Strength Training for Pregnant Women

  • The days are gone when a pregnant woman was advised to sit inside the house with her feet up eating bon-bon’s while she’s pregnant. They do so much more these days, importantly exercise. Doctors and women now know that during pregnancy, strength training provided numerous benefits for the pregnant woman and her baby alike.
    Pregnancy is the most crucial phase in a woman’s life wherein they go through a lot of physical and psychological changes throughout the process. The physical changes involve additional load of fetus, increase in body weight, change in body composition, hormonal changes, nutrition partitioning, genetic mapping and change in insulin sensitivity etc.The psychological changes involve mood swings, stress, anxiety, depression, food cravings (especially junk cravings) etc . Let’s get into stages of pregnancy and the changes induced.The entire pregnancy is divided into below phases:

First Trimester (Week 1 to Week 12):

This phase does not involve much of visible changes from outside but includes a lot of changes inside the body like hormonal changes, fetus development, nutrition sharing which lead to morning sickness, nausea, vomiting, tiredness and dizziness due to increased levels of progesterone, metabolism slowdown and other problems related to digestion.


Second Trimester (Week 13- 27):

During this phase, the changes start getting visible from outside. The fetus develops and the load increases on the body. There is an increase in pelvic pressure and to maintain joint stability, the mobility goes for a toss which leads to joint pains. Also due to an increase in body fat mass and muscle loss, the muscle and joints become weaker.

Third Trimester (Week 28-40):

This is a very crucial phase wherein the lady is mostly resting. The blood circulation slows down leading to swelling of ankles, face, hand, feet etc. There is also increase in bladder pressure, back-ache and joint pains. There is increase in secretion of relaxin hormone which relaxes the joints to prepare the body for delivery.

Promoting a healthier pregnancy and labor for the mother and the fetus is important. In recent times, doctors and training professionals discouraged any training regimens assuming that overheating or moderate exercise could harm the fetus. This idea appears to be slowly changing due to new research studies and data collection, which have  proven previous recommendations to have been overly conservative. Many researchers concluded that when taking a reasonable approach to strength training, exercise is safe for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. These reputable sources also suggest that there are potential benefits to infant health.

Now that we are aware of the issues a lady faces during the crucial pregnancy period, we would focus on the solution for the same.

When strength training is done correctly with proper observation and assistance, current data indicates that physically fit women who continue to perform weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy gain less weight, deposit and retain less fat, feel considerably better, have much shorter and less complicated labors and recover more rapidly in comparison to women who either stop exercising or who do not exercise at all. During labor many women report muscular aches on the day following the delivery. Prenatal resistance training can help decrease this muscular soreness in those cases.

Some of the benefits of strength training for pregnant women have been listed below.

• Increase in strength and muscle mass
• Psychological wellbeing
• Better sleep
• Better recovery
• Improvement in joint mobility
• Body burns more calories throughout the day
• Reduced chances of gestational diabetes
• Decreased chances of Pre-eclampsia
• Reduced lower back pain
• Easier and shorter labor
• Improved fetal development

So a planned strength training program and proper nutrition will aid a pregnant lady in a lot of things. A training program focused on maintaining the healthy activity levels involving basic strength training and mobility will help the lady avoid the most common issues.

Increase in strength and muscle mass :
Due to the additional load , ladies tend to restrict the activity levels which leads to weaker muscles. Strength training prevents this situation by strengthening/ maintaining the muscles which in turn helps in carrying the load of the fetus , better delivery and improved pain tolerance. It also reduces the chance of abortion and Caesarian by improving pelvic strength and increased core strength.

Psychological wellbeing:
Pregnancy is associated with mood swings, often leading to depression. Researches prove that women who perform moderate strength training had lower scores on a test measuring depressive symptoms during pregnancy and into the postpartum period in comparison with those who were not active at all. Strength training thus has profound effects on reducing anxiety. Strength training is as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate forms of depression.


Reduced chances of gestational diabetes:

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is the most common medical complication associated with childbirth, affecting up to 10% of the pregnant population. Physically active women who train throughout pregnancy show substantially lower rates of GDM. Slow metabolism is another reason that leads to higher chances of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Working out during pregnancy helps improve metabolism and insulin sensitivity, in turn, reducing the chances. This also helps in maintaining a good fetus health. The genetic mapping of the fetus begins during this period. Hence, the weight training also helps in improving the future condition of the baby.

Decreased chances of Pre-eclampsia:
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related disorder that causes maternal hypertension and edema. It can lead to seizure and cerebral hemorrhage and is one of the causes of maternal death. Women who are engaged in regular exercise have reduced chances of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension, with risk decreasing as the volume of exercise increases. This protective effect is because of the stimulation of placental growth and vascularity, reduction of oxidative stress, and/or exercise-induced reversal of maternal endothelial dysfunction.

Improved fetal development:
Strength training always has a positive effect on the fetus. Strength training increases blood volume, improves cardiac output and placental function, which in turn increases 24-hour nutrient delivery to the placenta, thereby improving fetal nourishment.

Easier and shorter labor:
Women who are physically active during pregnancy have a decreased risk of premature labor, reduced chance of cesarean delivery and shorter hospitalization.


Training Guidelines for Pregnancy:

– The Training Program should be designed by a trained Individual.
– Weight training should be done under expert supervision.
– Weight training should be aimed at maintaining health and not optimizing it.
– Right amount of calories and macros should be consumed to ensure there is no issue with the nutrition of fetus.
– Core exercises should be given more importance as a strong trunk will ensure safe and better delivery.
– Weekly 3 days of workout is good enough.
– Jerk movements should be avoided.
– Yoga is a good choice but acrobats should be avoided.
– Well hydrated throughout.

Apart from the mentioned benefits of Strength Training, the most important benefit is that, it avoids a lot of weight gain and it takes very less time for the lady to get back in shape and gain strength and mobility.


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Klebanoff MA, Shiono PH, and Carey JC. The effect of physical activity during pregnancy on preterm delivery and birth weight. Am J Obstet Gynecol 163(Pt 1): 1450–1456, 1990

Kinnunen TI, Pasanen M, Aittasalo M, Fogelholm M, Hilakivi-Clarke L, Weiderpass E, Luoto R. Preventing excessive weight gain during pregnancy—A controlled trial in primary health care. Eur J Clin Nutr 61: 884–891, 2007.

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