Harvey, 2003; Katonis, 2011).
Related Article: Baby On Board? – Aerobic Exercise During Pregnancy
4. Mental Benefits of Resistance Training During Pregnancy
In conjunction with the physical benefits of resistance training during pregnancy, there is also a myriad of mental health benefits that require attention.
Both during and after pregnancy, it is not uncommon to experience low energy levels and associated fatigue. In more severe scenarios, this can also develop into the onset of postnatal depression and anxiety, which has obvious health implications for both the mother and child.
First and foremost, resistance training during pregnancy has been shown to cause substantial increases in energy levels. With this comes a general improvement in mood, and reduced feelings of general fatigue (Ward-Ritacco, 2016).
Building on this notion a little further, the act of bodyweight resistance training has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of severe postpartum fatigue, suggesting positive implications in this manner even after childbirth (Ashrafinia, 2015).
Finally, even a single bout of resistance training has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in pregnant women (Polman, 2007). Chronic weight training has been shown to reduce the risk of developing post-partum depression in a very big way (Demissie, 2015).
In short, resistance training during pregnancy has positive implications for nearly all aspects of mental health and wellbeing.
Special Considerations with Resistance Training During Pregnancy
While the benefits of resistance training during pregnancy are profound, there are certain aspects that need to be considered to ensure its safe and effective implementation.
One key thing to remember is that the goal of the exercise program is to ensure the health of both the mother and child. As such, targeting the maintenance of fitness rather than its optimization is integral.
Using higher repetition range (10-15) in conjunction with lower loads (<70% 1RM) is recommended to decrease joint-related stress and mitigate injury risk. In this manner, exercise sets should be challenging, but should never progress to the point of muscular failure
As alluded to above, emphasis should be placed on training the muscles of the trunk and core, as it can help manage lumbar stress and associated low back pain. Building in this notion further, static stabilization core exercises appear a much better alternative to dynamic trunk movements (such as crunches) as they reduce the load placed on the spine and compression forces placed on the abdomen.
In terms of programming, a full body exercise routine provides the perfect option as it allows you to strengthen the entire body, while also preventing blood from pooling in any one area of the body. With this approach, a single exercise should be performed for each major movement, for 1-3 sets. Rest between sets should last approximately 2 minutes, allowing adequate time to recover.
A variety of exercises can be employed if they are within the capabilities of the individual performing them. As a result, all modalities of training can be used if deemed suitable, including free weights, machines, and even bodyweight exercises. All repetitions should be completed in a slow and controlled manner (Schoenfeld, 2011).
The Perfect Pregnancy Resistance Training Workout
We have put together what we believe to be the optimal resistance training workout during pregnancy. This session can be performed 1-3 times per week. You can even tailor it to your individual fitness level easily and effectively!
Take Home Message
Exercise during pregnancy was once thought to place unnecessary risk on mother and baby. Recent evidence has shown that this is not the case. Exercise extremely low risk in this population group. It even has a number of unique health benefits.
Particularly in regard to resistance training!
Resistance training has been shown to boost cardiovascular and metabolic health. It reduces the risk of post-natal complications, enhances post-natal recovery, and improves mental health. It should be a key component of every pregnant women’s routine. What are you waiting for?
Sklempe Kokic, Iva, et al. “Acute responses to structured aerobic and resistance exercise in women with gestational diabetes mellitus.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports (2018).
Roberts, James M., et al. “Summary of the NHLBI working group on research on hypertension during pregnancy.” Hypertension in Pregnancy 22.2 (2003): 109-127.
Barakat, Rubén, A. Lucia, and Jonatan R. Ruiz. “Resistance exercise training during pregnancy and newborn’s birth size: a randomised controlled trial.”. International journal of obesity 33.9 (2009): 1048.
Haakstad, Lene AH, and Kari Bø. “Exercise in pregnant women and birth weight: a randomized controlled trial.” BMC pregnancy and childbirth 11.1 (2011): 66.
Katonis, P., et al. “Pregnancy-related low back pain.” Hippokratia 15.3 (2011): 205.
Harvey, Marie-Andrée. “Pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy: a systematic review of their role in preventing pelvic floor dysfunction.”. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 25.6 (2003): 487-498.
Ward-Ritacco, Christie, Melanie S. Poudevigne, and Patrick J. O’Connor. “Muscle strengthening exercises during pregnancy are associated with increased energy and reduced fatigue.” Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 37.2 (2016): 68-72.
Ashrafinia, Farzaneh, et al. “Effect of Pilates exercises on postpartum maternal fatigue.” Singapore medical journal 56.3 (2015): 169.
Polman, Remco, Mariana Kaiseler, and Erika Borkoles. “Effect of a single bout of exercise on the mood of pregnant women.” (2007).
Demissie, Zewditu, et al. “Associations between physical activity and postpartum depressive symptoms.” Journal of Women’s Health 20.7 (2011): 1025-1034.
Schoenfeld, Brad. “Resistance Training during pregnancy: safe and effective program design.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 33.5 (2011): 67-75.