Powerlifting during pregnancy pregnant and powerlifting lifting deadlifts squats benchpress bench press listening to your body
So… Full disclosure, this Profile in Power is about a close friend of mine – Leah. First of all, she works as a Nuclear Safety Regulator Extraordinaire, and a few years ago she decided that she needs an equally badass hobby to match (aside from her already pretty awesome hobby – knitting). So naturally, she took up powerlifting. It didn’t take long before Leah was hardcore training and hitting up competitions. It was so awesome to finally have a friend to chat weights, plates and reps with (even though I felt pretty left in the dust compared to her.) And, like a badass that she is, when she got pregnant, she went straight for twins. None of this single baby business. During our interview, we talk all things pregnancy, powerlifting, and how things change. Needless to say, things changed quite a bit for her. Read on to see how she redefined what it means to be strong.
Discalimer: This interview is not meant to replace medical advice. It is based on the experiences of one person with fitness in pregnancy and postpartum. Our position is that you should check with a doctor before beginning any fitness regimen – especially when pregnant.
Why she loves powerlifting
There are three types of people. Those who love to lift. Those who don’t. And those who love it but don’t know it yet. Leah began her fitness journey by attending morning spin classes. Her new acquaintances kept pestering her to join them at the rack. One day she took a chance and agreed on the condition that they understand that she’s a beginner. They agreed (of course… powerlifters are known for their kindness), and the rest is history.
Obviously, intimidation is a bit of a factor when starting out something as cool sounding as powerlifting, so I asked how she overcame that. “The thing to keep in mind is that most powerlifters are just really excited to get others into their sport and see it grow. Odds are, if you’re even willing to experiment at the rack, you’ll likely attract a flock of enthusiasts who want to talk to you about lifting and invite you into their community. You’ll find a tribe pretty quick.”
She also advises to find a time of day when the gym goers are more about working out and less about checking you out. For her that was the mornings. “In the evening it tends to be more of a social atmosphere, but everyone seems to be looking around at everyone else so I felt a little more judgement. The morning is more about business.” Good to know.
In terms of what got Leah hooked to powerlifting, aside from her new friends’ enthusiasm, she shares how much she appreciates both the individual and the community aspect of the sport. “It doesn’t really matter what you look like, it’s all about strength and pushing your own abilities. It’s a very individual sport, but I also loved that that the whole community is at the rack supporting you. Even if you feel like you’re not going that heavy, they cheer you on because they know it’s a PR (personal record) for you.”
How things have changed
This is a mom-to-be who just bursts excitement about pregnancy. As she finishes up her second trimester, Leah shares what she’s most looking forward to: “I’ve been told I would get a burst of mom strength, so I’m pretty excited for that. I’m not sure if that will happen, but it would be pretty fun.” That advice was from me a few months back. I really hope that I won’t have to eat my words. But if nothing else, she’s also looking forward to getting mom guns via hauling two car seats around.
Jokes aside, so far, every momma-to-be has said that pregnancy is nothing like what she expected. Well that must be twice as true for twins. For Leah, that part was obviously a total surprise, but she also shares “I kind of pictured I’d have a bump and my fitness would change, but I had no idea about all the physiological changes and wasn’t quite ready for such a drop in my abilities… you just keep forgetting about it, and then you’re reminded when like, you can’t put your socks on.”
Some pregnant women are more than happy to lift heavy during pregnancy, but as we reiterate over and over on this blog, every body is different. She still lifts some, but after listening to her body, Leah knew that some things had to change. “My body just kept telling me that it clearly has other priorities. I found a new workout program that I really enjoyed and I’ve been working on accessory movements that I think will help me get back on track after pregnancy. Every so often I still try some lifts and then think ‘Nope, still not working the way I want it to.’”
Here is a sample of her current fitness routine while pregnant with twins:
Hip Thrusts – body weight (on one leg if you’re feeling ambitious, which usually she is not)
Stability exercises – making sure that the glutes are engaged and everything feels right with relatively lighter weights:ovrehead press, palof press; tall kneeling woodchop (cable), farmer’s carry, waiter’s carry.
(I have to admit , I’ve never heard of most of these, but I’m excited to check them out)
On the same topic, every new mom-to-be does hours and hours of online research about all things pregnancy, so I ask what kind of research she has done about lifting while pregnant. Leah mentions “Expecting Better” by Emily Osler that is very helpful with a non-patronizing tone. “It gives helpful rationale for exercising during pregnancy a certain way as well as things to look out for”. She also raves about her friend and bootcamp trainer Jenny of Squat the World Fitness who has struggled with a lot of random online misinformation herself. There are a lot of blanket statements like “don’t lie on your back” and “don’t lift more than fifteen pounds” with nothing to substantiate the claim, offer what might happen as a result, or even what to look out for.
Jenny has been very reliable in helping to modify exercises and sharing what sensations to look out for. “For the most part it’s common sense stuff. If your body does something weird when you do something – don’t do that anymore. She warned me about ‘coning’ where your abdomen will all of a sudden point out – so when that happens – stop what you’re doing. Also for lying on your back – the worry is that the baby is pressing on your portal vein, but that’s not the case for each time you lie down. If you feel faint, shift yourself away, but if you don’t, then you can stay on your back for a moment to complete your exercise.” Personally, I always questioned why that’s seen as such prudent advice meanwhile all of my check-ups and ultrasound scans are done with me on my back for up to an hour. Go figure.
How she deals with not-so-welcome advice
Ahh. Everyone has something to say to a pregnant woman and a new mom. Especially if she spends her free time at the gym instead of with her feet up. (And vice-versa for new moms.) Leah shares how lucky she feels that her family is so supportive. “I think they’re all generally quite proud of me for powerlifting and for what I can do. They’re a little more worried now, but it’s from a place of concern and love. They’ve been good at holding back their everyday notes.”
But outside of her family, she does find the “occasional” comment a little rude and patronizing. “Sometimes you have to try an exercise once to see how it feels. Everyone has times when they want to push themselves and when they don’t feel like working very hard – and we’re able to recognize that on our own. The insinuation that you can’t just because you’re pregnant is quite rude.”
So from what I gather, she deals with annoying advice by venting to her friend during interviews. But everything she says is true. We each have the autonomy to make our own decisions, and nobody cares more about babies’ well-being than their mother. Trust me on that.
Advice for strong moms-to-be
On the note of not-so-helpful advice, here’s some you’ll actually appreciate. Leah shares her tips for self-care: regular massages, a microwavable Magic Bag for your shoulders, and don’t skip out on “maintenance” such as hair appointments. No one else will do it for you.
She notes that you should expect your eating habits to change once your giant uterus takes up all the space: It’s all about finding snacks that you can eat at work and have around that are still healthy. Lots of nuts, and a lot of yogurt “I’ve been indulging in the 3% kind – totally delicious.”
And on a final note, Leah helps define how to listen to your own body: “You know your body best. Pick some reputable sources that you trust, read up on the most common concerns and issues, then be prepared to ignore all of that. Just do what feels right for you.”
Thank you for that wonderful advice. It is so inspiring to connect with other strong women, and to know that being strong has many definitions. Like she said, sometimes things change and your body has other priorities.
When I was pregnant there was a lot of contradicting advice about fitness in pregnancy – especially weightlifting. This was true for both online research and from medical professionals. The worst part was that a lot of this advice came from people who had no experience with pregnancy, fitness, or healthcare. They were just opinions! Profiles in Power is a series of interviews with new moms and moms-to-be about their experiences with fitness, nutrition, weightlifting, mental health, and body image during pregnancy and postpartum. Each experience is different, and hopefully one you can take something away from.
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