This is a post about weightlifting — real weightlifting. Most internet searches of “weightlifting while pregnant” churn up results for “lifting” with 15-pound weights or, as my husband calls them, “the pink dumbbells.”
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was surprised at how little information was out there for women who power lifted or did Olympic lifts, given the popularity of CrossFit. Most of the decent information out there is anecdotal (as is this post) or is advice to pregnant women from male coaches — not that their input doesn’t have merit, but, come on!
I debated whether or not to include a post about my pregnancy workouts on this blog. I wasn’t sure if they fit in with the direction I’m hoping this blog takes and, quite frankly, I’m not sure people give a hoot about what I’m doing to stay in shape.
But I reasoned that I’m staying in shape to ensure that I can continue to be active with my kiddos, which fits into my blog. And even if just one person cares to read about what’s worked for me in my pregnancies and is able to incorporate some ideas into their workouts, it’s worth a blog post. If you don’t care to read about my personal story, feel free to skip to the five tips I came up with to help provide some guidance to pregnant women who hope to continue to lift.
I am not a fitness coach nor have I ever taken a course on being a fitness coach. I do, however, take technique very seriously and in my fitness (both pre-, during, and post-pregnancy) I’ve always paid very close attention to how my body moves in any given exercise.
This post is purely what worked for me in my first pregnancy and what has worked for me so far in my second pregnancy. Take my words for what they are worth, but consult with your own doctor and fitness coaches to develop a fitness plan that works for you.
I’ve always been pretty active. Growing up, I played softball and I swam for my high school’s swim team. In college, I joined the rock climbing club and climbed 4-5 days a week. I continued climbing when I moved to Colorado in 2007 and added snow boarding, hiking, and other outdoor sports to the list.
In 2012, I started CrossFit and gravitated pretty quickly to the weightlifting classes. I began specializing in the power lifts — squats and deadlifts — about a year before I got pregnant with my first daughter.
I’m 5’2″ and weighed about 130 pounds when I started lifting seriously. I followed Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program and got my PR squat to 200 pounds, my deadlift to 235 pounds and my bench to 90 pounds.
I also began training in Olympic weightlifting and my snatch PR topped out at 85 pounds and my clean and jerk were a respectable 125 pounds. There was a lot of room to improve these numbers and I even had a lifting coach approach me about training me, but I had just confirmed that there was, in fact, a bun in the oven and I didn’t think an intense lifting regimen was for me.
When I told my coach this, he responded, “Do you think when Running Deer got knocked up the tribe stopped migrating with the buffalo? No. So you shouldn’t stop training just because you’re pregnant.”
What can I say? He’s a wise man.
Lifting through my first pregnancy
Throughout my first trimester, I was able to keep my numbers pretty high. I estimated roughly my 80 percent of my pre-pregnancy PRs and operated as if those were my total PRs and adjusted my workouts accordingly.
Squat max (200 pounds) became 160 pounds
Deadlift (235 pounds) became 185 pounds
Bench (90 pounds) became 70 pounds
Snatch (85 pounds) became 65 pounds
Clean and jerk (125 pounds) became 100 pounds
When a workout called for 3 sets of 5 squats at 75 percent of your one-rep max, I worked off of the new number. So 3 sets of 5 squats at 75 percent, meant I was squatting 120 pounds instead of 150 pounds.
At first, it felt like I was shamming. While I was doing my sets, all I could think was, “I can go heavier.”
But I kept my numbers lower because what the heck did I know? There is hardly any information about lifting heavy during pregnancy. Doctors are hesitant to give you the thumbs up. One nurse scolded me for lifting anything more than 25 pounds. When I told her what I lifted before I got pregnant, she said I could go up to 50 pounds.
While in retrospect I probably could have continued lifting heavier during the first trimester, I’m glad I kept it lighter. I felt very comfortable with the weight I was lifting at so I kept it at the 80-percent range and, while I certainly wasn’t getting stronger, I definitely wasn’t getting weaker. The name of the game for me became: maintain, maintain, maintain.
