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.”
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.”
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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.