Exercising and Pregnancy: How to Plan Your Strength Training Workouts

By Jessie Mundell

In Part 1 of this series, we concluded that exercise and strength training in pregnancy is a fantastic thing for you and your growing baby (with doctor’s clearance for exercise). Strength training will support your changing body, boost your energy, and have a variety of benefits for baby.

For me, women lifting weights in pregnancy is one of the most bad-ass things to watch. Pregnancy is such a powerful experience in and of itself.  Add in lifting, which conjures up feelings of empowerment, self-confidence, positive body image, strength building (physically, mentally, and emotionally), and it’s hard not be inspired by ladies who lift in pregnancy.

OK, so now you know going to the gym is fine, but what do you do there?

There are a few areas you’re definitely going to want to focus on and "spend your reps" on. One of the most important aspects of prenatal strength training is preparing the body to be able to carry a lot of additional weight through pregnancy, especially through the latter half. There’s going to be a lot more belly and boobs than one might be accustomed to, which is a significant amount of force being placed on the front side of the body. Your training will go on a journey just as you are.

Here are the most commonly asked questions I get regarding strength training in pregnancy:


1. How should I warm up?

In prenatal warm-ups I put major emphasis on stretching the hip flexors, opening the chest, working mobility through the hips and upper back, and activating the glutes and core.

I’ve put together a total body warm-up that will prep you for your strength training workout and will take 10 minutes or less. You’ll move better, be physically and mentally ready to lift, and be able to get into your workout with no time wasted. Find the full warm-up with videos here.

Also, if you don't normally foam roll or use other means of myofascial release, you must. This might be one of your saving graces in pregnancy. Working out trigger points (tight, cranky bits of muscle and fascia) in your glutes, upper and/or lower back, and in your hip flexors will really make a difference in decreasing your overall aches and pains. This article will tell you exactly how and why to do foam rolling.

2. What exercises should I do during pregnancy to prepare for labor/delivery?

During your pregnancy journey, the pelvis will be pulled into a more anterior, or forward, tilt. The posture becomes more kyphotic (rounded through the upper back), the abdominal muscles are overstretched, and the hip flexors can get very tight.

To fight this, we need to do a ton of posterior chain work, or exercises that build strength through the backside of the body. My must-do’s include:

  • pregnancy-strength-training-squat-with-band-350x350Squats: variations - bodyweight, goblet, dumbbell, barbell. Tip: think about spreading the floor with your feet to bump up the effort from the glutes.
  • Deadlifts: variations - Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell, sumo stance, conventional, rack pulls. Tip: Deadlifts will likely get uncomfortable further on in the second and third trimesters, so drop them or switch to a wider sumo stance then.
  • Glute bridges: variations - standard glute bridge (2-leg), single-leg glute bridge, standard hip thrust (2-leg), single-leg hip thrust. Tip: Make sure the movement is coming from the glutes to press you up, not through the low back arching to gain the range of motion. You'll want to exhale as you squeeze the glutes to lift the hips up.
  • Photo-2-Andrea-prenatal-lawnmower-row.jpgPulling: variations - dumbbell bent over rows (1- or 2-arm), cable rows from a variety of heights (1- or 2-arm), lat pulldowns, TRX inverted row, chin-ups and pull-ups (assisted or unassisted). Tip: Try to keep the rib cage pulling down gently and the abdominals engaged, so you’re not flaring the ribs upwards and letting the belly hang.
  • Body positions: variations - split stance positions, half-kneeling and tall-kneeling positions. Tip: In split stance or half-kneeling, tighten the glute of your back leg to feel a stretch through the front of your hip and thigh.
  • Core training: cat/cow, connection breath, farmer's carry, Pallof press, and other exercises that keep the spine in a neutral alignment. Tip: In your core exercises, avoid letting the belly bulge out, which will exacerbate diastasis recti.

3. What exercises should I avoid during pregnancy?

There are exercises that can do more harm than good in pregnancy. One typical “don’t” you’ve probably heard is to not lie supine (on your back) after the first trimester because the blood supply to the fetus might be compromised. This is not so strict of a rule anymore.

Generally, you can follow the principle that if you feel OK on your back and are not in that position for more than a couple minutes at a time, it is probably just fine to do your exercises from that position. If you do feel a bit lightheaded, just roll to your side, sit up, and breathe normally.

You want to avoid all exercises that put unnecessary pressure on the diastasis recti (DR). Even if it’s not present now, you don’t want to help your body create it. This means you need to stop doing crunches and sit-ups, and further into the second and third trimesters, you need to stop using the push-up or front plank position. These movements will put undue stress on the DR. Be careful of trunk rotation work (wood chopping) if there is DR present, as that can worsen it too.

