There is a need for this post.
I should have known it already, but it wasn’t till I started to hear the concerned comments from loved ones about lifting heavy weights in my first trimester during daily life (weights that I would consider light compared to what I am able to lift in the gym!) that I realized I needed to get some information to back me up here.
I have had a few people ask me when I am going to stop with the strength training (and running for that matter), but when I was going to stop going to Drew twice a week, and rest up.
Well, to be frank, I hope that I don’t have to…not till after the baby is born.
I intend on strength training right the way up to my due date, and I intend on running as long as my body will allow. In fact, running will be the one to go first, exchanging it for walking or swimming (although, Lexington does not have a SINGLE PUBLIC POOL for me to use!!! which makes it rather difficult!).
The strength training for me is crucial.
Not because I am too proud to give it up, and certainly not because it is giving me a thrill of being able to lift heavy things.
Because it is good for you and good for your baby to keep your core and body strong. I trust Drew with my life, and he has worked with many pregnant women over the years, including his wife and my friend, Michelle, who also confirms that she did indeed strength train with him all the way up to their daughter being born.
I know we still live in this world where we are supposed to wrap pregnant women in cotton wool, tell them to take bed rest (or at least couch rest), and relax. After all, you are making another human being. It makes total sense, and I feel a new level of exhaustion in my body now that I never experienced even during my 90 mile a week training days.
I get that, and I have had to learn how to take it easy, to accept that bending down to carry something awkward to prove I can is stupid. I have had to accept that I can’t just “push through” something that is uncomfortable, and I can’t just carry on as normal, even though I may try.
However, strength training, in a controlled environment, where you are working with someone who understands the physiological side of the body, and how to apply it to this new body, is something completely different.
Every week almost, my weights are decreasing.
Every week, I am requiring a thicker band to help me lift my body up in a pull up.
Every week, we are modifying things a little more to make them comfortable and safe.
Every week, Drew and I assess where I am.
But the bottom line is this, strength training is GOOD FOR PREGNANT WOMEN, and there have been multiple studies showing this.
Benefits of Strength Training for Pregnant Women
I have really been enjoying this book; Fit & Healthy Pregnancy by Kristina Pinto, for an upcoming podcast I am recording, and I love that this book breaks it down into four trimesters (Including after birth), as they do vary so much. Kristina has great advice on how to strength train (and all other exercise) in a healthy way for your baby, taking into account the struggles you might be going through at that time.
I have not shared the specific studies where this information comes from, but you can find them all in the Fit & Healthy Pregnancy book
Here are just some of the benefits:
Limits lower back pain
One of the primary reasons people strength train is to build a strong base, the core of your body that will mean the rest of you can move freely without as much difficulty. We hear about our core all the time, and no, I am not talking about sit ups or crunches, those are actually doing more harm than good.
I am talking about overall body exercises, that happen to bring your core together with the rest of your body. This was one of the primary reasons Drew and I created our strength training for runners program, as SO MANY PEOPLE do their strength training, and especially “core work” wrong. You do not have to “do core” specifically, your strength training in general, if it is a good plan, should cover that within it, and that is enough to help you no matter what stage of life you are in.
Drew is a stickler for getting your form right, and for good reason, those planks you (used to be able to) hold for 6 minutes, you are doing them wrong. If you are doing planks with correct form, you will only be able to hold it for MAX a minute without a break.
The strength training Drew has me do (and you could be doing when the next round of strength training becomes available NOVEMBER 1), strengthens my torso and brings it together, and this gives me a stronger lower back, which can handle the strain of the additional weight in my front. A stronger lower back means less back pain, and I think that alone is something most women would be more than happy to avoid.
Also the reason I am not doing the “pregnancy walk” and shouldn’t almost the entire way through.
Gives you a break while you are distracted
One thing I enjoy about my strength training workouts is that I get two full hours a week where I can feel like somewhat of a normal person. I may not be lifting the same as everyone else, but I am not thinking about how pregnant I am, instead I am thinking about doing this next exercise with good form, and to the best of my ability right now.
This time is also great for socialization. I am with other people who care about their health, and both parts of this are good distractions, especially if you are not feeling great. In my first trimester when I was feeling terrible from morning sickness, the strength training session would keep my mind occupied to give me a respite from feeling so bad.
