My Strength Training & Lifting Modifications In Pregnancy
If, we are the sum of we repeatedly do –
which is a fact that has been proven and proven over and over again… it is a hard pill to swallow to stop practicing, perfecting, drilling, enjoying exploring and building strength for 9 (plus- recovery & doc clearance) months during pregnancy.
And so, of course I continued my strength training routine, and never missed a workout (I’m 6.6 months in writing this), but my modifications have significantly increased, and in this post I want to share that experience and expertise with you.
lifting Modifications in Pregnancy
I am looking forward to writing a follow up to this post soon and in greater detail discussing what I call trimesters 0, 1, 2, 3 & 4, but for now lets talk about 1, 2 and a part of trimester 3.
Because, if you know anything about pregnancy you know that there are ‘three’ trimesters. And if you’ve been pregnant or are now you know how very different each of these stages are. As an example I was sick with nausea for most of trimester 1, but my body was still able to do most of the physical stuff I had been doing prior to getting pregnant. I took it easier of course, taking time not to ‘push through’ but to read my body, and I also never added loads, but generally, besides daily fatigue and a feeling on constant sea sickness my muscles felt the same as they always had.
By trimester 2 my daily sickness was gone (literally on the day), so it was a perfect time for a baby-moon as the energy that was drained from my body came back to me. Having said that, I was feeling the baby move by week 16, and I was feeling my own body shift in it’s priorities. I had to lessen loads and begin the long weekly journey of self evaluation and modifications.
At the third trimester, on the day, I had a great workout – the last one of its kind. Because just a few days later, when I was back to lifting so much had changed in my body. Your doctor will tell you that this is the growth spur time, when you literally wake up feeling stronger kicks and seeing your belly grow what seems like an inch over night. This is also the time of odd sensations, moments of fatigue and then energy, days of discomfort and others where you oddly feel like yourself. I am of course no where near the entire trimester, but just judging from the past 4 weeks I will say that the way I feel changes daily, and as exciting, confusing and challenging as that is, I am of course grateful for it.
How am I able to deal with this? Do I feel any back pain of foot swelling yet?
While I do think that women are incredibly resilient and we are born to deal with the discomforts and challenges of this very unique time in our lives I will say that training and getting my body super strong, as well as closing all of my gaps in my body (getting rod of weakness, pain, injury), helped me go through this very challenging time in the best physical capacity possible. As many women feel back pain, or weakness or swelling at this point, I am still ‘okay’ and nt dealing with any major symptoms outside of heartburn. I know this will change, but I do attribute a ton of this to building and maintaining a strong body prior.
Later, in a series of very detailed posts I am going to be what I call adding ‘trimester zero’ (the pre-pregnancy period) of time as a vital time for a mama-to-be to get on a fitness, health and especially strength training program. But basically, the very best thing I did was establish an incredible baseline for myself, after a traumatic winter I went into spring pushing myself in the smartest most progressive ways possible to attain in three months what I call ‘the BEST shape of my life’, much of which with strength training and conditioning.
As I mentioned- MUCH MORE more on this on soon.
Okay, onto lifting & modifications.
In this post I want to talk about my experiences thus far, and specifically address strength training and the many (very personal) changes, challenges, surprises and of course modifications I have encountered during my 1st, 2nd and now (month 6-7) beginning of my third trimester.
There’s a ton to say here, so I will after this of course also follow up on moths 7-9 during which period of time I expect much more to change, surprise and of course challenge me.
And, before we begin on my lifting experiences and modifications thus far PLEASE NOTE NOW that I am NOT prescribing exercise to anyone during this very delicate and personal stage. I actually do not in any way believe that anyone should while pregnant:
✔️START A FIRST TIME WORKOUT ROUTINE ; aka, start working out for the first time
✔️START A NEW WORKOUT ROUTINE OUTSIDE OF WHAT THEY WERE DOING PRIOR
✔️START NEW EXERCISES
✔️FOLLOW ANYONE ELSES PREGNANCY PROGRAMS (hence why I’m not doing my own) – unless you have an experienced, certified personal trainer who is customizing for you based on what you two have done prior to pregnancy
HOW TO USE THIS POST
I think you can use this post and others as an example of modifications that may work for you considering you have been exercising and doing a variety of these things prior to pregnancy.
So, let’s talk.
