Why You Should Be Lifting Weights during Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, there’s a LONG list of rules for you to follow. From foods you can’t eat to lists of exercise do’s and don’ts, there’s always the question of “well, what SHOULD I be doing?” 

I’ve been around the block with this pregnancy thing a few times before. During my pregnancy with my second, Eli, I was very active and had recently become a personal trainer. Teaching spin classes, lifting weights, walking every day, and all I came across on pregnancy apps and Google searches was advice like “don’t lift more than 15 pounds during pregnancy” and “swimming and yoga are safe during pregnancy.” As someone who enjoyed feeling strong and wanted to continue doing so, not to mention who had to lift and carry a 30+ pound toddler on the daily, these articles frustrated me. 

What I read frustrated me so much, in fact, that I started learning all I could about exercising during pregnancy and postpartum… which is how I got to be who I am today. 

So in this article, I’m going to debunk the “you shouldn’t lift” and “the only safe exercises are” myths and tell you the real real about lifting during pregnancy. As in, why you SHOULD be lifting more than 15 pounds during pregnancy. 

(If, of course, you want to be doing so and you haven’t been instructed otherwise by your doctor due to pregnancy-related issues that may take lifting off the table for you.)

Most toddlers weight more than 15 pounds.

There are some tiny tots out there.. And some people may be pregnant with their second while their first is still considered a baby, but kids only get bigger and heavier. So while your baby may be in the 15 pound range in the beginning of your pregnancy, they may be tipping that over 15 pound mark by the end of it, then what are you supposed to do? Ask someone else to pick them up to console them? Nah, girl. You’ve got this. My #1 argument with the “don’t lift over 15 pounds” advice during pregnancy (and for many other things, but another article for another day), is that it isn’t practical advice. It doesn’t align with daily life. We have to be able to lift our toddlers, whether they’re 15 pounds or 50 pounds. Lifting weights can help you do this. 

Life as a mom requires lifting.

Lifting weights isn’t really about looking badass, grunting, and dropping barbells at the gym, it’s about training for real-life activity- i.e. lifting your tantruming toddler off the floor of the grocery store and carrying them (and your groceries) to the car. 

And if you don’t have a toddler, think about this. How much does a car seat weigh? About 10 pounds (give or take depending on brand, etc.) How much does a newborn weigh? Roughly 6-10 pounds. How much does a diaper bag weigh? Roughly 5 pounds depending on how much stuff you like to carry. Put all of that together and you’re lifting and carrying roughly 20-30 pounds around multiple times a day. 

And if you haven’t paid attention to anything else thus far, pay attention to this- this is generally a movement requirement DAYS after birth. You load the car seat up to take baby home when you get out of the hospital. Sure your partner can help with this and may be around to help for a while, but for many in the US- where leave for partners really isn’t a thing- moms are doing this lifting requirement within days of birth. 

Strength training during pregnancy can help set you up strong for the required lifting you’ll be doing in the postpartum period. Period. 

Lifting weights = strong bones. 

All the studies show it. We know it. Women are more prone to osteoporosis, i.e. reduced bone density and quality due to calcium loss. This can make the bones more susceptible to breaks with age. We generally consider osteoporosis a “later in life” issue, so why worry about it now?

Growing a baby is serious work. The growing baby needs plenty of calcium to develop its own skeleton. So where does it get that calcium? That’s right. You, my friend. Before you freak out a little bit and go chug a gallon of milk, let me tell you how amazing women’s bodies are…

Bodies during pregnancy absorb calcium from food and supplements better than they do when not pregnant, especially during the latter half of pregnancy. On top of that, the extra estrogen we produce helps protect the bones (which is why osteoporosis is so common for women after menopause when estrogen levels decrease- nerd moment.) And if you weren’t already nerding out with me about how amazing pregnant bodies are, to top it all off, the calcium lost during pregnancy is replenished in the several months after delivery, or after breastfeeding has stopped. 

Plus we take prenatal vitamins for a reason. 

Ok, so this section is about lifting though so lets get on with what REALLY makes me nerd out…. 

Studies show that strength training- yes, lifting weights- can help prevent bones loss… and could even help build new bone.

What the WHAT?! If that doesn’t make you want to lift weights, then I don’t know what. 

Science is cool. 

Strength training can help you manage aches and pains before they even start. 

And on to #4, one of my personal favorites. Pregnancy is full of aches and pains. Some expected, some completely unexpected. Unlike cardio or some forms of exercise, strength training is incredibly adaptable for many different bodies. This means that exercises can be easily adjusted to manage aches and pains before they even start. COOL. 

Strengthening the muscles of the pelvis, shoulders, core, and really all over, help them stay strong when your body is changing so much. And usually it’s the changes in muscle length or function that can lead to achiness or even pain. Keeping those muscles strong and adapting your program to deal with common aches and pains can be a huge help in keeping you comfortable during your pregnancy. 

Plus, maintaining strength in things like your glutes can really help with pelvic floor strength and function after birth. SO RAD. 

I’ve worked with lots of pregnant women who struggle with things like hip, pelvic, and lower back pain. One thing that across the board helps them manage it is strength training. 

For those of you worried about lifting weights during pregnancy, I hope this eases your mind. But while lifting weights is great during this phase, I’m not suggesting you go PR on a dead lift or back squat right now. It is important that your training matches your stage in pregnancy.

For those of you who just wanted to know what exercises are safe during pregnancy, I hope this opened your eyes to different possibilities beyond yoga, walking, and swimming. 

Strength training is the number one focus of my clients both 1:1 and in my coaching club for the reasons above and so many more. If you want more information on how to work with me, click here. I’d love to help you feel strong during your pregnancy!