Weight training during pregnancy: Lieke’s experience

August 1st, 2010  |  Published in Pregnancy and postpartum, Women stuff  |  18 Comments

Regular site reader Lieke shares her experiences of weight training during pregnancy.

Besides having to live through loads of crap and well-meant advice during my pregnancy, I could say I’m probably a statistical anomaly where typical pregnancy ailments and age risks are concerned:

  • I’m 40
  • I’m (strictly speaking) overweight
  • This is my first

All the above are elements that could have seriously hampered my chances of success in getting and staying pregnant. So why do I feel great?

Apart from an admitted possible genetic disposition towards easy pregnancies, I mainly blame training and good food for that.

I’m not going to yap on to you about how beneficial weight training can be, pregnant or not. Current research has already had enough to say about that, and you wouldn’t have gone on reading this far if you didn’t think there’s some truth in it anyway. Besides, you can find more on this subject elsewhere on this site.

I’m into month seven now, and still training 4-5 times a week, using mainly free weights, and experimenting with what feels right as my insides get turned inside out over the months.

How weight training’s benefited me

I try to make objective regular self-observations regarding benefits for me of weight training, actively keeping my weight training and physical condition up to scratch and observe how I feel from day to day, as there is so little research material to compare my results to.

For example, I consciously focus on my back staying strong, and I definitely find that I am not developing a typical arched sore pregnancy back as my belly grows, one of the major problems many pregnant women experience.

I double checked this and other practical points at an otherwise fun birthday party last weekend where (oh horror) 5 other pregnant ladies in the age-range of 35-40 years old and pregnancy month 4 to 8 were comparing ailments ranging from back pain, leg/knee pain, indigestion, sleeplessness, nausea, flatulence and tiredness to hormonal fluctuations with the range of Mount Everest.

None of them trained or even touched a free weight with a stick in case it might bite them.

They were very surprised I couldn’t relate to any of their woes (which made me feel like a freak, a very happy one that is), and even the hormonal fluctuations thing was discredited by my sweetheart. Admittedly, sweetheart knows what’s good for him in any case, but I tend to believe he was telling the truth, as he was visibly gloating while casually mentioning it to all the other washed out and desperate looking daddies-to-be.

What I do

Here are some of the exercises that I’ve personally found comfortable and do daily without discomfort. I would not recommend most of them for beginners, but they could be an inspiration to those who could get some help in figuring out what fits the well-trained bump.

Some articles argue that using machines instead of free weights is preferable when pregnant, and advise women not to do squats and avoid free weights. Arguments (among others) are that machines would be safer and keep you range of motion in check, and your abdominals inert. Leg extensions would keep you balanced better than squats.

I personally don’t get this point of view at all. I do use machines if useful, but prefer free weights where I can exactly because they give me the opportunity to find my best balance without being squeezed into a certain position.

I saw some real gems while doing some extra internet research. One suggested doing “hyperextensions for lower back“. Ladies, just look at the mentioned picture and imagine yourself doing this with a watermelon attached to your front. ‘Nuff said. And how about some “bent over shoulder laterals“? Why? HOW? Medicine ball prehistoric crunches? AARGH!

If you want to use some of the below exercises, but are not sure about proper execution, weight to use or are unsure if the exercises fit your actual level of physical condition, err on the wise side: ask your OB and/or PT whether you should/could do them and get somebody to spot you if you feel wobbly or unsure at first.

General rule: use lighter weights than you would in a non-pregnant state.

Some obvious do’s and don’ts (some out of the Duh! box):

  • don’t start a new strenuous exercise program when pregnant and untrained
  • don’t experiment with some new training wonder thingie you saw on TV
  • don’t overtrain; listen to your body
  • don’t go on a weight-loss diet when pregnant
  • don’t let other people’s comments keep you from training
  • do eat regularly and go for real food, not crap
  • do consult your physician and PT
  • do listen to your body
  • do have fun when training
  • do take the time to recover

The list below is not exhaustive. There’s so much else you can probably do, but it’s a start. I’m not getting into training schedules or how much weight to use either. Alternate, combine, in short, don’t get bored: just go for it. And above all: Have fun!


  • Split squats weighted or unweighted, wide(r) stance
  • Any type of squats that feel comfortable, weighted or unweighted, wide(r) stance
  • Deadlift


  • Lat pull-down wide grip
  • Lat pull-down reverse narrow grip
  • Dumbbell row
  • Advanced: Pull-ups, which will probably change to assisted pullups as you gain weight (see: Mistressing the Pull-up)
  • Push ups (if comfortable)


  • Kettlebell pick-up
  • Side bend weighed
  • Farmers walk, try: one hand loaded, both hands loaded with equal or dissimilar weights (e.g. 20 pounds right hand and 30 pounds left hand).
  • Plank variations


  • Military press, seated or standing
  • Dumbbell side raises, standing or seated (on medicine ball)
  • Dumbbell front raises, standing or seated (on medicine ball)
  • Barbell press, hands 90 degrees (like lifting a baby, something you will probably do a lot in the coming few years, so best be prepared)
  • Dips
  • Biceps using dumbbells


Walk, swim, bike, cross-train, whatever. Jogging or running I cannot honestly recommend as I find it uncomfortable (wobble, WOBBLE, burp…).


