Baby Bumps And Barbells: How To Stay Fit When You're Pregnant
Interest in the topic of weight gain during pregnancy has ballooned. On a recent pregnancy blog, I noticed many women supporting each other in their unhealthy cravings and overindulgences.
In response to a picture of a heavy and pregnant Jessica Simpson, women wrote things like:
- "If you are worried about your weight then, really, what kind of mother would you be?"
- "If you're craving something when you are pregnant, you should eat it because the baby wants it!"
- "It's the only time in a woman's life where weight gain is acceptable; you can wear elastic clothes while you grow!"
As a personal trainer and fitness nutritionist, and as a woman who has very recently had a baby, this type of mentality saddens me. Throughout my pregnancy, I was eyed skeptically while I worked out. I heard, "Don't you need to put on some weight?" and, "Aren't you over doing it?"
I had to bring the woman who bore me to one of my doctor's appointments so she could hear for herself that my training and my healthy eating habits were not hurting her grandchild in the womb.
Because I took such good care of my body, my journey through pregnancy was a breeze. I dodged symptoms that normally plague overweight and sedentary women. I sit here today, a week after giving birth, in my skinny jeans. I have six weeks of rest ahead of me, but I'm at peace with it because I feel phenomenal!
There is little in the way of direction for pregnant women looking to stay fit. Most articles just throw in pictures of pregnant ladies holding a 5-pound dumbbell or smiling in yoga pants. There's a lot more to staying fit during pregnancy than just buying a mat a doing some stretches.
I'd like to share my knowledge and experience to help pregnant women stay fit and healthy-you AND your baby will be better off with diet and exercise. We should approach these nine months of carrying another human being with more care and attention than we would at any other time!
Training While Preggers
If you would like to remain or begin working out during pregnancy, begin in the practitioner's office. Find out first what you are allowed to do. The most common restriction is keeping your heart rate down.
My doctor told me to keep my heart rate below 140; that was problematic for me because I had to totally tone down my normal cardio routine. My running turned into trotting and became painfully boring.
I was relieved when it came to my weight training because I could basically continue my normal routine. I just had to make a few tweaks:
- Grab dumbbells that you would normally use for a 12-15 rep range and use them for an 8-10 rep set. You're still lifting hard, but not getting your heart rate up too high for too long.
- After the first trimester, stay away from lying flat on your back whether you are doing abs or bench press. The uterus could potentially compress the vena cava, which may result in a reduced blood flow, leaving you dizzy or nauseated.
- Sometime during your pregnancy, Relaxin, a hormone that loosens ligaments to prepare your body for delivery, will kick in like a feisty fetus. When you feel it, back off your heavier or more difficult free-weight movements and drift more to the machines for more support and safety.
- Take your jogging cardio to the elliptical to prevent hip or knee pain.
- Listen to your body. Adjust your workout accordingly.
Barbell Lunge (Smith Machine)3 sets of 12 reps
Eating While Preggers
It's a fact of creating new life: While you're pregnant, you're going to gain weight.
Here's Why: on average, women gain 7.5 pounds for the baby, 1.5 pounds for the placenta, 2 pounds for the amniotic fluid, 2 pounds for uterine enlargement, 2 pounds for breast tissue, 2 pounds for blood volume, 4 pounds of fluid in maternal tissue, and 7 pounds of maternal fat stores for an average total of 30 pounds.
To stay within that range, you're going to have to use some will-power and restriction. There's no need to satisfy every craving. If that were true, I would have spent my entire pregnancy eating Mexican food and frozen yogurt. Pregnancy does crazy things to your blood sugar, and it's your job to keep it regulated with healthy, clean foods, not Twinkies.
Talk to your doctor about your healthy weight gain. Choose a diet plan that will ensure that you're getting the proper nutrients without empty calories:
- Keep your metabolism revved by eating every 2.5-3 hours. Take advantage of the thermogenic effect, meaning the energy you expend digesting food.
- Though protein powder labels may suggest not using protein while pregnant, my doctor said it hasn't been studied or tested thoroughly. I found that protein shakes were my best friend! They helped me through some first trimester morning sickness and supplemented my lifting with good calories and lean protein.
