Everything you need to know about weight training during pregnancy

pregnant lady squatting with ball against wall

July 17, 2023

Not sure if you should carry on with your normal resistance training now you’re pregnant? Wondering whether you should start doing weight training during pregnancy? The answer is yes!

I regularly speak to mums-to-be who have concerns about whether they should be lifting weights during their pregnancy. In fact, weight training in pregnancy has many advantages, not only for you but also for your baby! Of course, there are some exercises that are better to do than others. It can be also daunting knowing where to start; you can find more information check out my blog post on exercises that you can do whilst pregnant. As always, if you are unsure or new to exercise, please consult your GP or midwife before starting a new training programme.

What are the benefits of weight training during pregnancy?

1. Better weight management

A review of a range of studies in The Strength and Conditioning journal showed that women who do weight or resistance training tend to gain around 20% less weight than women who don’t.  Less weight gain reduces the chance of developing problems during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. For the baby, high maternal weight gain can cause miscarriage, still birth, large babies and risk of diabetes in babies (NHS). Keeping a healthy weight is therefore so beneficial for mum and baby.

2. Reduction in gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in approximately 10% of pregnant women. It can have a big impact of women’s health as it increases the chance of developing diabetes post partum. Women who remain active during pregnancy are nearly 60% less likely to develop gestational diabetes (The Strength and Conditioning Journal) Resistance training, in particular, is particularly beneficial on insulin sensitivity. This means that your cells are more responsive to the hormone insulin, reducing your risk of diseases like diabetes. Furthermore, for women who do develop gestational diabetes, evidence shows resistance exercise has better effects on blood glucose levels than cardio exercise alone.

Pregnant woman is ready for next exercise
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3. Better mental health

Pregnancy can be associated with episodes of depression and anxiety. Studies show that those who exercise during pregnancy experience progressively better mental health than their non-exercising counterparts (The Strength and Conditioning Journal). This is similar to results seen in the general population as exercise releases hormones like serotonin which make us feel good! It is important to remember than these benefits can be seen after even one exercise session!

4. Reduced low back pain

76% of women report back pain during their pregnancies due to increasing hormones that affect the ligaments in the body, making many joints “looser” and more susceptible to pain and injury. Furthermore, postural changes associated with pregnancy often lead to back pain. For example, a larger curve in the back to compensate for extra weight from the baby. This is exactly why I see many pregnant patients in clinic as a Chiropractor, with many mums-to-be presenting with pelvic girdle pain and pubic symphysis dysfunction. Exercise and resistance training has been shown to reduce the incidence of back pain amongst pregnant women. This is because it helps to move the joints in a positive way and to stabilise the low back and pelvis, thereby reducing pain. Core exercises, in particular, are hugely beneficial for this stabilisation. You can find out which core exercises to do in pregnancy from my other post on core exercises in pregnancy here.

5. Easier Labour

There is evidence to suggest that exercises, particularly weight based activity, has a positive impact on labour. It can reduce chances of an early labour, reduce labour time, and enable quicker recovery afterwards. The stronger you are going into and throughout your pregnancy, the easier it is to recover and get back exercising afterwards. Don’t worry if you haven’t exercised before your pregnancy though, even starting to exercise during pregnancy can have good benefits. We can get you started with some beginners exercises here.

What type of exercise should I do?

Firstly, any type of exercise is better than none! If you enjoy the exercise you are doing, you are also far more likely to carry on with it. However, to really get the benefits above, we want to focus on resistance training. This does not have to mean purely lifting weights at the gym; it can include resistance band exercises, pilates, dumbells, body weight exercises, circuit classes. You can get more ideas from our different plans available here.

How can I get into resistance training safely?

If you have done weight or resistance training before you got pregnant, you should be able to make small adjustments readily yourself. However, if you are completely new to any form of weight training, I would consult your GP or midwife first to get the go ahead to train. Remember, everyone is different so no one exercise is perfect for everyone. Please listen to your body as you go.

There are a few things to remember when weight training during pregnancy.

Ways to train safely during pregnancy

  1. Avoid training on your back after 16 weeks. Evidence shows that lying on your back during the later stages of pregnancy can reduce the blood flow back to the heart and reduce your cardiac output. This may result in your feeling light headed or dizzy. Instead, try to focus on exercises where you are sitting or standing instead.
  2. Listen to your body and adapt as your pregnancy progresses. Many pregnant ladies experience fatigue and nausea during the first trimester of pregnancy, which will likely affect your ability to train. Rather than pushing through it, listen to your body, adjust the weights and frequency of training as needed. Similarly, during later stages of pregnancy, you will start to notice things becoming more challenging. A bigger bump can also start to get in the way with certain movements.
  3. Ligament laxity: during pregnancy, the hormones you produce affect the ligaments in your body, making your joints more mobile. This can lead to you overextending the joints, so focusing on good form becomes very important. It may also help to reduce your weights as the pregnancy progress. As a guide, the evidence recommends about 70% of your usual weight.

You can find more information on this topic in my post on is weight training safe during pregnancy? You can also get safe and easy ways to get into training through one of our beginners programmes. Happy training!

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