Do stretch if you feel like it, but be careful not to overstretch as your ligaments loosen up during pregnancy (although, to be honest, having a fairly muscular build myself, I don’t really notice it myself).

  • Back stretches
  • Leg stretches/hip stretches
  • Calf stretches
  • Shoulder/arm stretches
  • Front of chest stretches


  1. Recommended reading: Weight training during pregnancy – Lieke’s experience « Clwb Heb Enw Fitness Coaching – Movement & Variety says:

    August 2nd, 2010at 12:05 am(#)

    […] any kind of expert, so if you know better, please let me know).  But I just read this blog post (click here to read it) about one ladys personal experience of weight training during her […]

  2. Paramjit says:

    August 5th, 2010at 4:52 am(#)

    That is a very refreshing view coming form someone who had had first hand experience. I was also impressed by the lack of symptoms that you had as compared to the other pregnant mothers. The exercises you mentioned are really the full range of strength training exercises but I guess the thing to remember is to go light on the weights. Enjoyed your article very much.

  3. Lieke says:

    August 5th, 2010at 5:08 am(#)

    Hi Paramjit,

    Glad you liked it!
    I wouldn’t say going light on the weights is the best thing to do. I prefer using somewhat lighter weights according to my personal strength level. So I do no maxing out on weight any more, but for me it’s no problem to go up to 80% (as long as it’s ok healthwise and feels right). E.g. I changed from heaviest squat sets to split squats (weighed or not) to get some of the weight of my neck as it just didn’t feel right any more.

    Just experiment (in a sane way!), but don’t go pink (weights) on yourself!


  4. Carol says:

    August 7th, 2010at 3:33 pm(#)

    Hi Lieke!

    Thanks for the article! I’ve got to say I agree with everything written…..and I’m not usually one to do that!

    I am a CrossFit trainer and gym owner and about 4 months along. I have had all kinds of support from my husband and gym members in keeping up my training through pregnancy. My symptoms have been so incredibly minor that I keep waiting for all this pain and agony of pregnancy to kick in (I have had to battle fatigue which I am not used to, and I realize I still have quite a few more months before I can say “PHEW! Glad I made it through that without any strain.” But overall, I’m feeling great and giving all the credit to my training.).

    Anyways, I left the name of a website that has been helpful to me and seems to be in line with the advice and experience you talk about in this article. I will say that I met a gal that started training and 3 weeks later found out she was pregnant. She was able to advance in her strength and stamina even through pregnancy with this type of training. So, while I agree that preggers shouldn’t get into an overly intense training program, they also shouldn’t let themselves off the fitness hook just because they’re pregnant. Get that body movin’ for that baby!

    Thanks again!

  5. Leela says:

    August 25th, 2010at 9:34 am(#)

    Right on! My experience was very similar to yours in that I didn’t have back or knee pain, and no hormonal fluctuations to speak of; also no indigestion and no nausea past the first trimester. I did a pretty similar workout regimen to yours: Xfit Mom plus dancing. It only got bad in the last few months, because my belly was HUGE and began to put a strain on my lower abs and inner thighs, and made walking tough. My adductors are still weak. Even so, my back never hurt. And in the final week of pregnancy, when I was supposed to get that big rush of “nesting” energy (and I swear to god, I wanted to smack every person who told me I was nesting every time I wiped down the counter or washed a cup), I instead got a wild urge to exercise. I did lose my mind around 8 months from other discomforts, but that’s another story, and exercise was the thing that kept me sane.

    Labor itself is notoriously unpredictable, but I credit working out with helping me to have a relatively short and uncomplicated one. Twelve hours from the first contraction to her first meal in my arms, most of those hours standing straight up, one hour of pushing (and I gave birth to a screamingly healthy 9.5 lb girl, with no drugs or surgery). I hope that you have a similarly fast and easy labor!

    One piece of advice (probably) unrelated to fitness: You might have to be a total bitch in that delivery room. Be fierce if you have to be! You have the strength and power and no one should push you around on that day.

    Thanks for publishing this – I’m going to forward it around to my pregnant friends. Despite all evidence to the contrary, people still fear exercise when pregnant. It’s so good for you and the baby!

