Safe Kettlebell Workouts For Pregnancy

Not just the latest exercise trend, working out with kettlebells is a great way to build strength—but is it safe during pregnancy? One fitness expert weighs in.

The Perfect Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell workouts aren't just trendy—they're also efficient, offer great physical results and can help you achieve major strength gains. But are kettlebell workouts right for pregnant women? According to one expert, they are – but as with any kind of workout, there are a few caveats.

"If you have never used kettlebells before, pregnancy is absolutely not the time to start," certified personal trainer and women's health specialist Garnet Henderson tells Fit Pregnancy. "Your body is undergoing major changes, and you are likely to become more fatigued more quickly, so it is not the time to learn new, complex movement patterns. If you've never used them before, wait until the postpartum period to try kettlebells."

Sounds like a warning to stay away from the 'bells when you're with child? It's definitely not. Many workouts shouldn't be attempted for the first time during pregnancy and kettlebell exercises are among them—but there are alternatives like dumbbell, resistance band and cable weight training. If you're used to kettlebell training, it could be a great plan of action during your first and second trimesters, and even your third if you're in great shape (you can likely use the same weight you were using before throughout your first trimester).

Pregnant Woman with a Kettlebell Elina Manninen/Shutterstock

"Kettlebell workouts are great because they are efficient. Kettlebells are a resistance training modality that also challenges your stability and balance, two components of training that many people neglect. Stability and balance are especially important for pregnant women to maintain because the physical changes during pregnancy can lead to balance issues. The fast, dynamic movements in kettlebell training also add a cardio component to your workout," Henderson, who has led pregnant clients through kettlebell workouts, says.

Regardless of what stage you're in, some modifications might be necessary.

"Many kettlebell moves are power-focused, meaning that they are fast and explosive," Henderson says. "These kind of moves are rather high in intensity, and most pregnant women should limit their exercise to low and moderate intensities. If you feel tired, give yourself extra time to rest and decrease the amount of weight you are using. Starting around 15-20 weeks, make sure you modify your workouts to avoid any movements that involve twisting or lying directly on your back or stomach. In the second trimester you will need to start decreasing the weight you use and the intensity of your workouts."

Do you (and your doctor) think you're up to the challenge of continuing your kettlebell workouts throughout your pregnancy? If so, you can give Henderson's effective kettlebell globe squat a shot:

  • Stand up straight with your feet hip width apart. 
  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands at chest height. Elbows should be in by the rib cage, not lifted up to the sides.
  • Hinge the hips back and bend the knees to squat down like you are sitting in a chair that's slightly behind you. 
  • Squeeze the butt to return to standing
  • Make sure you keep the shoulders back and down, and your back flat. It is tempting to slouch when holding the weight in front of your chest. Keep the bellybutton drawn in toward your spine the whole time to support your lower back.
  • Do 1-3 sets of 12 repetitions at a slow, controlled tempo. If this is a new exercise for you, start with the lightest kettlebell you can find (usually 6 or 8 kg) and you can adjust from there.

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