Strength training in pregnancy

Find out about the benefits of strength training in pregnancy, how to weight train safely, and which exercises or equipment to avoid when you’re pregnant.

What are strength exercises?

Strength exercises are activities that strengthen your muscles. They include the use of weights, swimming, walking uphill, yoga and even digging the garden. They will improve your muscle tone and build stamina, which will help you during labour.

Other activities that strengthen your muscles include using the stairs, working with resistance bands and using free weights or weight machines.

The benefits of strength training in pregnancy

Using weights and doing other kinds of strength exercise during your pregnancy will help you:

  • avoid aches and pains as your bump grows
  • strengthen your body for labour
  • prepare for all the lifting, carrying and pram-pushing you’ll be doing after your baby is born.

How should I use weights safely during my pregnancy?

If you can, include body weight exercises in which your weight provides the resistance, such as push-ups, pull-ups, as well as squats and lunges.

Weight exercises to avoid in pregnancy

There are some weight exercises that are not recommended when you’re pregnant, so it’s very important to talk to an expert at your gym or fitness centre before you get started.

For example, you should avoid:

  • cross-fit type training, which encourages the use of lifting heavy weights in a timed circuit.
  • general circuit classes using bar bells and fast movements
  • exercises that use heavy bar bells behind your neck after 12 weeks (use dumbbells instead)
  • deadlifts, clean and press, and upright rows, as there is a risk of the bar touching the baby bump – these exercises need control correct technique, correct knee and shoulder alignment – but in pregnancy this is difficult
  • weighted sit-up exercises after 12 weeks
  • abdominal rotation machines.

Read about more exercises to avoid in pregnancy.

Whether you’re used to weight exercises or not, always remember to tell the instructor you’re pregnant.

There is no specific guidance about the weights you should use while you’re pregnant – 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. A good rule of thumb is that you should do more repetitions with lighter weights.

Ask your instructor or the gym staff if you’re not sure which weights or machines you should use.

Top tips for safe weight training in pregnancy

  1. Don’t over-exert yourself or strain too much.
  2. Avoid lifting weights while lying on your back after the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. Exercises to strengthen the chest and arms, such as the chest press and chest fly, can be performed on an incline bench from 12 weeks and with a further incline from 20 weeks.
  3. Be careful lifting weights over your head in the last three months. Don’t use heavy weights, don’t hold your breath (known as the valsalva manoeuvre) and consult gym staff about technique. Swapping to front shoulder raises and lateral raises to shoulder height is preferable.
  4. It’s common sense but be careful with free weights. You don’t want them hitting your stomach by accident.

Which areas should I concentrate on in pregnancy?

The areas to concentrate on strengthening in pregnancy include:

  • your hamstrings
  • your quadriceps (front thigh)
  • your gluteal muscles (buttocks)
  • your ankles
  • your upper back (rhomboids, trapezius and posterior deltoids)
  • the deep abdominal muscles of the transverse abdominis
  • your pelvic floor.

Breathe easy

Make sure you don’t hold your breath when you’re lifting weights – your body needs oxygen while you’re working out. Holding your breath can also lead to an increase in blood pressure, which is not good for you or your baby. This is known as the Valsalva maneuver. It disrupts blood flow to the uterus. It also raises intra-abdominal pressure causing undue pressure on the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.

What are resistance bands?

Resistance bands are stretchy bands that you pull in various positions to exercise different muscle groups. There’s no chance that they will fall on your bump so they are a safe alternative to free weights. They come in different strengths – some are easier to pull against, some are harder. As with weights, always seek advice from a trainer before doing exercises using resistance bands and tell the gym staff or class teacher that you’re pregnant.

 Download and print your weekly exercise goal plan

More about exercise and pregnancy

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    Most types of exercise are fine even if you are overweight. Being active during your pregnancy is safe and healthy for you and your baby.

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    Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), also known as pelvic girdle pain (PGP), is a fairly common pregnancy condition. It is caused by the way pelvic joints move during pregnancy. It can make exercise more difficult but there are things you can do.

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    Is it safe to exercise in pregnancy?

    Yes it is. In fact, if your pregnancy is uncomplicated, it is safer to exercise than not to as it brings down the risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

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    Exercise FAQs

    Frequently asked questions about exercise in pregnancy, including what exercises to try and which ones to avoid.

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    Pelvic floor exercises

    Doing pelvic floor exercises regularly will help prevent you accidentally leaking wee when you cough or strain, both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.

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    These simple pregnancy-friendly exercises don’t take very long to do and you can fit them into your everyday life, at work or at home.

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    When to stop exercising in pregnancy

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  1. NHS Choices. What are strength exercises? (Last review: 31/05/2016. Next review: 31/05/2019).
  2. RCOG (2006). Exercise in Pregnancy: Statement No. 4, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. 
  3. ACPWH (2013). Advice for Physiotherapists and Other Health Professionals: Fit and Safe to Exercise in the Childbearing Year, London, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy/Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health.
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    Last reviewed on July 31st, 2018. Next review date July 31st, 2021.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Oct 2018 - 11:22

      Hello, I have been doing crossfit for approx 5 years. I am just 5 weeks pregnant, do i have to stop or is it ok as it is just carrying on as I have been? I am reluctant to stop? I enjoy it, it keeps me physically and mentally fit? Thanks (anonymous as not announced yet!)

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 22 Oct 2018 - 16:40

      Yes, continue for as long as you feel well enough to do so. A recent retrospective study using data from 'parkrun' showed that continuing with exercise when pregnant was not harmful to the baby and had positive benefits for the mothers. This is great news for those of us encouraging healthy living and for you to enjoy your Crossfit. Just check out our advice on what exercises to avoid on

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 23 Oct 2018 - 16:17

      Thank you so much for replying - it's bit lonely when you're early on, haven't announced it and haven't had your first appointment yet! No one to talk to (apart from hub, but he's a clueless as me!!)

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 23 Oct 2018 - 16:26

      You're welcome. You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram and we like to post pregnancy updates to help keep you motivated. Enjoy!

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