Weight training during pregnancy: Lieke’s experience

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