There seems to be a lot of speculation around women and weight lifting during pregnancy. 

Most of this, I believe, derives from a general lack of information supporting women in weight lifting; pregnant or not.

It is often said that when you find out that you’re pregnant, you should ‘carry on as normal’, particularly in the early days.  So, unless there is another underlying (health) reason why your pregnancy should be treated differently, there’s no need to make any drastic lifestyle changes.

Does this still apply if you are a power lifter, bodybuilder, strong woman, olympic lifter or a general heavy lifter?

Well the truth is, I don’t have any personal experience of weight lifting during pregnancy, nor have I ever had any indirect experience of training with someone who is pregnant, so I decided that they best way to share this information with you was to ask someone who does know!

Alex Kovacs is an experienced personal trainer from Queensland, Australia who has been training clients throughout pregnancy.  

Alex very kindly agreed to answer some questions for us and here’s what she has to say on the subject…

1. What advice would you give to a female weightlifter who just found out she's pregnant? - does this change throughout different stages of pregnancy?

When you discover that you are pregnant (yay!) you definitely need to be more mindful when it comes to your training. But you do not have to stop lifting weights- in fact it will help you during the pregnancy and help your body physically prepare for the birth. Also, keep in mind that the fitter and healthier you are during your pregnancy the quicker you will recover after the birth.

If you are already fit and healthy and have a well-established training routine, you will be fine to keep your usual training plan from weeks 1- 12 of your pregnancy. Your training intensity, exercises, weights and cardio, it can all be the same as usual.

From weeks 12-18 your training should change as your body starts to change. The intensity and HIIT cardio needs to be lowered but make sure you are maintaining your cardio during this stage. Your weight training needs to be focused around maintenance of the strength that you developed in the first 12 weeks. You want to try and maintain your strength in your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves, lats, upper and lower traps and triceps). By maintaining the strength in these muscles it will assist you greatly as you start to grow and support the weight of the baby. You should also increase your rest time in between sets and as the weeks progress you should start to lower the amount of weight you are lifting.

18-32 weeks your training should de-evolve even more. You will be experiencing more load through your lumbar spine and may be quicker to tire. So increase your rest times even more as well as ease off the weight training as a structured plan and focus more day-to-day. Keep any weights that you do light, and no impact. No jumping, running, getting the heart rate too high. Steady state, walking or gentle cross trainer is advised. Start incorporating the fitballs and bands into your workouts and do more stability exercises.

After 32 weeks- until the birth. It’s all as per doctor’s advisement. If you're having a really good pregnancy you may be able to keep doing light movements, light weights and easy walking right up until you’re ready. But you must listen to the advice given to you be your doctor in these final stages and if the doctor says to do nothing but easy walking, keeping the heart rate down, then that’s what you do.

From 32 weeks onwards it’s really important to also mentally prepare for 1. The birth and 2. The baby. So use this time to focus on the exciting changes coming.  

2. Are there any exercises that should be avoided?

During the first 12 weeks keep doing everything you would usually do in your training session unless specifically advised by your doctor.

12-18 weeks nothing that involves, lying on your back ( no flat bench press, DB Chest press etc) Phase out all jumping and high impact exercises like squat jumps, burpees, skipping, hill sprints etc.

18-32 weeks Avoid extreme heavy lifting- no 1 rep max, no strong sets of 3 reps. Weight training is light and as needed.

32 weeks onward until the birth, walking and similar training from the 18-32 week but with a little less weight again and more rest time in between sets.

3. Can she still lift heavy?

There is a massive misconception that as soon as you find out your pregnant you immediately must stop lifting, but it is not the case. Focus on maintaining your weight training and strength during your pregnancy don’t focus on loading the bar with more weight and progressing your max back squat because it’s just not going to happen for you. You can still lift heavy for your body but not so you are straining, holding your breath and pushing your lifting to the max. Keep you rep range at an easy 10 reps. Don’t go for for 3-5 heavy reps or 20-30 reps to burn everything out. You are growing a human and you body’s sole focus is that. Keep the weight “heavy” for a set of 10 reps for you.

4. Are there any exercises that actually support pregnancy and birth?

Exercises should be carefully picked for your personal training goals, your posture and to support the pregnancy and birth. Think posterior chain ladies- everything on the back of the body. Hamstrings, glutes, Lats, traps (upper and lower), shoulders and triceps.

You want to focus on maintaining your postural muscles as best you can before your spine starts to curve excessively due to the load of carrying the baby.

So picking exercises like  10 x rack pulls superset with a 30 second wall sit for 4-5 sets (in the 12-18 weeks)  would be great to focus on strengthening your glutes and hamstrings to support the excessive lumbo-pelvic tilt that’s going when the baby grows.

Then for your upper body you might keep it really simple and do 10 x seated rows (with a pause and an extra squeeze) superset with 10 x cable triceps pushdowns (also with a pause at full extension). This is help keep your scapula well placed and strong so you don’t suffer from rounded shoulders.

*Note: This article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice.

About Alex:

My background as a professional ballet dancer really set me up for a career loving movement, fitness and technique. I have been a personal trainer for 7 years specialising in female strength, fitness and weight loss transformations. I’m married, from Brisbane Australia and have a natural passion for the outdoors, being active and have a healthy obsession for books and coffee.

I personally really enjoy weight lifting and running. Two opposite types of exercise but I enjoy the technical challenge and strength that weight lifting provides and the freedom and enjoyment that trail running gives me.

My goal as a female only trainer is to educate, inspire and motivate women. To help ladies find their drive, and to guide them through their strength & fitness training and action their goals.

I want to teach people how to squat better and to give ladies the courage to go into the squat rack at the gym- pick up a barbell and not be afraid.

If you’d like to reach out and find me:

FB: Alex Kovacs

FB: Strength & Fitness Females

IG: a_j_Kovacs