- The National Women's Center of Health recommends eating an extra 300 calories during the last 6 months of pregnancy. Don't add empty calories! Three hundred calories is a half cup of oatmeal and one scoop of protein powder, not an extra cheeseburger.
- While a clean, healthy diet is important, it's unhealthy to be on a calorie-deficit diet during pregnancy. I'm a 5'9" figure competitor, and my clean eating plan comprised 2,000 calories per day: 185 carb grams, 170 protein grams and 62 essential fats grams. That might seem like a lot of food, but I was training and eating about 85% clean.
- Maintaining a good diet keeps your blood sugar from dropping and your waistline from getting bigger than it must. This will also put you on the right track for weight loss after your baby arrives. The healthier you are, the healthier your baby will be. My clean diet and exercise program helped me produce a 7-pound, 5-ounce baby. The chubby cheeks and rolls look amazing where they belong, on him, but not on the post-pregnancy mom!
Sample Meal Plan
All workout photos by David Bickley: www.davidbickley.com
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I have to agree with article! i was extremely fit before i was pregnant, and when i talked to my doc about how important it was for me to continue, she said absolutely! for the 1st trimester I continued doing everything as usual, by the 2nd trimester I focused on my arms. I started doing the stair stepper and ARC trainer for my cardio and legs. I found when i did my squats and lunges it would give me a different pain, so i stopped. the stair stepper is still good for the legs! Now for the 3rd trimester ill continue to focus on my arms and cardio. Listen to your body though! if you need a break, take one! no need to over do it and pass out. The only exercise i don't agree with listed above is the lying leg curls-its hard to lay on your belly when your preggers :)
As for diet. I stuck with my main diet plan. I did stop eating any red meat though (even though i only had it once a week). I didn't eat carbs before i was pregnant, but now if i want a sandwich ill have one. Not a loaded 12 inch sub, but a regular pb or meat sandwich. I rarely ever eat sweets, fast food, or anything bad. If your on a certain diet plan, stick to it.
As a personal trainer I knew you didn’t have to stop working out, or eat obnoxiously. I searched for workout plans, but realized my was just fine. Remember every women is different and the weight the gain will vary. At the end of my 2nd trimester now ive gained almost 30lbs already. At 5’9 and starting weight of 129lb the doctor reminded me that it was ok, and healthy.
Good luck to all the mommies-to-be! Remember, if you’re determined, you will lose that weight and get back into your pre-pregnancy body! One more trimester until we meet our little man ☺
I agree with you - but why didn t you eat carbs before you were pregnant?
Thanks for bringing attention to this subject... I wish more women would! I am pregnant for the second time. My first pregnancy I continued doing my cardiovascular activities, but neglected hitting the weights to my own detriment. After having my son, it didn't take much time to lose the weight (maybe two months), but my muscle tone was shot and it was like starting from scratch. This pregnancy I have continued to lift, what I am capable of lifting, and I am confident that I will be back to being skinny AND muscular much quicker this time. If only there were more articles for pregnant weight lifting enthusiasts...
I am so glad I read this article, I am still working on getting the body of my dreams but my husband and I have recently decided we want another child. Its just good to know I dont have to give up the weight lifting.
I think this article is great. I worked out through 6 pregnancies I just never saw a reason to stop, but I wasn't supported by my doctor with this decision untill my last 2 pregnancies at 38 and 40 years old!
This is great to know. I knew there was something about keeping the heart rate lowered when exercising, so I'm glad you mentioned that. This is good info as I hope to start trying to have a baby in January.
I recently had a miscarriage early in the first trimester, but at the time was searching and searching for information on this topic! I bought a book, but it basically was only telling me to take walks and lift those dinky 5lb weights. I'm so happy to have read this article, and will certainly keep this in mind for the next go around!
I completely agree with this article and wish I'd had it when I was pregnant 9 years ago! I continued to lift weights during my entire pregnancy, and really feel that contributed to a mostly comfortable pregnancy and easy labor. However, my eating habits fit into the typical menu of overindulgence. I gained 40 pounds and really think it changed the shape of my body more than if I'd stayed leaner. For me it was my glutes that took the biggest hit, which was a huge surprise, since most post-pregnancy fitness advice focuses on getting the abs back in shape.
First of all, I want to thank you for your article. I am five months pregnant with my first, and I hear all the time how it's okay to eat this, give into that craving, don't work too hard....
