I’m an anomaly at the gym. I was that crazy-pregnant-woman who continued deadlifting no matter how big and low that belly got. I was that postpartum woman who showed up for a "real workout" not even 7 days postpartum. And, it was actually a bit fun to be counterculture. After all, I thrive on being “different.”
Still, weightlifting through pregnancy came with its own challenges. During my first pregnancy, I continued with my weight training through week 20 before switching to daily gentle prenatal yoga up to delivery day. This time, my goal was to exercise up till the day I delivered, as long as I had no complications.
For the most part, I had a normal healthy pregnancy, but I encountered these ten issues while weightlifting throughout my pregnancy.
1. Caloric Intake: If you continue weightlifting, you are most likely going to need more than the recommended 300 extra calories per day. I was famished during my first trimester and restricted food more than I should have because the “gurus” say that you don’t need any extra calories until the second and third trimesters. This resulted in sleepless nights and feeling like I was dieting down for a figure competition—complete misery. If I could do it over again, I would have increased my calories when I felt I needed them. I started tracking my macronutrients to ensure I was getting adequate calories during my second and third trimesters. But by this point, it was actually tough for me to eat enough calories. As a result, I ended up gaining less than the recommended 25 - 35lb.
2. Exercise Modification: During each trimester, you will find that some exercises no longer “feel right” for your body. Needing to adjust your routine and exercises is critical to maintaining a regular routine. It can be frustrating not to be able to execute your favorite lifts. Lifting lighter weights for more reps might not be as exciting as going for a 1 rep max, but it’s one change you can make to continue weight training during pregnancy.
3. Relaxin: Your joints are going to feel weird, unstable and wobbly. I am accustomed to creating tension in my body during squats and deadlifts. But as the relaxin kicked in, I noticed I could not safely lift the same amount of weight because I couldn’t create that tension. Lightening the loads and limiting the range of motion helped me continue to lift safely.
4. Umbilical Hernia: I was diagnosed with an umbilical hernia during my second trimester, and it was concerning for a few months. My OB wanted me to stop lifting heavy weights altogether, especially lower body exercises. I got a second opinion from a surgeon who examined my hernia and (luckily) was familiar with weightlifting. He suggested I simply listen to my body and lighten my weights if I wanted to continue doing my normal movements. I also decided to wear a pregnancy support belt during my heavier lifts (deadlifting, squats, barbell lunges) to ensure my lower back was supported. By the time my uterus grew large enough to cover the umbilical hernia, I felt less pain in that area and was able to lift weights more easily. Most likely, I will need to get it repaired after pregnancy, but I’m happy to have made it through without injury.
5. Iron-Deficiency Pregnancy Anemia: If this is your first pregnancy or if you’ve spaced out your babies a few years apart, this may not be an issue for you. Because my second child was due only 26 months after my first, I did experience an issue with iron-deficiency anemia during my third trimester. It could also have been related to my weightlifting, because weightlifters need more iron when training hard in the gym during pregnancy. I was able to naturally resolve the issue after a couple weeks of eating grassfed beef liver twice per week (ick!) and consuming grassfed beef daily. By the time I asked my OB to test for iron deficiency anemia, I had already restored my iron levels. No need for the constipating iron pills. I also continued taking a grassfed beef liver supplement daily through the remainder of my pregnancy and consumed plenty of grassfed beef.
6. Inadequate Recovery: Before I was pregnant, I weight trained at least five days per week. I was able to keep up with this training frequency until the third trimester. At that point, my body was unable to recover from split training, no matter how much I rested and recovered. I switched up my routine to do full-body workouts every other day. On my day “off,” I could either do a steady state cardio session, a prenatal yoga session or rest completely. I followed this routine up till delivery day. If you’d like to check out all my workouts through pregnancy, feel free to download them here.
7. Stomach Flu: I chose not to get the flu shot, though my OB urged me to do so. I did come down with a nasty stomach flu during my 38th week of pregnancy. I’m not sure if I would have gotten the flu shot regardless, but it did take me longer to recover than my non-pregnant family members. It took me three days before I could even step foot inside the gym.
8. Pregnancy Insomnia: It is real. Even if you slept like a baby before getting pregnant and take great care of yourself during pregnancy, you will likely experience a LOT of nights where you lie awake just staring at the clock (or binge-watch episodes of House of Cards on Netflix). This affects your workouts and recovery time. If you need to take a day off the gym after a terrible night of sleep, do it. Don’t ever feel badly about replacing a weight training session with a much-needed sleep session.
9. Gym Goer Comments: If you choose to exercise all the way through your pregnancy, you are going to get comments. You will not blend into the gym culture once the belly pops. Be prepared for anything. Know exactly why you are training pregnant and don’t be afraid to defend your reasons. Some commenters will be kind and encouraging. Others will be curious. And, some will be downright rude and intrusive. Don’t let anyone intimidate you. Just smile and continue your workout, no matter what a nosey gym goer says to you during your training.
10. Prodromal Labor: This is no joke. It really does exist. Don’t let anyone talk down to you by telling you it’s “false labor” or “not the real thing.” Any woman who’s been through it will tell you that it IS real and feels just like early labor...because it is. After experiencing prodromal labor off-and-on for a few weeks during my final month of pregnancy, I realized I could either continue with my workouts or back off whenever I thought it could be “the real thing.” I’m glad I decided to continue, though some workouts were mentally taxing because I experienced regular contractions throughout the workouts—hoping nobody was noticing my labor dance between sets. Be aware that if you decide to continue, you may experience a lot of contractions after every workout. I did. Was it worth it? For me, it was well worth exercising up to delivery day. I felt like Superwoman, knowing that I could do what very few women would do in my situation. That itself was empowering.
Here are a few resources that I found especially helpful when deciding how to train during pregnancy:
- Girls Gone Strong on Pregnancy
- The Pregnant Athlete by Brandi and Steven Dion
- Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by Dr. James Clapp
What about you? Did you exercise during your pregnancy? If so, are there any tips or tricks that you would pass on to other women hoping to stay fit and active? I’d love to hear from you!