I was able to lift consistently throughout my first- and second-trimesters — at least three times a week. When my belly popped late in my second trimester, I cut out the Olympic lifts. Trying to keep the bar close to my body wasn’t going to work with a belly and I didn’t want my technique to suffer accommodating my bump. I also didn’t want to risk knocking the baby upside the head.
As my belly grew, my center of gravity changed and I had to really slow down my squats and make sure I was being safe. I still squatted below parallel, but I had to be extra careful about the “butt wink.”
At about the 28-week mark, I broke off from the programmed classes and stuck to my own regimen — primarily squats and deadlifts. Bench was now out due to my belly and concerns about cutting off circulation to the baby.
I stuck to a 3 sets of 5 squat regimen and a heavy set of 5 deadlifts. I was able to stick to the 120 pound effort for squats until about 30 weeks, and then I decreased by 5 pounds based on how I was feeling as I got closer to my due date. The day before I gave birth, I did three sets at 95 pounds.
For deadlifts, I was able to keep it fairly heavy at 150 pounds until about 32 weeks. After that, I cut deadlifts out because I felt like I was doing enough between the squats and hikes up in the mountains.
At 37 weeks, my water broke and I naturally delivered a beautiful baby girl. Two weeks later, the docs cleared me to begin my workouts.
Despite getting the green light to “resume all normal activity” just two weeks after giving birth, I wasn’t feeling it. I was friggin’ exhausted.
Besides some shorter hikes in the mountains, I really didn’t push any workouts until I was six weeks postpartum. And even then, I stuck to kettlebells and Turkish get-ups. (Three-to-five sets of kettlebell swings at 25 pounds and 10 Turkish get-ups with a 10-pound weight).
I didn’t really get back under a bar until I was 10 weeks postpartum, and I didn’t feel very good about it until 12 weeks had passed.
I started back slow. Too slow. I was in a new town and was trying out a new gym with a coach who had no idea what kind of athlete I was prior to giving birth.
I kept my numbers low — operating well within my comfort zone. I was exclusively pumping, sleep deprived, and I cut myself a lot of slack. Maybe I needed to at the time.
I stopped going to the gym and began working out at the local rec center, sticking to my 3 sets of 5 squats and my one set of 5 deadlifts. I had no direction and, because all of the pregnancy weight came off quickly, I had little motivation to push myself.
It wasn’t until I stopped pumping 10 months later that I really felt a rebound in my energy and a desire to go after my previous numbers.
And I did.
I got my squats back up to 3 sets of 5 at 165 pounds and my deadlifts back up to 185 pounds for a set of five. I began benching again and, to my surprise, was able to do 3 sets of 5 at 75 pounds easily.
I was able to row, get back into kettlebells, and tackle some more difficult hikes easily.
And then, after just two months of feeling like my old self, I got the positive.
Lifting during my second pregnancy
Don’t cringe: my husband and I wanted a second baby. And we wanted our kids close together. As much as I would have loved to have more time to feel like my old self and go after my old PRs before getting pregnant again, I had to face reality: I’m 31. I’d already had two early miscarriages. We ultimately hope to have three kids.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a little bit of ho-humness going into this second pregnancy. But, after a stressful first six weeks (mainly due to us fixing up our new house while keeping a toddler entertained), this pregnancy fell right in line with my old one.
I adjusted my lifts, keeping them based on my old 80-percent numbers; but I didn’t bother going back to my Olympic lifts since the rec center I go to doesn’t have a proper platform. I continued with my squats and deadlifts — the bread and butt-er. I also began doing dumbbell push presses and I’ve continued doing pull-ups and kettlebell swings.
And so far, it’s been a good pregnancy. I’m 30 weeks and feeling great. I’ve gained about 15 pounds so far and well within my goal of only gaining 25 total. I’ve been able to do a ton of work around the house and in the yard. I even tackled a stone paver patio at 22 weeks with minimal discomfort.