When I found out I was pregnant with my son, Max, I decided to continue powerlifting as normal. At that point, I had been powerlifting for about three years and a certified personal trainer for about six. I was comfortable and confident in the gym, and I knew what my body could handle. Max is my second child. While pregnant with my daughter, 6, I lifted and hiked often, but I was not into powerlifting yet. Still, I understood the benefits of continuing to exercise. She was born full-term, perfectly healthy in an unmedicated vaginal birth. So when I found I was pregnant with my son, I had the personal experience to know that my body could withstand exercise while growing a tiny human. I also knew that I needed powerlifting to cope with stress and stay mentally healthy.
I competed twice during my pregnancy—once at 14 weeks and once at 18 weeks. I chose to wear my belt up until after that meet at 18 weeks, at which point my growing belly became uncomfortable in the belt. For me, that is what felt best, and I always suggest moms consult their care provider if they have any concerns. After the meets, I continued to lift beltless. As baby grew, I naturally decreased weights, though still maintaining heavy deadlifts well into the third trimester. My squats had to scale down quite a bit due to tightness in my hips, but for the most part, my strength maintained.
I think some of the biggest benefits of lifting during pregnancy come in the ease of labor and delivery and recovery. My son’s labor was only about four to five hours, with the actual pushing stage lasting only minutes. It was another unmedicated vaginal birth, and while it was exhausting (having babies is the biggest “meet day” of your life!), I was still up and walking around shortly after. In the first six weeks after having him, I did mostly bodyweight exercise because I did not have access to a gym. My body healed from childbirth quickly, though,
There is no secret formula for how much a woman can lift during pregnancy. Every woman and every pregnancy is different. I highly encourage women to seek out care providers who are educated on the benefits of prenatal exercise and who do not subscribe to old myths like pregnant women cannot lift more than 20 pounds or cannot get their heart rate above 140bpm. I also encourage every woman to do her own research and to make the decision to lift or not lift based on what is best for her and her baby. My experience of powerlifting during pregnancy was phenomenal, and I would 100% do it again.
The following is a list of 10 benefits of exercise during pregnancy:
- The heart and circulatory system. The body requires more blood during pregnancy. Many women have a difficult time adapting to this need and it can cause numerous unwanted symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, and waves of sudden fatigue. Women who exercise regularly, though, can often better cope with these symptoms.
- Maintaining a healthy weight gain. Pregnant women are advised to gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. A recent study by the CDC shows that over half the pregnant women in the United States gain too much weight during pregnancy. By exercising, these numbers can be cut down.
- Shorter, smoother labor. Increasing your cardiovascular endurance will allow your body to better handle the pain and exhaustion that comes from labor. In addition, when you feel strong in the gym, you’ll be more confident in the delivery room of your strength.
- Healthier babies. Studies show that babies born to exercising moms are born with a lower body fat percentage, and this can continue on through childhood. That being said, exercising during pregnancy could lead to less heart disease and childhood obesity.
- Reduce your risk of gestational diabetes. It has been noted that exercising during pregnancy can reduce your risk for gestational diabetes by up to 27 percent.
- Beat constipation. Constipation is a common symptom associated with pregnancy. When you exercise regularly, you can get your digestive system moving and alleviate it.
- Faster recovery after birth. This one seals the deal for me. A strong, healthy body is going to bounce back after the delivery much better than a sedentary, overweight one. You’ll get back on your feet sooner, and chances are, you’ll lose those pregnancy pounds quicker as well.
- Stress reduction and emotional stability. The hormones during pregnancy can make a woman feel on edge and stressed, and pregnant women also have a higher risk of depression. Regular exercise produces endorphins, which creates feelings of happiness.
- Improved posture. All that extra weight from your growing belly and boobs can wreak havoc on your posture and cause shoulder and back pain. Exercise can strengthen your back and core to help carry the load and improve your posture.
- Better sleep. Women who exercise during pregnancy report less insomnia than those who don’t. Every second of sleep counts during those months before baby arrives.