‘Bikini Beast’ takes new title: mom

Seven years ago, Sara Jean Meyer watched her first bodybuilding competition.

When I saw the female bikini class on stage I was in awe,” she said. “I told myself that I was going to do that.”

Now a coach for USA Limitless, Sara Jean’s training began the moment she got back to her college dorm, where she cleared out the cupboards and began planning out workouts and a healthy eating regimen.

The following spring, she took the stage, placing second overall and qualifying for nationals.

Over the next several years, Sara Jean competed in 13 competitions, including the Arnold Classic. She attributes her success to a combination of training for bikini competitions and powerlifting.

I am a natural bikini pro, and I have competed both as a raw and equipped powerlifter as well,” she said. “Even through my competition season in bikini, I perform all powerlifting style training.”

Her numbers reflect her training: she squats 275; benches 125; and deadlifts nearly 300 pounds.

In addition to numerous awards and accolades, her style of training led to another nod of recognition: the nickname, “Bikini Beast.”

But this year, the beast took on a new challenge. Motherhood.

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Pregnancy Weightlifting | Powerlifting for two

Pregnant powerlifter

At 18 weeks pregnant, Sarah Reischel accidentally qualified for the September AAU Powerlifting National Championship. Competing in the 148-pound weight class in a push/pull powerlifting competition back in June, Sarah benched 126 pounds and deadlifted 286 pounds.

“I don’t know that I’ll be able to compete in September,” she said, laughing. “I’ll be quite a bit bigger by then.”

Now six months pregnant, Sarah is still lifting and feeling stronger than ever.

“I love feeling strong,” she said. “I don’t lift for aesthetics. I want to be healthy and strong and as prepared for labor as I can.”

Sarah began lifting eight years ago, but stuck mainly to the lighter weights and machines. When the owner of the gym saw her working out, she introduced Sarah to the heavy weights.

“She saw me lifting and saw something in me I didn’t see myself,” Sarah said. “I had never really heard of powerlifting to be honest. But she encouraged me to get into it and I fell in love with the sport.”

Two and a half years later, Sarah squats more than 1.5 times her bodyweight, deadlifts in the 300s, and benches in the 120s.

And she’s been able to keep up those numbers throughout her pregnancy.

“I believe I will have a shorter and smoother labor because of my lifting,” she said. “I also know that my body is strong and can handle an unmedicated birth.”

Already a mama to a 4-year-old daughter, Sarah said she knows the benefits of staying fit in pregnancy.

“With my first, I worked out my entire pregnancy,” she said. “I was able to lose all of my baby weight quickly, and I plan to do the same this time around.”

Powerlifting champion

Handling the critics

Despite having a smooth pregnancy, Sarah is no stranger to the naysayers.

Seven months ago, she miscarried early and many questioned whether her lifting had something to do with her losing the baby.

“The miscarriage was not lifting related and most likely due to a chromosomal abnormality,” she said. “However, while it may have been out of love or concern, many people took to telling me that I would cause myself to have another miscarriage if I lifted heavy this pregnancy.

“It was infuriating that people were implying that I had killed my baby and that I would willingly put this or any baby at risk.”

Sarah said that when others bring up these concerns, she tries to educate them on the guidelines for exercising in pregnancy and assures them that her training in prenatal fitness makes her uniquely qualified to know the risks.

“I still get occasional comments of, ‘take it easy.’ But lifting heavy is my stress relief and it’s what keeps me healthy to have the strongest body I can to go through labor,” she said.

Sarah said she takes comfort in knowing her midwives and medical team are on board with her lifting.

“My OB gave me a high five and my midwife was also really supportive,” she said. “They encouraged me to just listen to my body.”

Prepping for birth

Pregnancy has not slowed Sarah down. Still lifting heavy multiple times per week, Sarah only recently began scaling her workouts.

“I take it day by day,” she said. “I stopped using my belt, so my numbers have decreased since that. Heavy squats have caused some discomfort in my abs, so I have scaled those back.”

She also incorporates yoga and cardio.

“Some weeks, I may get fewer workouts in due to fatigue,” she said. “But I am mostly on the same schedule as pre-pregnancy. I have even been able to compete in two powerlifting meets while pregnant.”

All of this, she said, is in preparation for bringing her son into the world.

“Labor is hard work, more than any meet I’ve ever competed in,” she said. “I had a natural labor with my first, and plan to do the same this time around. … So why not train my body to prepare for it?”

Want to read more pregnancy weightlifting posts? Check out our series.

Weekly recap: Toddlers, teething babies, and taking a long look within

This week was a rough one. My expectations were high.

I planned to start a new strength program. I wanted to cook dinner for multiple friends who just had babies. And I hoped to schedule playdates with friends.

None of that happened.

Between Lucy’s 6-month vaccines and teething, sleep wasn’t very popular in our house. Couple that with a 2-year-old testing her limits and independence, plus a visit from the in-laws, I am done.

My nerves are shot. My emotions are frazzled. And I am completely frustrated.

Let’s be clear: I’m not frustrated with my children. They are 6 months and 2 years old. They are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

I’m frustrated with myself. Even more than frustrated, I’m disappointed in myself.

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Pregnancy Weightlifting | When to push, modify, and scale

Fit Pregnancy

You’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant. You also lift heavy and the thought of not lifting for nine months makes you cranky.

You talked with your doctors and received mixed advice: keep doing the workouts you did before pregnancy, but don’t lift more than 25 pounds, or let your heart rate get too high, or go for a lifetime PR.

Fortunately, you did your research and have peace of mind that you can continue lifting heavy, but how heavy is too heavy? You’re making gains in the gym and seeing your numbers steadily increase and you’d rather not see that plateau or nose-dive.

You would also do anything and everything to keep your baby and yourself safe and healthy, so where do you draw the line? What is a good balance for continuing your training and having the healthiest pregnancy possible?

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Pregnancy Weightlifting | The studies that prompted the 10-pound rule

When Rosalie Watson found out she was pregnant, she was shocked.

“My first reaction,” she said, “was ‘but I was off to such a good year with my lifting and was supposed to be doing nationals, now what?!'”

Having lifted for 10 years and competed as a power lifter for five years, Watson told her doctors she planned to continue training. They were skeptical.

Then she received this letter:

Doctor Letter

Dear Rosalie,

I just reviewed the recommendations around heavy lifting in pregnancy. There is not much evidence around, but doing heavy lifting may increase your risk of miscarriage and hence the repetitive heavy lifting during the first trimester is mentioned as something to be avoided. There is not much evidence, to be honest, but they talk about heavy lifting being more than 20 kg [44 pounds] more than 20 times a week.

That weekend, Watson competed in a powerlifting competition, squatting 275 pounds, benching 176 pounds, and deadlifting 330 pounds.

Continue reading “Pregnancy Weightlifting | The studies that prompted the 10-pound rule”