Can I Still Strength Train While Pregnant?

A pregnant woman pushing a weight sled in the gym


miljko / Getty Images

Pregnancy is a time full of changes, especially physically. Whether you’ve already had a solid strength training routine in place or you’d like to get started, it’s perfectly safe to do so. Although you should always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine, as long as you take some precautions and make a few modifications, strength training is an excellent form of activity to do while pregnant.

Research shows that the outcomes for mothers and babies are better with prenatal exercise participation. Moms in better physical condition have shorter labors with fewer chances of giving birth preterm, fewer complications during pregnancy and delivery, and less lengthy stays in the hospital.

Furthermore, your risks of some pregnancy-related health issues such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia are reduced if you exercise during pregnancy.

Your baby will also reap the benefits of your exercise routine. Moms who keep fit have healthier babies who have less chance of cardiovascular issues in the future. Additionally, the brain development of babies born to women who exercise during their pregnancy seems to be faster, and these babies have higher APGAR scores, meaning that they can deal with the stresses of delivery better than those whose moms didn't exercise during pregnancy.

Be sure to speak with your health care provider before starting a strength training routine during pregnancy. Your doctor will make sure you don't have any medical reasons to avoid exercise—including strength training—during pregnancy.

The Best Strength Training Exercises During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body changes drastically. Your weight increases, putting more pressure on your pelvis and spine while certain hormones cause your joints and muscles to become more flexible, leading to stability issues. To better support your body while performing daily activities, increasing—and maintaining—your strength is essential.

Strengthening the muscles in your body can help reduce your chances of pain while preparing your body for delivery. Posture issues can arise during pregnancy. Strength training can decrease postural issues by improving your alignment, providing more space for your baby to develop and remain in an ideal position for labor and delivery.

Just because you are pregnant does not mean you have to give up lifting heavy weights. You may choose to use lighter weights for exercises with higher reps, but you can also continue with heavier options. When considering how much to lift, you should choose a weight that is difficult for you during the last three to four reps, but you are still able to maintain proper form. The weight that you choose will depend on your current strength level and fitness experience. If you're newer to strength training and adding it to your routine at home, you may want to stick with lighter weights.

Don't forget to stay hydrated and take breaks when you need to. Listen to your body and stop any movements that feel uncomfortable or painful.

The Best Lower Body Strength Training Exercises During Pregnancy

A strong lower body starts with the glutes, which help support your back and core muscles. Strong glutes and hip flexors provide stability for your pelvis as it changes position. These muscles can become weaker during the third trimester as hormones prepare your body to give birth.

Here are a few excellent strength training exercises to boost lower body strength:

Split Squats

This exercise can be done with bodyweight or holding dumbbells in each hand.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and brace your core.
  • Step forward with your left foot, leaving your right foot in place. Lower your right knee toward the floor.
  • The majority of your weight should be on your front leg while using your back leg for balance.
  • Push up with your front left leg to stand. Keep your legs in place and repeat the movement.
  • Try 10 repetitions on each side.

Goblet Squats

Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Use a single dumbbell or a kettlebell for this exercise. If using a weight is too challenging, try a body weight squat.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a single dumbbell in your palms by one end at chest height. Alternatively, you can hold the dumbbell in both palms horizontally.
  • Hinge your hips backward and squat down while keeping a natural arch in your back. Lower until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • Pause for a count of one before pushing through your heels to return to the starting position.
  • Aim for 10 repetitions.

Bodyweight Hip Thrusts

  • Sit down on the edge of a secure bench with your legs extended on the floor in front of you, knees bent.
  • Slide your back down the edge of the bench lowering your glutes toward the floor without touching it. 
  • With tension in your glutes, raise your hips upward while pushing through your heels. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Try 15 repetitions.

Clamshells

Clamshells

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  • Lie on your side on a comfortable mat.
  • Place your bottom arm under your head to support your neck and your top arm across your body with your fingertips on the floor for balance.
  • Bend your legs so your knees are stuck one on top of the other, and your feet are behind you.
  • Keep your feet pressed together while lifting your top knee up and away from your bottom leg. Your bottom leg will remain on the floor.
  • Pause for a count at the top of the movement to feel the contraction in your glutes before slowly lowering your top leg back to the starting position.
  • Try 15 repetitions on each side.

If performing these exercises with weights is too challenging, try sticking to bodyweight instead. You can also reduce the weight or repetitions if you need to.

The Best Upper-Body Strength Training Exercises During Pregnancy

A strong upper body is essential for preventing a rounded upper back and arched lower back that can occur when your center of gravity moves forward as your baby grows. Poor posture can lead to back and rib pain, making everyday activities and sleeping less comfortable.

Although diastasis recti, or abdominal separation that can occur during pregnancy, is mostly unavoidable, strength training your upper body during pregnancy can help reduce the size of the separation and allow for more speedy recovery postpartum.

Here are a few upper-body focused strength training exercises:

Face Pulls

Face Pulls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  • Stand facing a cable machine or a resistance band anchored safely, slightly higher than head height.
  • Hold handles of a rope attachment or each end of a resistance band in each hand with your palms facing towards you.
  • Brace your core and pull the cable or band toward your face while separating your hands as you pull.
  • Aim for 15 repetitions.

Inverted Rows

  • Set a barbell in a rack to waist height. Lie down under the bar on your back.
  • Extend your arms to grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Keep your body straight and your core engaged while you pull yourself up to the bar. Pull your elbows back and try to touch your chest to the bar.
  • Hold for a count while squeezing your back muscles before lowering yourself to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Complete 5 to 8 repetitions.