Besides an incredible 12 hours of manageable fatigue and virtually 16-24 hours of nausea my body was fine and felt good performing the lifts and intensities I had established prior. Sure, I just had to will myself despite the daily sickness to ‘DO IT’ and of course in martial arts I stopped sparring, holding pads and grappling, but on the fitness side I was just more mindful as the days turned into the first weeks of this new experience, incredibly few things changed until month three.
I DID HOWEVER stop loading more weight and took down some of my standard weight on deadlifts, squats and even overhead pressing almost weekly- based on my bodies feedback.
KEY THING: you have to lift prior to know how an exercise should feel. This way you can truly understand how that will change day to day and how you have to change with it, modify or omit.
ONE KEY THING even in trimester 1- as the Relaxin hormone entered my body I had to begin to lower certain loads, and be highly mindful of the fact that building more strength was no longer the goal- I’m building a human. At this point its physical and mental maintenance.
This hormone (do your research as most doctors won’t talk to you about it unless you ask) loosens everything in your body and leaves you at the mercy of far less stable joints and tendons that can easily tare if loaded improperly of simply if you’re
** KEY NOTE: if you were just pregnant (let’s say you are having back-to-back pregnancies) or perhaps you (like me) didn’t finish a pregnancy and then got pregnant four months after. The hormone is much more prevalent and lifting at your regular or still progressive loads can leave you much more vulnerable to twins and strains.
This thus far has been the most varied period of training.
While I started with typical loads and still doing dead-bug variations on my back and core strength I quickly had to lessen weight, almost on a weekly basis. Soon, by the last month, dead bugs with bands and other ab drills felt impossible – wrong muscles engaging, strain and simply just NO.
At four months (when we took our baby-moon) I was training pretty well and walking tons of miles daily.
By five months my pace was slower (I’ll do a separate post on ‘cardio’ & pregnancy), but everything just slowed down. Bigger rest breaks, more gasps for air, more time needed to recover even between lifts.
I also quickly had to take out exercises like hip thrusters (even just banded over the hip)- I do modify with banded Adduction (see below). Pull ups became non-existent and I started using what i will show you below; a modified suspension pull up from the floor and tons of inverted rows.
Squat load changed significantly, and back loading became a huge issue – at which point the depth of my squat became more and more shallow. Front loaded kettlebell squats are still fairly deep. .
How did I know when to modify or skip or change the exercise? my body literally let me know that it no longer felt right, hence the point of training prior and not starting any new movements when pregnant (you have zero reference) and when theres no reference you run the risk of hurting yourself or straining the baby.
Training prior and developing a deep understanding when something no longer feels ‘right’ or ‘why’ an exercise is no longer an option or must be modified is key. And a HUGE reason for why people should consider lifting prior (12-6 months prior at least). As you must develop communication with your body.
TRIMESTER 2-3 (late 2- early 3) Modifications
Every week squatting became more difficult and now w/ load it’s far more shallow, this week I could squat deep at all with a bar on my back.
Front loads feel better (see the picture with the front mid-racked kettlebell
Because I cannot lift as heavy, the bands (see below knee option is a great variation to engage and challenge without strain), you can also try the version above the knees – with are awesome. Key is to push the band apart on way down, not allowing the knees to buckle.
I love this ‘box squat’ with forward bench for bonus support variation when back loading – it has been a savior in the past weeks and helped me still do challenging squats in a safe way.
Just three weeks ago I had two 45 plates on a rack in a squat, this week- 25’s and I’m sure they will continue to lessen, but I am ready and excited for that and also the challenge of building back up after.
So, keep suiting – even if you just use body weight and the bands!
I was still placing two 45 pounds on each side of a long bar three weeks ago.
Last week I had to go to two 25’s
This week- 15 (that’s down to 75lbs)
My problem is that I can’t get ‘into’ and truly engage my glutes with low loads, so I added a band to my kettlebell deadlifts instead (see above, you look the long band through the top and stand on the corners of the band on each side. This truly emphasizes the essentric phase and getting those glutes to fire at the top and work hard against the band without heavy strain.
I urge you to try this variation if your deadlifts no longer feel good at certain loads yet not so challenging for the posterior chain in others.
Yes, you can loop a dumbbell.
I took barbell weighted hip thrusters out immediately after finding out I was pregnant.
Typically lifting really heavy on these I no longer felt safe loading on my hips and carrying a weight bar or any other weight on my hip area.
Instead I used bands across the hip for quite a while, but in month five that too began to feel ‘off’ so I modified with only hip abduction with a band around the thighs.
