Strength Training, Pregnancy, and Motherhood
My wife gave birth to our son, Julian, seven months ago. She continued to strength train during her pregnancy and has continued to do so since.
During that time she, along with every other woman who has gone through the joyous albeit intricate and painstakingly “what the **** did we do?” reality check that is having a baby, had to sort out her own unique levels of anxiety, trepidation, and circumstances when it came to exercise.
Below she discusses her experience and sheds light on some common themes many women juggle with and are curious about during their pregnancies.
[ALSO: Lisa is one of 16 contributors to the Pre-and Postnatal Coaching Certification…the new certification course offered by Girls Gone Strong. Today, and for a limited time only, you can register to join the PRE-SALE list and save $200 once it becomes available. It’s really, really good.
It’s not lost on my I’m a little biased, but if you’re a fitness professional and you work with women – which is all of you – then I’d highly recommend giving this a look.]
Strength Training, Pregnancy, and Motherhood
As a lifelong athlete and strength training enthusiast, I looked forward to the changes and challenges that training throughout pregnancy would present. I had not heard or read about what training was like for other pregnant women, so I was not sure what to expect from myself.
Fortunately, I have been strength training in one way or another since high school, and working with a world-renowned strength coach for the last eight years – so I felt confident about taking good care of my body and modifying strength training as needed.
(Disclaimer: for those readers who may not know, my strength coach is also my husband, and my husband also happens to be the person who’s site you’re reading right now…Tony Gentilcore).
I am happy to report that, overall, pregnancy agreed with me.
I was able to continue my habit of strength training four days a week at 5:30am, and teaching indoor cycling classes on weekends.
In hindsight, the most important factor that contributed to my strength training throughout pregnancy was having a supportive, flexible, competent strength coach. Although at times I could logically understand the importance of listening to my body when it needed a rest, and staying in bed instead of training when I felt exhausted, sometimes that didn’t feel like the right thing, in the moment.
I needed to dial back training the most during the first trimester, due to feeling exhausted and nauseous.
Note From TG: Here’s a video of Lisa during her 1st trimester performing an “easy” movement day at BU which consisted of some change of direction work and “tempo” (70% effort) sprints.
As I write this, it sounds perfectly reasonable! But at the time I wondered if I was being lazy, thinking to myself, “I’m not even that pregnant yet!”
Being able to communicate with my trainer about how I was feeling helped me to take days off when I really did need it. And that helped me to keep going. I never injured myself, I always felt that my training was supporting my body and my pregnancy, and I consistently felt enthusiastic about training, because I wasn’t dragging myself there when I felt wiped out or sick.
When I “made it” to the second trimester, I felt significantly better – the sickness went away as well as the fatigue.
Although I thought I could continue to train just as I had before I was pregnant, it felt much different at the gym. I could still exert myself to the same intensity, but I needed modifications on exercises that required lying prone, or on my back.
In addition, my balance was a little off, and I was more clumsy than usual. My trainer was always right on top of this. Thanks to us working closely together, I stayed consistent with training, strong at the gym, and safe with modifications to my favorite lifts and exercises.
NOTE: To coincide with the release of The Pre-and Postnatal Coaching Certification, Girls Gone Strong has also released a few FREE reports. One of which delves into body confidence and the bevy of changes, emotions, and anxiety women often must cope with pre and post pregnancy.
The Get Your Body Confidence Blueprint can be downloaded by going HERE.
Band Assisted Chin-Up (w/ Natural Progressive Overload)
24 weeks pregnant and still getting after it on her chin-ups. Had Lisa perform 1 rep every 30s for 8-10 sets. Using “natural” progressive overload to our advantage…👊 Once things got too challenging we brought in the band for accommodating assistance. It IS possible to still strength train when pregnant. It all comes down to prior experience and listening to your body.
Preggo Friendly Hip Thrusts
I continued feeling pretty fabulous throughout the third trimester, and trained all the way to the day I went into labor. I was a little more tired and slow-moving, but it felt great to strength train. My trainer and I spoke about how I felt and how work outs were going on an almost daily basis, and it was reassuring to know that I would go into labor about as fit as I could possibly be!
