Pregnant and Weight Lifting? You May Want to Reconsider
I have to admit, I cringe a little when I see a pregnant woman in a CrossFit class. So, I'll tell you right up front - I'm biased. My prenatal yoga training taught me to embrace the changes a body goes through during these short nine (or ten) months, to slow down, to go inward and meditate and to allow the body to expand.
This article isn't about my biased opinion of how a woman should treat pregnancy, though. I was recently pointed to an article on Yahoo!, Should Pregnant Women be Weightlifting?, that I felt only scratched the surface of the issue. I want to take a second to address some considerations other than simply "resting when you're tired" during pregnancy.
Your Body Is Unstable
First and most importantly, you are at a far greater risk of injury to your own body when you are pregnant. Your center of balance is thrown off thanks to the increased weight on your front-side, and your body is pulsing with hormones that will additionally affect your stability. Most notably, relaxin is a hormone your body secrets to soften your muscles, joints and ligaments to allow for greater ease of labor.1 Your bones literally grow and space out during pregnancy, and you will feel more flexible and pliable during this period.
In a prenatal yoga class, we address this by encouraging the body to expand, but we surround the body with props to keep it from over-stretching. We encourage pregnant women to move very slowly into any athletic movement, as there is an increased risk of tearing a ligament. If you do lift, go slow. Be particularly mindful of any sensation of over-stretching in the pelvis and hips, as this is the area most affected by relaxin for obvious reasons.
You Risk of Separating Your Abdominal Wall
There is a fairly common condition known as diastasis recti whereby the abdomen actually tears or separates during pregnancy. The result is a little pouch in the belly, one that may never go away even after delivery. Roger W. Harms, M.D., explains, "During pregnancy, aggressive abdominal exercises after the first trimester also might contribute to the development of diastasis recti."2
In yoga, as soon as a woman finds out she is pregnant, a teacher will guide her to stop all abdominal exercises, including plank pose. If the belly can expand naturally during pregnancy, there is a lower risk of the separation, as incredibly strong abs can be a factor. In fact, many yoga teachers advise students to stop abdominal exercise as much as six months before pregnancy. You may think, "The stronger my abs before, the easier it will be to get them back after." Rather, it is easier to simply let that belly get nice and relaxed before and during pregnancy. You can always get stronger after!
For those of you thinking, "Well, I'll still lift but just not do core work," ask yourself - which lifts am I supposed to do without engaging my core? Most weightlifting requires a strong abdominal wall to prevent back injury, so even something like squats could potentially injure the abdominal wall.
You May Exacerbate Pregnancy Pains with Lifting
I've never been there myself, but from everything I hear, pregnancy is sort of a pain. The ladies who attend my prenatal yoga classes deal with flat feet, sciatica, low back pain, upper back pain (more notably after delivery), heart burn, and, of course, nausea. Each woman's experience is unique, but many of the symptoms are shared. Exercise can be a great way to ease these symptoms, but it is best to use exercises targeted to alleviate them.
Prenatal yoga classes specifically address the complaints women have about discomfort during pregnancy. As an added benefit, these classes will also address techniques for labor and delivery, bonding with baby and handling the emotional ups and downs of the experience. Another form of exercise most doctors recommend is simply walking. Weight lifting, though, is not designed to serve a pregnant woman's needs. As a result, some of the postures may actually make pregnancy discomfort worse.
Here are a few tips for exercising while pregnant:
- Never perform a deep twist during a lifting (or yoga) session when pregnant. As your baby grows, twisting will compress the belly, which can harm the baby. Even in early pregnancy, though, relaxin makes the sacroiliac joint (SI joint) less stable, which can injure the low back. Light twisting may be okay, but it is hard to control this if you are lifting.
- Avoid deep forward bends such as those required for deadlifts and cleans. Deep forward bends make sciatica worse, and because the body is so open, you risk tearing ligaments.
- Be mindful of repeated overhead arm movements as delivery gets closer. There isn't a lot of research out on this yet, but just Google "lifting and mastitis" to hear what moms have to say!
- Flat feet can become achy feet if not taken care of. In yoga, we place a rolled up blanket under the arches to keep the flat feet from aching later. If you're going to lift, consider getting some insoles to support your feet.
All things considered, I will not personally be lifting while I am pregnant. I will be exercising, enjoying lots of prenatal yoga, walking and hiking as I see fit. I will listen to my body and rest when I need to. One a very personal note, I have an autoimmune disorder that has prevented me from conceiving a child. Hopefully, it will go into remission at some point. My husband and I pray for the day we can finally start a family. This has made my desire to conceive, carry, and deliver a healthy baby even stronger. If this means I put certain things on hold for nine (or ten) short months, I will happily make that sacrifice. Pregnancy is an incredible time when a huge demand is placed on the body. There is no need for me to make that demand any greater.
1. What to Expect, "HPL, Relaxin, and Oxytocin."
2. Roger W. Harms, M.D., "Diastasis recti: How does pregnancy affect stomach muscles?," Mayo Clinic.
3. "Working during pregnancy: Do's and don'ts," Mayo Clinic.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.