I love that look I used to get from the future grandparents anytime I would lift anything heavier than five pounds. It was both comical and endearing. “Okay, okay”, I would assure them, making a note to self: Do not show them my beast-mode gym selfies. So… I love lifting weights. Heavy is good. Being pregnant wasn’t a deterrent, it gave me MOM STRENGTH!
There is a saying that you can continue with whatever you did before pregnancy, just listen to your body. Truer words could not be spoken when it comes to fitness while expecting. It applies to all forms of activity and exercise. Here’s how it applied to me.
Disclaimer: This article is based on the opinion of one individual based on her experiences with pregnancy. It is not mean to be used as medical advice. Always consult a doctor when partaking in physical activity while pregnant. Also, if you have pregnancy-related conditions that require bed rest or would otherwise cause risk to your pregnancy, please do not take any advice from this article.
What is powerlifting?
Call it the minimalist’s fitness regime. You show up at the gym. Warm up. Do three exercises. And leave. The exercises range from: deadlifts, squats, bench press, and overhead press. You also add in “accessories”: pull-ups, ab-workouts, hip-thrusts, and lifts you’d see at the Olympics – aptly named “Olympic lifting”. So simple… Oh yeah, and you have to go as heavy as you can for three sets of five (3×5, as we call it). Or… you can do more reps with a slightly lower weight once in a while. Or… you can go all out for just one set just to see if you can do it. This is what powerlifting competitions are all about.
Why do I do it?
I used to respect the concept of fitness from afar. I wanted to be one of those fit people, but I just never stuck with it. I took up running both outside and on the treadmill, but after a few seconds my brain would say “Hey, wouldn’t you be happier walking?” I’d use the machines at the gym, but I’d get dazed and confused by all the options. I have to say that I enjoyed yoga and fitness classes, but I always made excuses to skip. Lastly, I was very much into dance and rock climbing, but these were a little too out of the way to make me feel F-I-T.
Enter Powerlifting. My husband suggested that I try it to cure my incurable back pain. Not only did it work like a charm, I finally felt like one of those fit people. Scratch that, I felt like a strong badass. And, it didn’t hurt that it only took a couple of months to get a cute, toned look that I didn’t even know I wanted.
What other convincing did I need?
What?s the controversy about?
First of all, the rule of thumb is “If you were doing it pre-pregnancy, then continue – just listen to your body”. So what’s the big deal you ask? In my mind, it’s the old adage that fragile pregnant women can’t do anything but rest. There is the “why take the risk” mentality. I call BS. My job at the time (and I won’t name it here) did far more stress on my pregnant body, mind, and soul than lifting a little iron ever could. Bear in mind, there are several pregnancy-related conditions that require bed rest because of the risk to the baby. If you have one of those conditions, then hopefully your doctor has spoken to you about this. You really shouldn’t be lifting anything heavy, and you really shouldn’t be doing anything but rest – as the adage goes. However, if you are lucky enough to have a healthy pregnancy, then a little extra strength could really do you wonders.
I’ll also emphasize that it is so important to listen to your body. I loved working out while pregnant, but your body might have different priorities. You really never know until you try. If working out has you feeling drained, sick, or dreadful, or in pain then just stop. You can always get back to it after your special delivery.
Why did I lift during pregnancy?
So… A couple of things. First of all, I’ve had chronic lower back problems for years, and powerlifting finally got me feeling like a normal person. Having a reemergence of that pain did not seem like a good addition to my other pregnancy symptoms. Furthermore, I was under some stress and pressure from my job. The gym was an outlet. “Go F— yourself?” I would repeat after an especially difficult day. “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” Yes… it was bad, but I was badass not to be messed with.
A healthy fitness regime also gave me the confidence I needed to get through each day. Like I said before, it made me feel like nothing could knock me down. And those feelings are pretty helpful on days you’re overcome by cravings and pregnancy emotions.
