Strength Training During Pregnancy

exercise pregnancy postnatal Dec 30, 2020


Strength Training for Pregnancy



Find out why strength training during pregnancy is beneficial and how to incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your workouts

Image source: FFS Gyms

Maybe you have recently found out you are pregnant or perhaps you are already into your second trimester; regardless of where you are in your pregnancy, congratulations!

Research by OB-GYN bodies around the world (ACOG, UKCMO, HSE) state that exercise during an uncomplicated pregnancy is beneficial for both the health of the baby and of the mother. Below are some of the strength training exercises that we do with our Small Group Personal Training for Pregnancy clients and members during their pregnancies.

Please note that it is recommended to always get signed off by your health care provider before beginning exercises, as is working closely with a pelvic health physiotherapist during and after your pregnancy.


Strength Training During Pregnancy


Your body’s changes during pregnancy.


Your body changes significantly during pregnancy; your breast grow, your growing uterus and baby cause your centre of gravity to shift forward which can tilt your pelvis forward, increase the downward pressure on your pelvic floor, and cause your shoulders to round forward. While taking a balanced approach to training muscle groups during pregnancy, there are some areas that take precedence; your pelvic floor and core*, upper back and posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings). Strengthening the muscle groups mentioned above through light resistance work will help support your body as it goes through these changes in pregnancy.

* By “core” we are not talking about the “6-pack abs”. Instead, we are referring to the deep central stability muscles that wrap around your entire core to support the spine and abdominal organs. These are your diaghram at the top, pelvic floor at the bottom, multifidus/erector spinae at the back, transverse abdominis around the sides and rectus abdominis at the front. These all work together as a unit to keep everything supported and happy. They are further supported by the glutes to provide a stable base for day-to-day movements and exercise.


How much should I train during pregnancy?


The World Health Organisation (2020) recommendeds that pregnant women partake in at least 150minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week and includes muscle-strengthening exercises. If you are new to exercise, start slow and build it up: spend 5-10 minutes walking and 5-10 minutes doing some assisted bodyweight exercises. You can build this up slowly adding 5-10minutes as you go until you reach the recommended minutes.

Depending on your fitness level and how you are feeling, I recommend 2-3 strength training sessions a week plus aerobic training sessions as this will allow you to build total-body strength and support your body through pregnancy but also get you strong for all of the post-pregnancy activities you will have to do - think bending forward to lift your baby, holding and feeding your baby, carry a changing bag while taking buggy out of the boot of the car, etc.


Some general guidelines for exercising during pregnancy


  • Mindset shift - just because you were training at 110%, 6 days a week before pregnancy doesn’t mean that is what you should expect from your body during pregnancy. Shift your mindset from hitting PBs to maintaining health and fitness for you and your baby.

  • Do what you can, take each day as it comes, and do what feels good

  • Exercises to 7/10 on the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion) during your second trimester onwards*.

  • Incorporate pelvic floor work and connection breath as much as you can.

  • Avoid supine exercises (lying on your back) after the first trimesters

  • Stay hydrated and cool - don’t overheat. Avoid exercising during excessive heat and high humidity.

  • The hormone relaxin will be kicking in and this can make your joints more relaxed and hyper-mobile.

  • Don’t bump the bump - avoid exercises that involve contact or a risk of falling.

  • Always stick with the advice given by your health care provider and be aware of the danger signs of when to stop

*WHO have recently updated their guidelines to state that ‘women who, before pregnancy, who engaged in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or who were physically active can continue these activities during pregnancy and the postpartum period”.

Below are some of the exercises, that I coach in my Small Group Personal Training for Pregnancy. I take into consideration how our clients are feeling that day, check in to see what feels good and what doesn’t; through open communication, my clients guide me as to what is the best exercise for them that day. Although women might train on their own while pregnant, I recommend that you carry out these strengthening exercises (along with moderate aerobic exercise and pregnancy-specific mobility work) with a trained professional, who can help guide you through the exercises, alternate the exercises depending on how you are feeling at that given day in your pregnancy, and answer any questions that you may have.




The importance of relaxing and strengthening the pelvic floor


As I mentioned above, it is very important that you incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your day-day-day life. Taking time to breathe deeply, let your pelvic floor relax and then gently lifting up though your pelvic floor not only helps prepare your body for supporting the growing baby but the act of taking time to sit, breathe deeply and relax has many psychological benefits too.