  6. kettlebell weights says:

    October 25th, 2010at 4:03 am(#)

    This is a really refreshing article that you put together here and thank you for a great read.

  7. Weight Lifting for Women says:

    November 4th, 2010at 4:04 pm(#)

    I really appreciate your insight into this. My family history has been to lose pregnancies very easily, so it has made me cautious of trying to carry while working out (with weights). I thought I would be one of those women that had the incline on the treadmill hiked up to 10 for 30 mins of walking every day and that would be my workout! Ha!

    Nice to know that you were able to continue on with your weight training and feel great during the pregnancy. Thanks!

  8. Brittany says:

    January 14th, 2011at 10:11 pm(#)

    Thanks for sharing this! I think more pregnant women need to stay active or become active. I have two children, and I have exercised through both pregnancies. I lifted “heavy” with both of them as well, lowering my resistance weight only during the last few months of pregnancy, though I did alter some moves to remove pressure from my joints.

    I have several friends who are close to my age who had children around the same time that I did. As you had mentioned in your friends, mine, too, suffered far more discomfort during pregnancy than I did, and, universally have had far more trouble getting back into shape post-baby than I have.

    I find it hysterical when women look in awe at mothers who regain their pre-baby body shortly after delivery and act as if it must just be “genetic.” No, ladies, it’s not because they were blessed by some almighty power! It’s because, if you exercise and eat right, you don’t have to work that hard to get back to where you were once the baby is born! And because you are in better physical shape by having an active pregnancy, you can enjoy your new baby much more because you have greater stamina and strength!

    Remember, years ago, women foraged, farmed, and sometimes hunted when pregnant! Pregnancy is a natural state that does not require you to completely alter your way of life or active level (unless, of course, you suffer some extenuating circumstance or illness)! Embrace it!

    Once again, it’s so great to hear others talking about the benefits and joys of exercise and health while pregnant! :)

  9. Anna says:

    January 19th, 2011at 6:05 am(#)

    Hey Lieke,
    good to read this and good luck with the rest of your pregnancy! I weight trained through mine too and am convinced that it’s why my pregnancy was so easy. I did my last proper pull-up at 6.5 months and my last proper push-up at 8.5. One thing that became an issue was diastasis recti which meant that I had to reduce the weights by a lot towards the end – you could really see abs contracting in the wrong position otherwise. Apart from nausea and tiredness in the first trimester, I had no symptoms in my pregnancy until about a week before my due date.
    I had a horrible long labour due to a narrow pelvis and various other issues. My OB/GYN told me a few hours before the end that it would be either a c-section or ventouse/forceps. After 37 hours, it was a straight delivery and he said he was amazed by how strong I was. I was back to my normal weight 2 months later. Now if only I had time to get down the gym more often, I might get my abs back!
    Best of luck,

  10. Elizabeth says:

    May 31st, 2011at 7:19 pm(#)

    I’m not sure if you’re still reading comments, but (1) THANK YOU for sharing your experience, and (2) do you have any citations that back those particular exercises up as being okay? I’m asking because that looks almost exactly like what I’ve been doing – as far as weights, I still like running! – and previously when I asked my midwives about exercise, they said that whatever I was doing pre-pregnancy was fine, as long as it feels comfortable. It does feel comfortable and I’ve felt great this pregnancy, and so I’ve kept it on up. We talked about my specific routine today at my 24 week appointment and they want me to stop deadlifts, squats, lunges, and anything else that requires me to brace my torso for balance/support immediately, as bracing the torso forces the baby down further in the pelvis and can lead to pre-term labor. This doesn’t make sense to me, as I assume pooping is still okay but doesn’t fit this rule, but they were pretty insistent and told me that they really don’t want for me to hurt the baby. They’re okay with me using light weights for exercises that isolate upper body muscle groups (preferably on machines, but Barbie bells are acceptable), and with cardio and yoga… which I’m honestly not happy with. I’ve been searching through PubMed tonight and can’t find anything about this specific concern or about heavy weights, but I could easily be missing key terms. I’d greatly appreciate any insight you have. :)

  11. Sarah Young says:

    June 4th, 2011at 11:55 pm(#)

    @Elizabeth: Have you asked you midwife for evidence of this as she should be praciticing evidence based care. My father is a midwife (been one 40+ years) and my sister is training to be one here in Australia. I asked my dad and he said he’s seen no evidence regarding this and it wouldn’t be something he would recommend against. Admittedly this is not a research article just somthing based on his experiences. His exact response was actually, “what a load of crap.” Interestingly he also told me that the exact trigger for labour is unknown they know certain actions can bring it on in some cases and factors that play a part but just not exactly. Either way I would ask your midwife for justification other than the “you don’t want to hurt your baby” guilt-trip.

