The benefits of light to moderate-intensity weight training have been shown to be beneficial during pregnancy, however there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty regarding moderate to higher levels of weight.
The two main reasons why strength training is ‘risky’ for pregnant women are both because of the ‘Valsalva manoeuvre’ used during this type of training that cause a rapid increase in both blood pressure and intra-abdominal pressure. This temporarily reduces blood flow to the fetus and the consequences of this temporary change are currently unknown. Secondly, the huge increase in intra-abdominal pressure from an additional weight places substantial stress to the pelvic floor, on top the already increased pressure from the growing baby.
In reality, there has been no significant research to compare these effects with the weight that is often lifted by pregnant elite athletes. So how much is too much?
Lucie Lamprey, our Women’s Health Specialist and Senior Physiotherapist at UFIT Clinic Raffles Quay, shares some guidelines for moderate-high intensity strength training during pregnancy:
Breathe! Making sure you never hold your breath during weight training – no matter how you previously lifted before pregnancy. Holding your breath and bracing means that the pressure either has to go up or usually down through that pelvic floor. Golden rule!
Pelvic Floor. It is essential that you are using your pelvic floor correctly with your breath, with your activities and that it is strong enough to cope with the strength demands of both the growing baby and the training. The muscles of your body are a team: train as a team, suffer as a team and win as a team. You are only as strong as your weakest link, so make sure it keeps up with you! So many people think they are doing it correctly but when checked - are not! If you are unsure or have never had it checked by a women’s health physiotherapist then make this the next appointment you make.
Caution with HR monitors and use the talk test. During pregnancy blood volume increases in by approximately 50% to accommodate the needs of both mother and fetus, as well as increased heart rate (HR) primarily caused by increased levels of gestational hormones in the first trimester. Throughout subsequent trimesters the heart rate is elevated to maintain blood pressure, which remarkable in contrast to the HR stays the same because of the wonderful modifications the heart and blood vessels make. Exercise intensity is consequently a little trickier to assess; the most common method of assessing your level of effort is using Borg’s ‘Rate of perceived exertion scale’ (RPE), which has been clinically shown to correlate with your HR during training. Though this can underestimate your effort a little during pregnancy, it is recommended to still use this and the ‘talk test’ – being able to maintain a conversation during activity.
Stay on both legs. There are many hormones that contribute to your changing body during this time and these cause the pelvis in particular to become sensitive to changes in loading. Common musculoskeletal complaints during pregnancy are symphysis-pubis dysfunction (SPD) or sacroiliac joint (SIJ) dysfunction and can occur to anyone for many reasons. It is possible that heavy loading through an altered load-transfer system may make you more likely to develop these problems. Additionally, balance is an important consideration during pregnancy. From the first trimester postural balance is affected and you are overall 2-3 times more likely to be injured from a fall than a non-pregnant woman. So, reduce that risk and stay on 2 feet.
Maintain, don’t increase. Particularly with heavier weights, it is important to set realistic expectations and perhaps change the goalpost. It is possible to maintain your strength training while you are feeling comfortable but most women find they have to significantly reduce their weight by the third trimester. If you have never participated in moderate-high level strength training before – now is not the time to start.
Adapt. As your pelvis, posture and centre of gravity changes, so must you. Alternative breathing, stances, techniques or exercise should be implemented to be successful and reduce your injury risk.
Listen to your body, not your neighbour. In a world where information is readily available there will always be conflicting information and someone will always have an opinion declaring that they know best. What is right for one person, isn’t for the next and what is right for you one day, may not be the next. You know your abilities better than anyone, so if you are feeling tired that day then you obviously don’t push as hard or even have a day off. However, if you are feeling great then you can certainly continue that strength training.
Guidance. This constantly changing time means that there are going to be adaptive techniques you may be doing without even realising, such as reverting back to old breathing techniques or shifting more to one side as it is more dominant. As always undergoing new exercise (the training may not be new but your body is) performing it under guidance is highly advised to ensure your safety and get the most out of your training.
As you can see, you do not have to shy away from moderate-high strength training during pregnancy if you can adhere to the above guidelines. Here at UFIT, we offer a holistic pre-natal program where we will assess you before putting you on a training program to ensure that you reap the benefits of strength training during pregnancy in the hands of qualified professionals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lucie has a B.Sc. (Hons) in Physiotherapy from the University of Southampton, as well as a Masters of Manual Therapy from The University of Western Australia. She has worked with a wide range of clients, including people who are new to exercise, those with pre-existing medical conditions, to recreational and competitive elite athletes.
She specialises in sports injury rehabilitation and injury prevention. Other areas of expertise include managing acute or chronic pre and post-natal conditions, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, and dry-needling for musculoskeletal conditions.