You can do these elevated (as pictured above) for the deep range of motion, or on the ground. Because many women no longer feel good on the ground with their backs on the floor I love this option.
Band up above the kees and as you come down, then up to the glutes (not back, so no over arching or reaching up) squeeze the glutes and push outward against the band.
If you are used to high weight, instead to high volume here (high reps) maybe 15-25 depending on your glute strength.
PULL UPS & INVERTED ROWS
Basically after working for 2 years to 7 pull ups- by the second trimester I felt like I couldn’t do even one without straining my abs.
Literally it felt like I was stretching the muscle and straining, so these became impossible.
However I really didn’t like the assisted options- using a machine or band was too simple and a flex arm hang wasn’t enough.
While negatives felt like too much too.
So, I like the suspension devises that allow you to pull the weight without hanging, and using your feet as much as you need, it no more.
I include a ton of invested rows (the first one being more upright then my usual for modification) and the second picture, using your one leg as a great modification to lessen the load of your body weight.
Also, try sitting directly underneath the suspension device and pulling yourself up in a more ‘pull up’ or ‘upright’ position.
PISTOL SQUATS & SINGLE LEG MOTION
I worked very hard to accomplish my first pistol squat, then after much time I was able to do 5, 6 even 8 to 10 a leg
Now – none.
But I want to maintain that mobility, movement pattern and train that strength (keep it) as much as I can
The TRX or any assisted suspension advise will take the load off while keeping the motion and helping you ‘use what you still can’
It is also ideal for anytime of single leg motions (single leg deadlifts, rear lunges, lateral lunges) where you feel you have no more control or stability or balance (that could be from the Relaxin hormone or the babies weight distribution)
Don’t under estimate using it!
Some Final Advise:
Be patient! This is a process and a journey and you (as i am now) will learn a ton from it. This will make you a better person, mother, athlete, teacher, mentor and example for others. ou will have your ‘come back’ moment and you will regain the strength you feel you have lost, and with that strength come back even stronger, smarter, more patient and wiser.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT PREGNANCY WORKOUTS made for the masses (general workouts you can follow & download)
Honestly- not into it AT ALL.
As a professional with a Masters degree in Exercise Science & as Pregnant woman- NOT AT ALL.
TO BE CLEAR:
✔️I think if you worked out before pregnancy, following your routine with gradual modifications is great.
✔️If you’ve worked out prior and now hav a certified & pre-natal or physio personal trainer training you – that’s great.
✔️BUT going in and following a general ‘pregnancy workout’ done by another pregnant woman (trainer or not). NO WAY!!!!!
I always thought that when I got pregnant I would film a workout for every trimester or even every month.
I mean I’ve filed 5 programs with 36 fitness DVDs that have sold and helped transform ppl across the globe.
I’ve filmed workout for @self @shape @about @womenshealth & more…
Once I did get pregnant I realized that (in my personal and professional opinion combined) it’s just too reckless.
LET ME EXPLAIN:
What I’ve learned is that our bodies are so different and while those differences are very general and still abide by the simple rule of kenisilogy and biomechanics and physiology when we are just ourselves, once there’s a baby on board- NOT SO MUCH!
things vary woman to woman- pregnancy to pregnancy in such a GIGANTIC scale that is mind blowing and humbling and VERY PERSONAL.
First and foremost, if you haven’t been working out, then this isn’t really the time to start (not only does the Relaxin hormone put your own body at risk for new motions, especially under load) but so do the movement you know and love. So your load and modification will vary greatly woman to woman.
Some women can still do a squat, others only without load, others not at all!
Aside from that, there’s the muscle engagement that seems to change and different woman to woman, PLUS the varied taxation on the body (no one can dictate load, sets or reps in this time and how gradually those can and should change but YOU). AND REST, even btw exercises, that changes so frequently day to day and woman to woman and trimester to trimester and pregnancy to pregnancy.
My greatest fear is that if we follow someone else’s routine in this time, we will undoubtably get caught up in their authority and prescription. We are always taught to ‘follow’ our trainers and push through. And our endorphins often mask signs during the workouts.
AND DO, no outside of pure references for you from my own journey on @fitbyDasha and sometimes on this Instagram,
I WILL NOT BE FILMING WORKOUTS WHILE PREGNANT. and I urge you all to continue your own workouts with modification during pregnancy and take nothing new or different on.
BUT— PIST PREGNANCY BACK IN SHAPE STUFF— yeh, I’m filming that!!!!!!!!!!