Strength training in pregnancy
The benefits of strength training in pregnancy
- It may help improve your balance and posture and reduce the chance of falling.
- It can ease pain in your lower back if you strengthen your stomach and back muscles. The NHS website has some stomach-strengthening exercises.
- It may help you manage your blood sugar levels if you have type 2 or gestational diabetes.
- It can help you get ready for labour by strengthening your muscles and building stamina.
Examples of muscle-strengthening exercises include:
“I had danced for several years and was worried I would need to stop when I found out I was pregnant. In fact, I was surprised how many benefits there were - albeit with modifications to the intensity and certain movements. My body told me when it was time to stop!”
Using weights safely
If you have used weights before, you may be able to carry on with some small changes. But if you are new to using weights, it is best to check with your midwife or doctor first.
Find out when to be careful about exercising during pregnancy.
Your exercise instructor or gym staff can give you advice about which weights are safe to use during pregnancy. Some instructors specialise in pregnancy exercises. Always tell them that you are pregnant before you start, even if you are used to weight training.
You could try weight machines or free weights, such as dumbbells, resistance bands and suspension trainers.
Remember to bend at the knees, keep your tummy muscles held in and your back straight when you are lifting anything.
There is no official guidance about how much weight is safe to lift during pregnancy. One person’s light weight can feel heavy to another person. To avoid straining your joints, use weights that feel light to moderate to you rather than heavy. Do more repetitions with lighter weights.
Tips for safe weight training in pregnancy
- Do not push yourself too hard.
- Keep cool by drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding hot exercise spaces.
- Do not hold your breath (known as the valsalva manoeuvre).
- Protect your back by having good posture when you are training. The NHS website has a video showing what good posture looks like.
- Protect your pelvic floor muscles by tightening them before you lift any weights.
- Focus on your technique rather than the weight and number of reps.
- Check your technique with your instructor.
- Be careful with free weights so they do not hit your bump by accident.
- If you are finding weight training hard, try using resistance bands or exercises that use your own body weight instead. Get advice from an instructor before using resistance bands and tell them that you are pregnant.
- Stop exercising if you feel faint, overheated or in any pain. Contact your midwife or doctor if you have any unusual symptoms.
Weight exercises to avoid in pregnancy
- Cross-fit type training, which involves lifting heavy weights in a timed circuit. If you have lots of experience of doing cross-fit, you may be able to carry on with some changes to your routine and support from your doctor.
- General circuit classes using bar bells and fast movements.
- Exercises that use heavy bar bells behind your neck after 12 weeks. You could use dumbbells instead.
- Using a single, large barbell to do deadlifts, clean and press, and upright rows, especially in the third trimester. There is a risk of the bar hitting your bump.
- Weighted sit-up exercises after 12 weeks.
- Abdominal rotation machines.
- Lifting weights while lying on your back after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.Instead, try the chest press and chest fly on an incline bench from 12 weeks and with a further incline from 20 weeks.
- Lifting weights over your head after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy as it may strain your lower back.
- Lying flat on your back after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- Bending at the waist after the first 12 weeks as it may make you feel dizzy.
Read about more exercises to avoid in pregnancy.
“I trained until the end of my pregnancy. I thought the day would come where I would have to stop, but I found adaptations or regressions I could make so I could keep going.”
- NHS. How to improve your strength and flexibility. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/strength-and-flexibility-exercises/how-to-improve-strength-flexibility/ (Page last reviewed: 18November2022. Next review due: 18 November2025)
- DHSC (2020). Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers’ report. Department of Health and Social Care https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-guidelines-uk-chief-medical-officers-report
- NHS. Exercise in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/exercise/ (Page last reviewed: 15 March 2023. Next review due: 15 March 2026)
- ACOG (2020). Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Committee Opinion Number 804. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2020/04/physical-activity-and-exercise-during-pregnancy-and-the-postpartum-period
- Skelton DA, Mavroeidi A. (2018) How do muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities (MBSBA) vary across the life course, and are there particular ages where MBSBA are most important? J Frailty Sarcopenia Falls. 2018; 3(2): 74-84.
- Yaping X, Huifen Z, Chunhong L et al. (2020) A meta-analysis of the effects of resistance training on blood sugar and pregnancy outcomes. Midwifery 2020; 91: 102839.
- Healthline. Is Weight Lifting During Pregnancy Safe? www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/weight-lifting-while-pregnant (Page last updated: 29 January 2021)
- NHS. Back pain in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/back-pain/ (Page last reviewed: 15 March 2021. Next review due: 15 March2024)
- Bø K, Artal R, Barakat R et al (2018) Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016/2017 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 5. Recommendations for health professionals and active women. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018; 52: 1080-1085.