Single Arm Rows

  • Position your right knee on the end of a stable exercise bench with a dumbbell on the floor on either side.
  • Bend over until your torso is parallel with the bench placing your right hand on the bench to support your body.
  • Reach down with your left hand to pick up the dumbbell with an overhand grip, your palm facing toward you.
  • Maintain a straight back and an engaged core.
  • Leading with your elbow, use your back muscles to pull the dumbbell straight up to the side of your chest, your arm staying close to your body. Exhale during this phase of the movement.
  • Squeeze your back muscles and hold for a count of one before returning to the starting position, inhaling as you go.
  • Aim for 8 to 10 repetitions and then switch sides and repeat.

Palloff Press

  • Stand with your left side next to a cable machine or a resistance band anchored safely. Grasp the handle in your left hand and stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart, with an engaged core.
  • Hold the handle in both hands and push it out directly in front of you.
  • You should feel tension in your core muscles. Hold this position for a slow count of five before bringing the handle back toward you.
  • Repeat 5 times on each side.

How to Modify Your Workouts in the First Trimester

During the first trimester, you might feel exhausted and nauseous. You can still strength train, but you may wish to reduce your training sessions to one to three days per week and lower your intensity. Spend more time on your warm-ups and cool-downs and work on mobility.

On an intensity scale of one to 10, you should aim for a six or seven maximum intensity level during your workouts. If anything is painful, you should speak to your healthcare provider and discontinue the exercise.

It's vital to warm up thoroughly before strength training during pregnancy. Stretch the hip flexors, chest, and upper back and perform movements that activate the glutes and engage the core. Mobility movements that warm up your hips are also important.

If you feel tight and tense before you work out, you can add some foam rolling for your glutes, back, and hips or anywhere else on your body where you're feeling tense.

Exercising during the first trimester does not increase miscarriage risks. In fact, fit mothers have better pregnancy and delivery outcomes.

How to Modify Your Workouts in the Second Trimester

As pregnancy progresses, you may have to reduce the load of some of your strength training exercises. Your growing belly might get in the way of your movements, or you might be unable to fully brace your core to lift heavy weights safely. If this is the case, reduce the load so that you can contract your abdominals or envision hugging your abdominals around the baby before you lift.

Another modification you should make during the second and third trimester is to avoid any exercises that put pressure on your diastasis recti. Whether or not your abdominal separation has begun to occur, avoiding exercises that put pressure on it will help limit how much it widens.

Exercises to avoid include:

  • Push-ups
  • Planks
  • Crunches
  • Sit-ups
  • Trunk rotation (wood chops)

How to Modify Your Workouts in the Third Trimester

It is not recommended to lay on your back for long periods during the third trimester. The weight of your growing baby can press on blood vessels that can restrict blood flow and cause dizziness or lightheadedness. Instead of performing any exercise flat on your back, adjust a bench to a 15-degree incline.

The third trimester might call for more rest days in between your sessions. It might take longer for you to recover, and you might feel more fatigued. Let your body guide you. You can easily modify the intensity of your strength training exercises by reducing the weight and increasing your rep range from 8 to 10 up to 10 to 15.

It's a good idea to focus on smooth, controlled movements to reduce your risk of injury. Instead of intense circuit training using weights, reduce the number of sets and increase your rest time in between them. Aim for maintaining perfect form while performing your movements in a slow and controlled manner.

If you experience pain around your pubic area or groin, around the middle of your buttocks, or the back of your thigh, you could have pelvic girdle pain. This is a very common condition during pregnancy, but it may cause pain while getting in and out of your car, walking upstairs, or performing exercises such as lunges or split squats.

If you feel pelvic girdle pain, you should speak to your healthcare provider. If you are cleared for exercise, you can modify strength training exercises in the following way:

  • Take a shorter step for the length of your lunges or split squats.
  • Keep your squats narrow (place your feet closer together) if wider squats cause pain at the front of your pelvis.
  • Don't perform any exercises that cause you to stand on one leg if this results in pain.

Adjusting your range of motion to favor smaller movements may help avoid pain when strength training. Try narrowing your stance for lunges and squats.

Cautions For Strength Training During Pregnancy

Even if you stick to all of the modifications and are careful with your exercise form, there still may be times where certain activities are contraindicated. If you feel any of the below scenarios during exercise, do not participate in that activity:

  • Pain or aggravation of an existing pain
  • Any exercises that cause bulging of the abdominal wall or put stress on the abdomen
  • Exercise that causes urine to leak or the sensation of heaviness in your perineum
  • Any exercise that is too intense for you to be able to speak comfortably

A Word From Verywell

Strength training during pregnancy has many benefits for you and your baby. Exercise, including strength training, may reduce your risk of pregnancy-related conditions and pains while making way for a speedier birth and recovery process. That said, it is wise to make modifications as your pregnancy progresses, listen to your body, and avoid anything that causes pain or discomfort.

Pregnancy is the perfect time to slow down, focus on form, and add plenty of mobility work. Remember to speak to your health care provider before beginning exercise during pregnancy.

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Albright E. Exercise During Pregnancy. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2016;15(4):226-227. doi:10.1249/jsr.0000000000000277.

  2. Bahls M, Sheldon RD, Taheripour P, et al. Mother's exercise during pregnancy programmes vasomotor function in adult offspring. Exp Physiol. 2014;99(1):205-219. doi:10.1113/expphysiol.2013.075978

  3. LeMoyne EL, Curnier D, St-Jacques S, Ellemberg D. The effects of exercise during pregnancy on the newborn's brain: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2012;13:68. Published 2012 May 29. doi:10.1186/1745-6215-13-68

  4. Mottola MF, et al., 2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancyBr J Sports Med. 2018 Nov;52(21):1339-1346. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100056.

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise During Pregnancy. July 2019.