Motherhood requires muscle, and according to the latest American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' exercise guidelines, there is no reason that a healthy woman can't strength train in moderation during pregnancy. But for a variety of reasons, pregnant women must be certain to use good form when lifting weights.
Pregnancy increases the level of a joint-loosening hormone called relaxin, so lifting improperly can boost your risk of joint injury. With that in mind, be sure to keep your spine in a "neutral" position -- that is, don't let your back arch or move into a "swayback" position, and try to keep your knees relaxed rather than "locked." Before lifting weights, warm up by walking briskly for five minutes or pedaling easily on a stationary bike, and follow each session with a series of stretches.
If you have never lifted weights before, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you begin this or any kind of exercise program. If you do lift weights, remember to listen to your body. Avoid weights that strain the lower back. Start slowly and have modest goals. Don't try to make up for years of inactivity now that you're pregnant. If you have doubts about your ability to do this without help, consider working with a trainer who has experience coaching women who are pregnant.
Experts recommend the following exercises for pregnant women:
Hip extension and curl (strengthens buttocks and hamstrings)
Place a 1- to 3-pound ankle weight around your right ankle. Stand facing the back of a high-backed chair or other sturdy support. Contract your abs so your tailbone points down to the floor. Keeping your hips square, shift your weight to your left leg, bending your knee slightly for balance. Flex your right foot, lift your leg up and behind you without arching your back or rotating your hips. Complete 10 repetitions; on the last repetition, bend your right knee, bringing your right heel up and toward your buttocks in a curl. Complete 10 repetitions. Switch legs and repeat.
Biceps curl (strengthens the upper arms)
Hold a light weight (1 to 2 pounds) in each hand. Stand with your arms at your sides, palms facing forward, knees relaxed. Raise your hands toward your shoulders, bending at the elbow. Slowly lower the weights. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Increase the weight when you can easily complete two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Triceps press (strengthens the backs of the arms)
Hold a light weight (1 to 2 pounds) in each hand. Stand with your arms at your sides, elbows bent, knees slightly bent, and bend forward slightly from the waist. Push your hands backward, extending your arms straight behind you. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Increase the weight when you can easily complete two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Butterfly press(strengthens shoulders and upper chest)
Stand with a light weight (1 to 2 pounds) in each hand, knees slightly bent. Raise your arms and bend your elbows so they are about shoulder height (so you're making a "field goal" position with your arms). Now pull your arms together so your forearms face one another. Open wide. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Increase the weights when you easily complete two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Dumbbell shoulder press (strengthens middle and lower back)
Holding a light weight (2 to 5 pounds), stand with your arms up over your head. Bend your elbows, lowering the weights so your hands are shoulder level, pause, and push the weights back up. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Increase the weight when you can easily complete two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Upright row (strengthens upper back)
Holding a weight in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed and arms by your sides, palms facing back. Pull your elbows back and up until they are at shoulder height. Slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Increase when you can easily complete two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
- Do not hold your breath when you are lifting weights. Try to breathe freely and naturally.
- Always exhale during the "lifting" part of each move.
- If you ever feel pain or discomfort, stop immediately.
YMCA of the USA, with Thomas Hanlon: Fit for Two: The Official YMCA Prenatal Exercise Guide. Human Kinetics Publishing.
Artal, Raul and Carl Sherman. Exercise During Pregnancy, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Volume 27, No. 8.
Araujo, David. Expecting Questions about Exercise and Pregnancy, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Volume 25, Number 4.
Mayo Clinic. Weightlifting: A bad influence on blood pressure? Dec. 19, 2009. http://www.mayoclinic.com
University of Wisconsin. Weightlifting for Women. http://www.journalism.wisc.edu/~hawkins/j617/weights/form.html
American Pregnancy Association. Exercise Guidelines During Pregnancy. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/exerciseguidelines.html