Less chance of a pregnancy muscle strain
Obviously during pregnancy your body is stretching in all kinds of ways it never has before, and it could be pretty easy to pull a muscle in a strange location, let alone all that round ligament pain that can catch you off guard as you grow. Our bodies release the hormone, relaxin during this time to allow this process to become easier, but sometimes it can put us more at risk of damage (rolling an ankle while running anyone?).
If your body is strong, it works together better as I mentioned earlier, which means it is less likely to experience one of those strains, as the muscles work together as they are meant to, instead of one muscle taking all the load.
I would say that is injury prevention at its best.
Faster and easier labor
Yep, its true.
Studies have found that women who are active throughout pregnancy have shorter labor and lower rates of caesarian sections. This is one I cannot confirm or deny at this point, but it was a Sports Medicine Journal article, which you can take a read of here. Fit & Healthy Pregnancy also has some other studies that have confirmed this.
I am not sure about you, but for me, that is enough of a reason on its own to stick with it!
Controls weight gain
Gone are the days where women are told you are “eating for two” and a no holds barred approach can be taken to eating. New guidelines suggest women should have only 300 extra calories a day during the second and third trimester. It is easy to go far beyond that, especially with cravings and the hard done by feelings you can get when you don’t feel so great. It can be easy to overeat.
Most women should gain 25-35 pounds, and although I do not believe we should worry about this, other than at doctors visits (or if at all), throw away your scale remember, strength training will help your baby to stay at a healthy weight, and of course, will help your body maintain some muscle mass.
I am just following my intuitive eating, based on what I learned with Nancy Clark, eating when I am hungry, stopping when I am full. Even if that means I have food every two hours throughout the day, and do not eat a lot of dinner (leftovers next day!).
For me, this is the least important one, but I know this is important, so I will mention.
Oh, and it’s not just you, women who are active during pregnancy also tend to have lighter, healthier babies, which will make things a lot easier on you, and less stressful on them!
Faster postpartum healing after labor
If you strengthen all the muscles and joints of your body as a whole, they are more likely to help you bounce back after labor. Multiple studies that Kristina Pinto mentions in her book explain this better than I ever could, but think about it this way; if you stopped running and took 5 months off, it would take you a lot longer for your body to return to its fitness than it would had you only taken a month off.
By strength training all the way through pregnancy, you are giving your body less time to break down in those weak areas that are not worked in daily life, and those areas will be used a lot during childbirth, as everything is happening around your midsection.
If you need more reasons, check out this article by Fit Pregnancy, there are 33 reasons for pregnant women to keep exercising!
What Does Drew Say About Strength Training During Pregnancy?
Okay, so you have the benefits, but what are my coach (and could be your future coach if you join our strength training for runners program) think about women strength training during pregnancy?
I asked Drew to give me some points on his thoughts.
The first thing to keep in mind is that Drew believes not only should pregnant women strength train, but EVERYONE should be strength training, really, there is no reason not to.
However, for women who have not ever strength trained before, midway through pregnancy is probably not the best time to start…although I would imagine most people wouldn’t need to be told that.
Kind of obvious, right?
If you have strength trained before pregnancy, it is important to make modifications as necessary with your coach, and as I mentioned, Drew checks in with me every workout to see how I am feeling, and what we need to change that day.
Keep in mind:
“As you get further and further along, your baby (& belly) continues to grow, this puts more stress on the support structures of the Boyd; namely the hips and spine. By gradually applying stress via mobility and strength training, the body can be conditioned and will adapt better to the body’s changing shape.
By doing strength training and mobility work, you continually teach your body (and brain) to use the available range of motion optimally.” -Drew Watts
Main points about strength training while pregnant
- Train within your capabilities
- Monitor and manage your heart rate to keep it easy
- After 5 months, do not do exercises on your back, instead make supine exercises (on back) at an incline (30 degrees or more)
- Use a full range of motion at the appropriate joints whenever possible
- Employ good breathing patterns while exercising, do NOT lift so heavy that you have to hold your breath. This will spike your blood pressure, which can be dangerous.
- If possible start lifting weights long before you get pregnant.
So as you can tell, I am in good hands, I am being safe with this, and I am listening to my body and what it tells me. It is hard when people do not support this decision, but hopefully you can see that this is the right thing for me (and other pregnant women to do). For those of you who are thinking about this in the future, hopefully you can prepare for it as best you can, to make it as easy of a transition as possible.