  12. Lorrie says:

    July 2nd, 2011at 10:53 am(#)

    I’m so happy to finally read some useful information about exercising while pregnant that isn’t “walk for 30 minutes a day”. I discovered your website in my early 20’s and lifted for about two years before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The fatigue associated with MS made it difficult, sometimes impossible, to keep up with my workout routines and it all slowly fell by the wayside. A 30 minute workout didn’t energize me. I just felt like I needed a 2 hour nap afterwards.

    Now in my second trimester, the MS symptoms have abated and I finally have the post exercise rush that I used to love so much. I’m walking 1.5 miles each night, swimming water aerobics three times a week and am slowly building up my weight training again. I listen to my body, back off when I need to, eat right, and all that jazz. I can’t tell you how how wonderfully happy I am to finally feel like ME again.

    Thank you for having such an informative and well researched website.

  13. Danyelle Stubbs says:

    October 12th, 2011at 2:29 am(#)

    So nice to finally find some fit mums! I managed to keep training through the nausea, and so glad I did too, as now I have kept some semblance of fitness. At 4 and a half months I’ve felt my lower back turn to moosh so no more loaded squats….just listening to my body and adapting as I go along. People are really shocked when I tell them I’m still training….one person even told me they found it disgusting watching pregnant women working out! Let’s see who’s disgusting when they’re trying to get they’re pre preggers body back, I say.

  14. Kirsten says:

    January 26th, 2012at 3:45 pm(#)

    You have no idea how much of a God send this article was to me! I am 22 and about 7.5 weeks pregnant. Before I found out about baby my husband and I were bothing completing a strenuous powerlifting regimen (he is competing in March, I am not) and being strong is something I really enjoy. Needless to say, when I shared our wonderful news with my family members the first thing out of everyones mouth was “No more weight lifting”. I felt so depressed. I couldn’t see myself spending the next 9 months walking slowly on a treadmill and slowly losing strength and muscle mass. My Doctor hasn’t been very helpful in this aspect either (She refuses to see me until I’m 10 weeks pregnant). So I started doing some online research and I realized there is not much information on this subject but I was so glad when I found this article! It gave me so much hope and excitement! Do you have any other suggestions for blogs or forums I could join for more information?

    Thank you so much for your help! Now my pregnancy doesn’t feel like a death sentence for my training!

  15. Jan says:

    February 13th, 2012at 10:35 am(#)

    LOVE THIS! I am about 7 months pregnant, and not only am I the only girl lifting at my gym, I am the only pregnant girl lifting at my gym. And when I say “lifting” I mean, not sitting around using the free weights as accessories while I talk to my friends..(Even more annoying when you are pregnant) I also, like you, find that I am not experiencing any of the same symptoms my friends are (Swollen extremities, back pain, joint pain). I normally run about 2 miles at a 10 minute pace. There is truly something really empowering about being pregnant and being able to workout “harder” than people who are not pregnant. It really makes me feel good about myself and keeps away the pregnancy blues!

  16. Maggie says:

    April 4th, 2012at 2:38 pm(#)

    I wish there was more sensible information like this article availabe on the Internet.

    I have had to make a few modifications (no more push ups or pull ups due to round ligament pain) but I am still able to dead lift and squat at 21 weeks and I don’t feel I will be stopping any time soon, I have to take longer rest periods but other than that it’s all good.

    I am doing more machine exercises that I used to however since I am not trying to increase weights on my main lifts and I still want to feel as if I am improving. Performing movements that I don’t generally do is allowing me that opportunity to improve.

    I am not suffering from any pregnancy related physical complaints up to this point otehr than the round ligament pain which has subsided in the past week or two.

  17. Lieke says:

    April 16th, 2012at 7:29 am(#)

    It’s great to see that you all find this information useful. The traditional bias against training and weight lifting while pregnant is still omnipresent, but both experience based and science based data are indicationg that regular “real” exercise and even strenuous exercise during pregnancy are very beneficial for you and your baby.
    So go for it and have some fun!

    PS: I’m 5 months pregnant again and though I’ve been tired this time during the first trimester, I now feel so well that I’m actually making effortless progress in my weight lifting (in stamina, not in piling up the pounds). Hurray.

  18. Amanda says:

    July 30th, 2012at 2:40 am(#)

    I lifted my whole pregnancy till the very day my son came out. All the same lifts my numbers went down of course. And around 37 weeks I started a bit of pelvic pain probably from pushing myself a little too hard. Anyways I popped the sucker out in 4 hours, he was my first too and it was an unmedicated water birth. It was awesome and hardcore! I was already in decent shape and I’m 25 but that was my experience. I don’t think it would be half as easy if i hadn’t worked out and I can’t imagine not doing the same thing the next time around!

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