Belly Up to the Bar

You can stay strong throughout your nine months with this weight routine.

Weight-room regulars, listen up: There’s no reason to stop pumping iron when you’re pregnant. In fact, experts say, there may be plenty of good reasons to keep lifting almost until the day you deliver. “You won’t likely have as many aches and pains,” insists Melanie Cole, M.S., a certified personal trainer in Glencoe, Illinois, who designed the following routine. “You should have more energy while you’re pregnant, and maybe more strength to pick up your baby afterward.” Science has little to say on the specific subject of weight training during pregnancy. Even so, many physicians, and trainers like Cole, believe that a strength-training program—if done properly and modified to accommodate your ever-changing body—can make pregnancy more comfortable without increasing the risk of injury to you or your baby. A weight program may even counteract some of the shoulder and back pain caused by enlarged breasts and an expanded belly. Also, being stronger means that everyday activities should feel easier, now and after the baby is born. Exercise during pregnancy undoubtedly improves a pregnant woman’s mood—as working up a sweat and a nice dose of endorphins does for any exerciser. Despite fears, exercise has not been shown to endanger the fetus (see “Exercising Moms”). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t observe proper precautions. Don’t get too hot (work out in a cool environment, wearing cool clothing), and don’t strain yourself or put yourself at risk of falling. Be sure to read the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines, which spell out other specific concerns. Some women also worry about incurring joint injuries while exercising, because of the effect of the hormone relaxin, which helps relax the pelvic area from which the baby will emerge. However, experts have not found evidence of joint injuries to back up anecdotal observations.

Handle With Care Cole’s program can be practiced throughout pregnancy—with your physician’s approval. If you’ve never weight trained, however, you might want to wait until you’re postpartum before starting. Every pregnancy progresses differently. Any time you feel dizziness, nausea or an uncomfortable pulling in your abdomen, pelvis or elsewhere, just don’t do it. If you’re too breathless to talk, you’re pushing too hard. Also, pay attention to how you feel after each workout, and if you’re overly fatigued or notice a decrease in fetal movement, consult your doctor. Be aware, too, that some pregnant women get dizzy lying on their backs, even at a 45-degree angle. If you’re one of them, when you’re doing exercises on an incline bench, adjust it upward until it’s more comfortable for you. Your goals in the weight room should change when you’re pregnant. Rather than sculpting your muscles and pushing yourself to new heights, focus on maintaining your strength, perhaps using lighter weights and enjoying the movements more. “Usually you want to be intense and fired-up,” Cole says, “but now you want to be relaxed. None of these exercises should be pushed or forced.”

The Right Form While performing each exercise, breathe steadily and pay close attention to form. Remember that as your pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity will shift and you may find it difficult to maintain your balance while performing some exercises. Make sure you support yourself so that you can complete each movement properly. This routine combines machines and free weights. “Machines are good during pregnancy, because they help you with balance and control,” Cole says, “but free weights work with any body size. As your pregnancy progresses, some machines just won’t accommodate you.” The amount of weight you lift will depend on your strength at the beginning of pregnancy and how you feel during subsequent months. We’ve suggested a beginning range for each move; just make sure that your last few repetitions of each set are somewhat challenging but not overly difficult. Also, don’t be surprised if you have to drastically cut back your weights, especially in your last trimester: Most pregnant women find they must do so as they begin to feel less agile, coordinated and energetic. Savor this time in the gym; chances are, you’ll spend most of the next few months focusing on your baby, so use the weight room to focus on yourself. “My pregnant clients tell me that weight training makes them feel like they’re not just baby machines,” Cole says. “They feel like they’re doing something for their own strength and peace of mind.”