© WavebreakMediaMicro / Adobe Stock
Health experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommend that women who are having uncomplicated pregnancies exercise regularly (1). Healthy pregnant women are encouraged to walk, run, do yoga, swim, or take exercise classes.
But what about weightlifting or training with weights during your pregnancy? Is that safe? Weightlifting–either with dumbbells or barbells or with weight machines–is an excellent way for non-pregnant women to help keep their bones strong and to build muscle while reducing body fat. But is it safe for pregnant women? A few years ago, a pregnant woman who is a regular weight lifter posted a photo online of herself lifting a 75-pound barbell. The Internet, as it so frequently does, went to town with comments praising her or strongly criticizing her. Was she exercising sensibly or endangering herself and her baby?
ACOG has guidelines about physical activity and exercise during and right after pregnancy (1), with a list of some activities that should be avoided. These include contact sports, activities that greatly increase your risk of falling, scuba diving, sky diving, and yoga or Pilates classes in very hot rooms. But weightlifting is not on this list.
Lifting heavy weights is known to momentarily divert blood from your internal organs, including your uterus and your placenta, to your muscles (2). It also can increase your blood pressure as you lift the weights (3), which can be an issues if you are having any blood pressure problems.
The basic answer is that moderate weightlifting and weight training are safe during pregnancy if you are otherwise healthy. The key here is moderation. If you have been weightlifting for years or are used to using weight machines two or three times a week, you can probably keep it up, but during your pregnancy gear your weight workouts toward maintaining your strength and muscle tone, not on increasing the amount you lift (4). A general guideline can be found here.
You should keep two things in consideration for any exercise program, including weightlifting or weight training. As your pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity changes. This makes it more likely for you lose your balance which can lead to a fall or a pulled muscle. Your body also becomes more flexible because of a pregnancy hormone called relaxin. Relaxin makes your ligaments and tendons stretchier as part of your body’s preparation for childbirth, but this also means you are more likely to pull damage a tendon or joint.
But all this information means nothing until you talk to your doctor or midwife and get his or her advice on weightlifting during your pregnancy. Even if weightlifting is safe for your pregnant gym buddy, it might not be right for you. Tell your health care provider about your exercise program, including information about what types of weights you lift (or weight machines you use), how much you lift, and how often you lift. If he or she gives you the go ahead, it might still be wise to ask a personal trainer who works with a body’s changes during pregnancy about your training routine and any modifications that you may need to make.
1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Committee Opinion: Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
2. Thapoung K. Is it safe to lift while pregnant? Women’s Health Magazine.
3. Mayo Clinic. Is weightlifting safe if I have high blood pressure?
4. Mallett T. Is it safe to lift weights during pregnancy?