I just wanted to comment on one teeny tiny thing... when I read "Because I took such good care of my body, my journey through pregnancy was a breeze. I dodged symptoms that normally plague overweight and sedentary women." I started to cry and feel like a failure, because my pregnancy has been hard. I had horrible morning sickness for the first 22 weeks (I'm talking puking over 40 times a day). I got heartburn, PGP, and even Braxton Hicks contractions early and hard core (the Braxton Hicks started on a week-long canoe trip - thankfully I had my pregnancy book with me, or I might have used the sat phone for an emergency evac!). Most recently, I am trying to move my little girl off of the sciatic nerve she is sitting on, which sends sporadic pain spasms down my left leg.
Before I was pregnant and at the beginning of my pregnancy I was doing a 5 day split with weights, and cardio 6 days a week. Now I've cut back to a 3 day split, with 3 days of running and 1 or 2 workouts on the stair stepper. I walk my dog every day, including my rest days. I've already run one half-marathon this pregnancy, and am doing a second in a few weeks.
I have only modified my diet slightly to accommodate my little one - the pregnancy was a surprise, and I was carb cutting for summer until I realized I was expecting, so I upped carb intake a bit. I also let myself have 2 indulgences : I have vanilla almond milk instead of unsweetened almond milk with my protein shakes, and I eat lots of grapes (I want them and Cheezies all the time lol)
Meanwhile, my sister and my sister-in-law are both extremely sedentary, and spent their pregnancies (2 each) lazing around and eating Doritos, yet both had super easy breezy pregnancies.
So, I just wanted to point out that taking care of yourself doesn't guarantee an easy pregnancy. I think it certainly decreases your chances of experiencing nasty symptoms, but a lot of what you experience is beyond your control. For any other expectant moms out there who are having rough pregnancies, just keep at it! It doesn't mean you are necessarily doing something wrong, and all that work will still be worth it when you fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes right away!
Again, I really appreciated your article. Lots of great info in there! Thanks so much! :)
The line "Because I took such good care of my body, my journey through pregnancy was a breeze" is misleading and somewhat insensitive.
You're ignoring that you did not suffer some pregnancy symptoms that are hormonal and genetic- that befall even some of us that are in the best of shape. It's easy for you to attribute your easy pregnancy to your lifestyle, because you've never experienced the debilitating nausea and chronic fatigue that befall a good portion of very highly active healthy pregnant women.
Brilliant article, it is vitally important that this message gets out there and the old tradition of putting pregnant women in a bubble is ceased! The guidelines for heart rate have actually been revised. As blood volume increases during pregnancy, and every woman has a different maximal heart rate it does not make sense to have one number for all. It is now recommended that you should be able to talk while exercising, or feel "moderate" on the perceived exertion scale. I attend boot camp with very good friends meaning I generally don't shut up during any exercise (we have lots to talk about)! As I wear a heart rate monitor, I know I can easily carry on a conversation at 170-180bpm! However, I have a maximum heart rate of 205, much higher than average, so I therefore can allow my heart to beat faster. It's really all about oxygen and if you feel like you aren't getting enough, your baby isn't getting enough either so slow down until you catch your breath.
I'm interested in knowing if I could exercise at 170 as my max heart rate is 205 as well (I use a HRM)... Where are these revised guidelines? I'd love to take a look :) thanks for the info!
I liked this article, it contained the kind of info I was looking for. I just wish it included more sample workouts, I am having a hard time finding strength training workouts for the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Unfortunately, if you had checked out the ACOG guidelines you would have seen that the 140bmp heart rate thing is a guideline from 1995. These have been updated twice since, more recently in 2002 and today's standards allow pregnant women to do much more, especially if they already were very active.
This is exactly what i was looking for. I've been working on loosing weight before i found out i was pregnant again. This will help me to not gain more than i need to gain during this pregnancy. I want to start back were i am and not at where i began at 185lbs.. that was hard work to loose and i rather continue from the 169... Thanks so much for the article
Need some more advice. I'm 19weeks with my 4th baby. This is the first time I've wanted to train while pregnant. I've worked hard to get back after baby number 3 and want to make it a little easier this time especially as I'm already now weighing 161lbs. Any advice warmly welcome. I'm struggling to find much online other than advice to swim and do yoga.