The relaxation part of this exercise is as important as the lifting and squeezing part. Some women have overactive (hypertonic) pelvic floors which means the pelvic floor muscles are ‘switched on’ constantly; learning how to breath ‘into’ the pelvic floor and relax is necessary for contracting maximally when needed. Once you have mastered the breathing and lifting below, this breathing can be incorporated into your exercises; you want to inhale and lift through the pelvic floor on the concentric (i.e. the harder) part of the exercise - think the standing part of a bodyweight squat or the pressing part of a pallof press.

         Source: Pexels


Diaphragmatic Breathing - Learn to belly breathe


  • Sit on a chair or bench, ensure good alignment by sitting on top of your sit bones and having your rib cage stacked over your pelvis.

  • Take a few breaths to start, relax into it.Place one hand on your belly and the other on the side of your rib cage.

  • As you breathe in, feel your belly relax and expand like a balloon. As you breathe out, feel your stomach deflate.

Pelvic Floor Connection Breath - Working on your pelvic floor exercises


The next step is to try to connect your breathing with your pelvic floor.

  • On the inhale, feel your belly relax and expand like a balloon and also imagine breathing down and into your pelvic floor, filling it with air.

  • On the exhale, imagine lifting your vagina and anus up.

  • Starting from the back, think about squeezing your coccyx to your pubic bone and lift up gently through the centre.

Once you have mastered this breath and the full relaxation/contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, you can work on adding in some holds at the top of the pelvic floor lift as well as short lifts. Work up to holding for 10 secs and being able to do 10 short squeezes.


Source: FFS Gyms


Impact during pregnancy - work with a pelvic floor physio


As you move into your second trimester, it is recommended to reduce high-impact exercises, such as running, plate hops, skipping, etc., as they can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction.

If you wish to continue high-impact exercise throughout your pregnancy, we strongly recommend working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist to make sure it is able to handle the increased load correctly.


Pregnancy Specific Strength Exercises



Strong Upper Back


As your breasts and uterus grow throughout your pregnancy, your centre of gravity shifts forward and it is important to strengthen the muscles of your upper back to help counteract that shift. To counteract this forward shift, you can find yourself leaning back in order to stay balanced and this puts a strain on your back. Strengthening these muscles as early as you can helps to make you stronger and more able to handle the extra stress placed on these muscles.

Exercises that target the muscles between your shoulder blades (traps, rhomboids) and external rotator cuff muscles, all help to balance out the forward shift of the shoulders as well as contribute to core stability and correct form when performing other exercises.

In my Small Group Training for Pregnancy in FFS Gyms, I incorporate a lot of rowing and pulling exercises for my pregnant clients; think banded seated rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, TRX Rows, band pull aparts, and cuban rations. Strengthening these muscles, along with the muscles of your shoulders (think overhead pressing and lateral delt raises), prepares you for the lifting, carrying and holding that you will do as a new mum.


Source : FFS Gyms




Just as the forward shift in your centre of gravity can be counteracted by a strong upper back, a strong posterior chain is equally important to help reduce symptoms associated with the forward shift of your pelvis.

So what do we mean by the posterior chain? We mean hamstrings, glutes, the muscles along your spine (erector spinae and multifidus) as well as your lats. These all work together to help us stabilise as we walk and they are the primary muscles that work when we hinge forward. A weak posterior chain, weak core muscles, and tight hip flexors are all associated with ‘lower crossed syndrome’, which is common amongst office workers who sit all day. This LCS can be exacerbated during pregnancy.

Exercises like Kettle Bell Romain Deadlifts, Hip Thrusters, Mini-band clams, Lunges, and Kettle Bell Swings will all help to strengthen your posterior chain. Not only will strong glutes and hamstrings help to balance out any lower back pain but getting a strong hinge pattern will come in handy for picking up your baby from its crib, popping open the buggy, and closing the car door with your hips while holding multiple items in your arms at once.





Of course, mobility and releasing tension in your body plays a huge part during pregnancy too.

Ensuring you get a decent warmup, with a mixture of self myofascial release, mobilisation exercises, and some light aerobic work is recommended to get your body ready for exercise. This along with a decent cool-down that targets areas which typically become tight during pregnancy (anterior shoulders and chest, lower back, glutes, lats) can help alleviate and release some of the muscle tightness in your body. Exercises like adductor rock backs and band dislocates are good mobilisation exercises, whereas a static adductor stretch or seated piriformis stretch are all great cool-down options.


Final Consideration for Exercising During Pregnancy


There are some exercises that should be avoided and it is always recommended to get sign off from your health care provider to exercise, especially if you have any of these conditions that can be contraindications to exercise during pregnancy.

If you experience anything unusual, stop and get it checked out by your HCP or GP.

Finally, it is important to work with a women’s health specialist and incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your daily activities to make sure your pelvic floor is strong and healthy.

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