Lastly, even though there were days that I decisively skipped the gym, overall it made me feel more energetic and happy. And who wouldn’t want that for the most important nine months of your life?
What did I have to modify?
During my first trimester I was pretty nauseous. That’s normal. Eating a full meal was a distant memory. Of course, eating an ample meal – one full of protein – is a cornerstone of powerlifting, so needless to say, I lost a lot of muscle. My “gains” (ability to lift more) had to go down considerably. Each week I could lift less and less. I never entirely recovered during those nine months, however I had something to look forward to: Making gains postpartum!
Also a few other things had to change. Any ab-work was a no-no. Not only was I petrified of diastasis-recti, it’s actually pretty hard to contract your abs with a bump. I stopped doing pull-ups, because my gigantic uterus was painfully digging into my ribs.
What else? A pregnant body is flowing with relaxin for 9 months straight. Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? But all it means is that your ligaments are a little looser, so it’s a little easier to pull something or lose your stability. Not so good when you’re under a heavy weight… so it’s essential to warm up thoroughly and ease into each movement until you get a hang of what your body is doing that day. Each day is truly different.
Lastly, it’s suggested that you stop bench pressing while pregnant because lying on your back could stop the blood flow to you and maybe even baby. I won’t argue that logic but a few seconds on the bench seemed like nothing compared to the thirty minutes or so I would spend on my back at the obstetrician’s office. So personally, I kept on doing it. However many moms-to-be can feel a difference, so again, just listen to your body. For me, I decided to lift lower weights with higher reps and focus on my form. It was actually rather nice to look forward to getting stronger after baby.
Let’s talk numbers
Every powerlifter waits about 0.32 seconds before asking: so what are your lifts. So fair enough. Here are mine:
pre-pregnancy – 165 lbs;
first trimester – 145 lbs;
last trimester – 165 lbs;
1 year postpartum – 150 lbs
pre-pregnancy – 215lbs 3×5;
first trimester – 95-115lbs 5×5;
last trimester – 135lbs 5×8;
1 year postpartum – 195lbs 3×5
pre-pregnancy – 160lbs 1×5;
first trimester – 95lbs 5×5;
last trimester 115lbs 5×8;
1 year postpartum – 185lbs 3×5
pre-pregnancy – 85lbs 3×5;
first trimester – 65lbs 5×5;
last trimester 100lbs 1×5; (That’s called a PR!)
1 year postpartum – 95lbs 3×5
How was the labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery?
My body “snapped back” to normal-looking after about a week. I’d like to say that I can thank my hard work, but I think that the reality is just luck and genetics. I didn’t want to post “transformation” postpartum photos that would make women think that it’s realistic to expect to get your body back that fast. I think it’s different for each one of us.
There’s a widespread belief that fit moms have an easier labor, delivery and recovery. I don’t know… I think it depends on the person more than anything else. You can somewhat prepare, but really – you can’t. I had a complicated delivery, and and it took two months until I was ready to slowly get back to working out. It was actually rather nice to take it slow. Now, a full year later, I feel totally back to normal and love to lift again.
Don’t think that you need to be on any one trajectory during pregnancy or postpartum. Every. Body. Is. Different. Listen to yours. There is nothing wrong with feeling lazy and lethargic. There is nothing wrong with needing to burn off a little steam. I just want to share my experience to help you think about what yours might look like.
Now it’s your turn. Was there something you just HAD TO DO during pregnancy even though people were kind of on your case about it? Let me know on instagram. And go and get your glow on.
Want more profiles in power?
Crossfit during Pregnancy | How she wrote her own rulebook | Profiles in Power with Shannon Zimmerman
Breaking the Mold | Find out why this mom continued lifting during pregnancy and how she deals with unwanted advice about powerlifting while pregnant | Profiles in Power with Daizi Schiano
Lifting for Three | How a powerlifting mom-to-be to be learned to listen to her body and redefined her strength | Profiles in Power | Lifting during pregnancy