There’s no doubt that lifting weights during pregnancy can be beneficial. However, how much weight a pregnant woman can lift safely depends on her fitness level and how far along she is in her pregnancy.
“Weight-bearing exercises in pregnancy are the best workouts to maintain and build strong bones, increase muscle strength, control blood glucose levels, [and] improve cognitive performance. [They’re] important for overall health and wellness,” explains Sherry Ross, M.D., OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Some pregnant women are told to avoid exercises—including those with weights—because of certain conditions and complications. Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen. If you receive the green light, then you should be good to lift weights during your pregnancy. There are a few important things to keep in mind when you do.
How much weight a pregnant woman can lift depends on her fitness level.
“What you did prior to being pregnant will determine how much you should be lifting during pregnancy,” Ross says. “If you are a beginner to strength training, you can start with the basics, which include squats, lunges, pushes and pulls, and other simple workout regimens.”
A beginner could start with two- to five-pound dumbbells. An experienced lifter may be able to handle much more weight. “Avoid lifting big weights over 15 pounds unless you have the approval of your healthcare professional,” Ross advises.
Listen to your body.
Being pregnant puts you at higher risk of injury. Additionally, dehydration and overexertion put you and baby at risk for preterm labor. Although we can’t put an exact number on how much weight a pregnant woman can safely lift, you’ll probably know when you’re overdoing it.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a pregnant woman should stop exercising if she experiences:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Regular, painful contractions
- Leaking amniotic fluid
- Labored or difficulty breathing before exertion
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness that affects balance
- Calf pain or swelling
When in doubt, go light. “Using lighter weights will achieve the same goal of weight-bearing exercises without worrying about harmful complications,” Ross says.
Get help from a trainer.
Consider getting help from a professional when deciding how much weight you can handle. “You must have a properly planned strength training program created by an experienced personal trainer before you start weight lifting during pregnancy,” Ross says. “I would refer a pregnant woman who is interested in lifting weights to a personal trainer who specializes and is knowledgeable in working with pregnant women.”
Switch it up as pregnancy progresses.
The amount of weight a pregnant woman can lift earlier in pregnancy may not feel right in the second and third trimesters. Be prepared to switch up your routine to keep you and baby safe, perhaps by using lighter weights and higher repetitions.
“Pregnancy affects joint stability, balance, and coordination,” Ross explains. “Being mindful of these normal changes has to be taken into consideration when lifting weights. Your body positioning and mechanics must be secure, so you are not at risk of falling or hurting your back.”
Proper form and technique are very important. However, finding modifications that will prevent you from getting injured and keep your workouts challenging right up to the end of pregnancy—and beyond—should be a focus as well.