Lisa will be 35 weeks pregnant tomorrow. Forget the idea that we’re quickly approaching the “shit is now getting real” window and that I’m equal parts excited and trying not to destroy the back of pants. How cool is it that Lisa’s still getting after it in the gym? Strength training through pregnancy can be a tricky thing and I always default to how the woman feels and whether or not anything makes her feel weird. Prior experience plays a key role here. In Lisa’s case: 20+ years of strength training prior (and the load used in this video – 155 lbs – is no where near her 1RM). All that said I do find there’s still a lot of stigma with training through pregnancy and unfortunately many women are told to stop lifting weights. Of course no pregnancy is the same, but assuming one is healthy and has experience there’s no reason not to keep up with it. Modifications need to be addressed as a woman progresses (in the case of the video above we elevated the trap bar, even with high handle setting, to accommodate for her belly), but we need to do a better job at relaying the message that pregnancy is NOT a disease and doesn’t mean you have to be relegated to the elliptical and pink dumbbells.
Note From TG: During her entire pregnancy Lisa was also performing a litany of positional breathing (diaphragm) drills, core stability drills (birddogs, deadbugs), as well as single-leg work and pelvic stability drills (clam shells, etc).
It’s just, you know, those aren’t nearly as exciting to post on social media as deadlifts…;o)
HOWEVER, I’d argue these drills were more important and integral to her recovery (and ability to bounce back postpartum) than the more traditional strength & conditioning exercises.
Check out THIS free resource from Girls Gone Strong titled “Exercises Your Clients Should Do and Avoid During Pregnancy” for a more detailed look into the types of exercises Lisa performed.
“Go” Time & Beyond
Luckily, I had a straightforward labor and delivery, with no complications.
Although I was dying to get back to the gym and continue training as soon as possible, my body had other goals in mind!
I had mistakenly thought training through pregnancy would be the challenging part – so I was frustrated to realize that I needed much more time and patience after giving birth than I did before, with regard to my training.
Once again, I was fortunate to have a competent and compassionate strength coach, who reminded me to rest as much as possible, be patient and gentle with my body, and remember that there would be plenty of time to get after it in the gym. Even though I understood this logically, I needed the emotional support and reminders about the time it takes to recover.
First Postpartum Workout (Curls, Obviously)
In addition, I needed to communicate clearly and regularly about how I was feeling, and how different exercises made me feel.
Oppositely, there were some movements and exercises that felt fabulous. For example, my bench press felt great, and I really enjoyed pushing myself on that exercise. The combination of being aware of my body and communicating with my trainer helped me to enjoy the lifts that felt good, avoid the exercises that I wasn’t ready for, and maximize the little bits of time I had at the gym.
Bench Press Badassery
Here’s my wife, @lilew13, hitting a new bench press PR of 160 lbs today…7 weeks post giving birth. To her credit she continued to train all throughout her pregnancy which helped a ton. She never trained at max effort and ALWAYS listened to her body if something felt off. However it’s because of her dedication to staying consistent with her strength training throughout that she has been able to bounce back so quickly; kicking ass and taking names.
Thanks to the ongoing support of my trainer, regular clear, honest communication about how I was feeling, and sleep training for our little one, I am happy to report that I am training regularly and feeling good.
Tired – but good.
Instead of focusing on my body weight or “getting back” to my weight pre-pregnancy, I’ve been focusing on how I feel, mobility, stability, and strength. These foci have been much more enjoyable, and I believe have helped me to feel as healthy as I currently do!
I realize not all women have the benefit of having a world-renowned strength coach, who also happens to be her husband.
But I do write this post to emphasize how important it was for me to work with a coach who was competent in pre and post natal training, and who understood the importance of constant communication, modification, and flexibility with my training.
I believe that the psychological and communication skills a personal trainer or strength coach has is just as important as his or her knowledge of kinesiology and exercise science. Yes, I needed to know which exercises to avoid and which ones to modify, but much more importantly, I needed someone to encourage me to listen to my body, take time to rest whenever it felt best, and most of all, to be patient.
Become a Certified Pre-and Postnatal Coach
Starting today (9/5), and only lasting for a very short while, you can sign up to be placed on the pre-sale list for the CPPC.
Click HERE to sign up!
Putting your name on the pre-sale list does not mean you are obligated to purchase the cert– but it provides the opportunity to purchase the CPPC at a $200 discount. If you’re a fitness professional who works with women – and I’m 100% certain you do – this resource will undoubtedly make you a better coach and well more prepared to deal with the unique demands and intricacies of the pre and postnatal client.