Strength Training During Pregnancy

Many women choose to continue their strength-training program while they are pregnant to maintain muscle strength and endurance. Weight training is beneficial for pregnant women, providing the strength needed to compensate for posture adjustments and weight gain that occurs with pregnancy. Most pregnant women can continue or even start a pregnancy strength-training program, as long as her program doesn’t cause pain or increased muscle discomfort.

Pregnancy strength-training is safe for both mother and fetus as long as the following guidelines are used:

  • Pregnant women can continue their pre-pregnancy weight-training program, but should closely monitor their physical response to exercise and modify or eliminate exercises that cause pain or increased muscle soreness.
  • Women who are starting a strength-training program during pregnancy should use a weight level that allows for 10-12 repetitions without excessive strain. One set of 10-12 repetitions, 2-3 times a week is sufficient for strength gains for beginning weight training. Weight amount can be incrementally increased as the repetitions become easier.
  • Modification of weight training exercises (such as dropping down in weight level or repetitions, or adjusting positioning to make room for an expanding tummy) may be needed as pregnancy progresses.
  • If strength training causes muscle soreness during pregnancy, reduce weight amount, not repetitions.
  • Monitor exercise technique carefully by mirror observation or supervision so proper form is maintained. Improper lifting techniques may aggravate back problems and increase soft tissue injuries.
  • Avoid maximal static lifts. They may cause a sudden increase in blood pressure, and cause the person to use a valsalva maneuver (occurs when a person holds their breath and bears down). Maximal lifts may place extreme stress on the lumbar spine and other joint areas. Pregnancy can create added stress on these joints and increase the risk of injury when they are overloaded.
  • Eliminate back-lying positions (such as a bench press) after the first trimester of pregnancy.
  • Eliminate equipment such as belts that wrap firmly across the abdomen.
  • Strength training machines are generally preferred over free weights because they tend to require less skill and can be more easily controlled. Resistance bands provide a safe and inexpensive alternative to weights and equipment.
  • If a particular exercise continues to cause pain or discomfort after modifications are tried it should be discontinued.
  • Pregnant women should always discuss their fitness program with a healthcare provider to make sure it's safe.

About the Author: Catherine Cram, MS

Catherine Cram is the owner of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting, a company that provides pre- and postnatal fitness certifications and information to hospitals, health & wellness organizations, and the military. Cram earned her Master's Degree in exercise physiology from San Diego State University. Cram speaks regularly at health and medical conferences and has been featured in articles on maternal fitness. She is the author of Fit Pregnancy for Dummies, published by Wiley Publishing in July 2004, and contributing author of Women's Health Care in Physical Therapy: Principles and Practices for Rehabilitation Specialists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2008). She is a maternal exercise consultant on the websites and She produced a training DVD for the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing on the effects of bed rest on pregnant women and was featured in a University of Wisconsin Outreach Education video on postpartum recovery.

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