Can I lift weights when I’m pregnant?

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Professional female athletes aside, ordinary women who continue to work out vigorously during their pregnancies never cease to amaze me.

A kickboxing instructor I took classes with once was almost nine months pregnant and would put us all to shame because we couldn’t keep up with her!

Besides teaching a few classes a week, her regime was to lift weights thrice a week, and I’m not talking about light dumbbells, but heavy barbells and kettlebells.

She seemed unperturbed when we voiced concerns that she was pushing herself to the limit.

One day, right after class, her water broke, and she coolly walked out of the gym, called her husband and drove to the hospital.

Her labour wasn’t easy, but she delivered a healthy baby – her third child – the next day.

While there are several benefits to exercising during pregnancy, note that pregnancy is not the time to begin any high-impact activity or lifting weights beyond toning with light dumbbells.

Every woman’s body is different so if you have been regularly working out prior to getting pregnant and your physicians gives you the all-clear, you can resume your physical activities.

When it comes to strength-training, how much weight you should lift depends on your fitness level and how much you were lifting prior to pregnancy.

But pregnancy is not the time to strive for dramatic improvements.

As you progress into your second and third trimesters, the weights should get lighter as you will find it challenging to maintain proper form and technique.

Go for more repetitions using a lighter load and don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion.

Hormonal changes in pregnancy cause ligament laxity, which increases the risk of joint injuries.

As the abdominal muscles are stretched, they are not able to function efficiently, especially in their role as lumbar stabilisers.

With increased lordosis (arch in the lower back) and strain on the hip joint, your form may be compromised.

That’s why many mums-to-be experience back pain, even if they don’t do any exercise.

Additionally, dehydration and overexertion put you and baby at risk for pre-term labour.

Listen to your body and baby

When you lift heavy weights or do high intensity exercises, the muscles being activated will be competing with the foetus for glucose.

The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America cautions, “During pregnancy, carbohydrates are utilised at a greater rate during exercise, and fluctuations in glucose levels are larger, both of which may put the mother and foetus at greater risk of hypoglycaemia (carbohydrate stores are the foetus’ primary energy source for growth and development).

“Repeated hypoglycaemic episodes may inhibit foetal growth.”

Bear in mind that there is little evidence to support claims that prenatal exercise ensures a shorter, lesser painful labour.

But if you were trim and fit before, you’ll probably get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, tone and figure much faster after birth.

If you’ve never exercised before and want to begin during your pregnancy, start off slowly with walking and swimming.

Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.

For strength-training, stick to light dumbbells to strengthen your arms/shoulders and body weight exercises such as squats and lunges, to work on your lower body.

Avoid exercises that require lying flat on your back or on your stomach, as this can slow blood flow back to the heart.

Lying on your side or exercising on all fours is okay.

Modify whenever necessary. For example, perform push-ups in a standing position against the wall after the first trimester.

Also, avoid exercises where there is a significant potential for loss of balance, e.g. standing on one leg.

And gentle, static stretching is always recommended.

Never compromise on maternal and foetal well-being – stop at the first sign of discomfort or distress.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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