Disclaimer: This post is for women who already have a solid understanding of weightlifting and are pregnant/trying to become pregnant and hoping to continue lifting throughout their pregnancies. I am not a trainer or medical professional. These are just tips that I have found useful as I continued to lift through two pregnancies.
1. Know your numbers before you get pregnant
When I first began lifting through CrossFit, I had no clue what my one-rep max numbers were for any of my lifts. Each workout I’d base my weight on how I felt on that particular day or go with what the woman lifting next to me was doing. If you don’t know your numbers, get to the open gym and work with a coach to figure those out so you can get the most out of your workouts.
If you’re already pregnant and don’t know your numbers, it’s not advisable to find your one-rep max. Hopefully you know what you can lift comfortably for three or five reps and you can calculate your expected one-rep max based off of those numbers.
There are several sites that help give you an idea of where you might be based on your bodyweight:
ExRx.net — click on the movement and scroll down to the women’s chart to see if you fall in the novice, intermediate, advanced, or elite category. You can also use their one-rep max calculator to get an idea of what your max lifts should be.
Strengthlevel.com – this site offers a similar chart for lifters based on bodyweight, but has the added bonus of taking age into consideration.
2. Adjust those numbers for pregnancy
This can be a tough pill to swallow, especially if you’re just starting to see major progress in your lifts. But fret not. You won’t be pregnant forever and you can maintain your pre-pregnancy numbers with careful planning and working with qualified fitness experts.
For me, I calculated 80 percent of my one-rep maxes for each exercise I planned to continue in my pregnancies and adjusted my workouts accordingly.
My squat max (200 pounds) became 160 pounds
My deadlift (235 pounds) became 185 pounds
My bench (90 pounds) became 70 pounds
My snatch (85 pounds) became 65 pounds
My 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.
As I got farther into my pregnancies, I scaled as needed based on how I was feeling. I’m currently 30 weeks with baby No. 2 and I am just now considering cutting out deadlifts because the movement sends her straight into my bladder, which isn’t the most comfortable feeling in the world.
3. Warm up and warm up slow
Even in the first trimester when you’re feeling strong, your body is going under major changes. It’s tempting to jump up in weight quickly, but as ligaments stretch and hormones do their thing, slow and steady is key to avoid injuries.
I typically warm up with the bar for any given exercise to make sure nothing is feeling off and then I’ll add weight to get to my 50-60 percent (of my pregnancy one-rep max). If that feels good for four or five reps, I’ll continue adding five to 10 pounds for fewer reps until I get to the weight I intend to complete my sets.
4. Rest in between sets
Professionals used to recommend that pregnant women not allow their heart rate to exceed 140 bpm. That myth has been largely debunked, but you still need to aware of how your body is responding to each exercise and give yourself an extra minute or so to recover. If you lift heavy — truly heavy — you know that a little lightheadedness comes with the territory, but if you’re feeling dizzy during or after a set of five, you may be overdoing it. If this is consistently a problem, talk with your trainer and doctor.
Bonus tip: Know the difference between muscle soreness and legitimate pain. This may seem like a no-brainer, but so many people (pregnant or not) will muscle through discomfort to get that last rep or they will work out when their bodies would benefit from rest and revisiting their technique.
5. Technique, technique, technique
Pregnant or not, technique is key with lifting, but you already know that. When pregnant, be especially sure that the weight remains over your midline for squats. As your belly grows, you’ll have to adjust your stance to accommodate the baby. That means you’ll have to be more vigilant about where that weight is over the midline of your foot. When in doubt, ask a friend or a trainer to watch you lift to make sure everything looks right.