Whenever I get emails from readers or friends wanting to know more about how I got into better shape, built muscle, got faster as a runner, etc. – I always point to one thing. Strength training.
I can’t emphasize enough how important I think strength training is to having an overall toned build and healthy body. Whether your goal is general fitness, increasing speed as a runner, or losing weight, strength training is the most effective way to build lean muscle and give your body shape.
I’ve also talked a lot about how important I think it is to lift heavier weights. Obviously weight lifting needs to be done safely and correctly in order to be effective, but too often I see and hear women who are afraid of “bulking up” if they lift heavier weights. I assure you, the only bulk you will gain from upping your weights will be rock solid arms and a huge confidence boost.
Working out while pregnant has forced me to think about my strength training in new ways. Pre-pregnancy I would choose the weights and exercises that really pushed me to my limits. My goal was always to completely burn out by the last set, so that I knew my muscles had been worked to their max for the day. In order to be effective, it is supposed to be difficult!
But working out while pregnant is totally different…
I have to be careful to not push myself too far, and always make sure to stop when I can feel my body straining too hard or tiring too quickly. The goal now is not to make it difficult, but rather just to keep my muscles engaged and body moving. While I have significantly reduced the weight I lift for each exercise, I’m still lifting enough that it’s keeping my muscles toned and my body healthy.
I’ve talked to my midwives about my workouts and have been assured that, as with all pregnancy exercise, because it’s something I was doing regularly before, my body is conditioned to continue to do it while pregnant (at a less intense level).
I have also had to pick and choose the exercises that I do now based on what my new body can handle. Obviously anything that involves lying face down is out of the question, and I also make sure to avoid doing anything flat on my back. I usually stick to upper body and leg exercises that feel the most comfortable.
I do a mix of free weights and guided machines to work different muscle groups, and I try to make it to the gym three times each week. To give you an idea of what my pregnancy strength training has looked like, here is the basic rundown of what I do now that I’m pregnant in the weight room…
3 sets of 8 reps, pulling 70 pounds
3 sets of 10-12 reps, with 20lb dumbbells
Pre-pregnancy I did these with 25 or 30lbs each, but I found that lifting a lighter weight with more reps works better for me right now.
3 sets of 8 reps, with 15lb dumbbells
3 sets of 10 lunges on each side, alternating legs
Earlier in pregnancy I did these holding 10lb weights. In the later weeks I’ve transitioned to just using my body weight, which is plenty!
3 sets of 10 reps, pushing 120 pounds
I am hoping this is a good exercise to help prepare for labor! I usually feel like I’m giving birth when I climb onto the machine.
3 sets of 15 reps, lifting 115 pounds
I didn’t use to do these machines pre-pregnancy, but I am trying to really prepare my body for childbirth now as best as possible. Strong core and kegel muscles are key!
3 sets of 15 reps, lifting 115 pounds
Very similar to the machine pictured above, but this one works the outside of your legs and butt (while the adduction machine works inside muscles). These two machines leave me very very sore!
So that’s the basic rundown of what I do in the gym each week. Usually I will also do some yoga stretching on the mats, along with a few sets of pushups. But I have definitely found that with a new heavier body weight, pushups are MUCH more difficult these days!
One of the many reasons pregnant women struggle to find the motivation to exercise is because pregnancy can be really really exhausting. And while I’ve definitely found myself glued to the couch some days, more often than not, I find that workout out and staying active has given me more energy and more motivation to keep moving.
My hope is that by staying strong and keeping my muscles engaged, I’ll have a stronger core that will help me in childbirth. Either way, continuing strength training while pregnant has been a fun opportunity to approach weight lifting with a new perspective.
And for anyone who tells me that the weight room is too intimidating or scary, if I am in there with this big baby bump…
…you can do it too!