Be cautious of high-impact work, such as running, jumping, or bounding. This is mainly because it will be highly uncomfortable as the pregnancy progresses, but also because of hypermobility concerns. As well, your balance might not be so spot-on and you might feel a bit out of control with movements that require you to react and move quickly.

4. Can I do cardio? Can I keep running?

Absolutely, you can keep up with, or add in, cardio — whatever that means to you.  To me, that means what Jen Sinkler coined as “lifting weights faster.” Basically, it’s not my thing to hang out on a machine and do thousands of repetitive foot strikes, ellipses, or pedals. If it is your thing, that’s totally cool. Keep it up!

Note from GGS: This is a great article on cardio from Jill Coleman of JillFit Physiques. Check it out!

That being said, let’s talk about the “R” word: running. Running is not directly dangerous to you or your baby, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe. Hear me out. The issue with running during later stages of pregnancy is that it can be incredibly difficult on your pelvic floor to support the weight of a baby through repetitive pounding, especially on a body that is lacking stability or proper postural alignment.

Remember how we talked about your changing posture and the core muscles being unable to support the body as they once did? That, combined with additional weight gained, means the pressure of the fetus in the bowl of the pelvic floor muscles doesn’t make for an optimal running experience.

Those pelvic floor muscles are essential for supporting your body’s organs, namely the uterus and bladder. This is a serious issue, as pelvic organ prolapse is more common than we tend to think.

Cross section of the abdomen. The pelvic floor muscles attach to the pubic bone in front and to the coccyx (tailbone) in the back.


And seriously, won’t it be totally annoying to have to plan your run to make frequent bathroom breaks along the way? Walk a ton, use metabolic resistance training, spin it out, and come back to the running postpartum with adequate recovery time. (We’ll save that talk for another time.)

5. How much weight should I use? What is “too heavy”?

Your mum and grandma might have been told not to lift weights or anything heavy at all in pregnancy, or if they did, definitely no more than 15 pounds total. Times, they are a-changin’!

This is completely dependent on you and your training experience with particular exercises. Generally speaking, the last 3–4 reps should be difficult but still allow for good form. Your strength levels will dictate this.

There is no upper limit if you’re comfortably and safely lifting heavy. If you’ve been deadlifting your bodyweight, can engage your core and pelvic floor, all while keeping great posture — kudos to you, lady!

You’ll likely have to reduce your loading for some exercises as pregnancy progresses. The belly might get in the way, or you just can’t get a solid abdominal contraction to lift heavy, or carrying the additional weight of the baby will be more than enough. This is your body’s way of protecting you. Respect that.

And with that...happy lifting in pregnancy!

Keep your pregnant and postpartum clients safe, healthy, and strong.

85% of women will have a baby at some point in their life. If you work with women, you work with pre- and postnatal women.

Whether your clients are currently pregnant or have already had their baby, they’ll have questions about everything — how to exercise safely in each trimester, which foods they should and shouldn’t eat, how to exercise the right way post-pregnancy.

And they’ll look to you for the answers.

That’s why we created our Pre- & Postnatal Coaching Certification: So current and aspiring professionals have the tools, knowledge, and confidence they need to help their pre- and postnatal clients navigate their health and fitness — both during and after pregnancy.

With the industry’s most extensive pre- and postnatal exercise, nutrition, and coaching certification available anywhere, you’ll learn exactly how to:

  • Answer your clients’ most pressing questions when they come to you for help
  • Keep your pre- and postnatal clients safe through every stage of their journey
  • Change the standard of care for women everywhere while creating a life and career you love

Interested in learning more? Join our free, no-obligation pre-sale list. 

Get all the details on how you can save up to 40% and secure your spot before the general public.

Make an impact. Build a thriving career. And join thousands of health and fitness professionals dedicated to changing the standard of care for women everywhere.

Don't miss out!

Enrollment opens August 6, 2024.

Get on the pre-sale list today to become a GGS Certified Pre- & Postnatal Coach.

We'll send you more info about the Certification, give you the chance to enroll early, and save up to $600 off the general price.

Enrollment opens only twice a year — spots are limited!

CPPC Pre-Sale (No Phone)

About the author:  Jessie Mundell

Jessie Mundell is a certified kinesiologist and a Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach, as well as an author and mother. She specializes in pre- and postnatal exercise and corrective exercise. Learn more about Jessie on her website and connect with her on Twitter.

More Resources

envelope-oclosechevron-upchevron-downbookmark-otwitterfacebookchainbars linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram