What to Lift When You’re Expecting

By August 11, 2018 No Comments

I’m sure you have all met Kayla during your time at Dynasty Gym. She is a phenomenal weightlifter, an incredible coach and soon to be the mother of the next big Canadian Weightlifter. So, we asked the question; what can you expect to lift when you are, well, expecting?

Fitness gurus and activity junkies everywhere talk about how great it is for women to stay active during pregnancy. There has been a lot of research on recreational exercisers and moderately active women. From these studies there has been some progress made in regards to what is deemed “acceptable” exercise for pregnant women. Now, these women are encouraged by doctors and midwives to exercise! Horay! Finally!

But what about elite athletes? We know what the average everyday gym goer is told, but what about competitive weightlifters? What do we do? Do we drop everything and start going on walks? Do we keep lifting? Do we become yoga lovers? The informational available for pregnant women who are high level athletes is limited at best. This is likely for a few reasons. First of all, it’s very difficult to study. Secondly, only in very recent history has it become socially acceptable for women to be elite athletes, therefore there has simply not been many subjects to study resulting in minimal available data. Thirdly, there are so many things to consider, you have to consider your mental state regarding the pregnancy, how involved in sport you plan to be after having your baby, how your pregnancy is going and many other things. 

So here is Kayla’s insight. This information is specific to HER situation and should NOT be taken as a prescription for what you should do. Every woman is different and every pregnancy is different. We only hope to open up more conversations about pregnant athletes, share the experience with others and make others in the community feel like they are not alone in trying to find what is best for both the baby and themselves. It should also be noted that Kayla is a 23-year-old national-level weightlifter. She also plans to get back to competing after she has my baby, and she has had a very routine, low-risk pregnancy so far. So here is Kayla’s journey.

First Trimester:

“For most moms the goal of the first trimester is simple… survive each day! Between morning sickness, fatigue and worrying about your growing chickpea, the thought of doing anything else seems impossible. In my case, I was very tired and very nauseous but I was not violently ill as some moms are. Exercise helped so much! Even if I felt like laying on the couch all day, I committed to getting to the gym 3 times each week to move my body. I kept up with my weightlifting and modified the program to meet my energy levels and adjust to my body’s new job of growing a human. This allowed me to keep part of my identity in a time where I felt like everything was changing so quickly. The fatigue made me feel so unlike myself and these workouts benefited me both physically and mentally. For most women, during the first trimester depending on your energy levels, not much as to be modified (other than some things to avoid which are listed at the end).”

Second Trimester:

“Congratulations.. you survived! The grass really is greener over here. By 14 weeks I was feeling great. This is the longest trimester in pregnancy and (for most) the easiest, so there are a ton of things that you are able to do! I still wasn’t really showing and didn’t have a big belly to work around, so I  was able to continue weightlifting specific workouts until about 22 weeks. During the second trimester my work out frequency increased back up to 5-6x per week. Not every day was an intense work out, sometimes it was just a circuit or some cardio, but I was moving my body every day. From weeks 14-22 I did 2 Olympic Lifting workouts per week, 1 squat workout, 1 pull workout and 1 body building day. I also included cardio 3x per week. I was able to continue with full cleans, however I switched to high-hang snatches around week 19 due to apprehension regarding contacting the bar at the hip. By week 22 I was showing more and I had to phase the snatch and clean out of my program. This was a personal choice as I feel my lifts will suffer more if I create improper movement patterns by going around my belly than they will from not doing them for a couple of months. In the case of pregnant women, moving the bar around your belly in the snatch and the clean comes from a place of fear and inhibition, you are scared of hitting your baby (naturally). This fear and inhibition will make it very hard to break the habit of swinging the bar out to avoid the belly even after the baby is out and the belly is gone. There are many other ways to keep fitness up instead. I am still able to jerk, squat, overhead press, deadlift and many other things. Once I phased out Olympic Lifting I would usually do 1 major compound lift each day, accessories and cardio. For example, One day I do back squats, and then back accessories, another day I do deadlifts and then bicep and tricep accessories, etc. This way I was able to keep up my general strength without taxing my body too much.”

Third Trimester:

“This is where I am now! I am now 30 weeks pregnant (where did the time go), so hopefully I will be able to shed more light on this area after I have my baby. So far, adjustments have been minimal during the third trimester. The main difference is that I have switched to the sumo deadlift because bending over with my feet together is absolutely not happening anymore. During the third trimester, it’s all about just feeling good and doing what your body wants. You don’t want to push too hard, simply because you don’t want to compromise your comfort. During this time I don’t go over RPE (rate of perceived exertion) 7-7.5. The other thing to consider is that at this point you are training for the big show.. labour! If you have the clear from your doctor and your body is feeling good, squats are really important during this time and play a huge part in the strength of your pelvic floor (and your ability to use that strength). Also, keep up with the cardio! Labour can be a bit of a long haul they say and it will be much easier if you’re aerobically fit!”

Things Kalya Choose to Avoid:

While exercise is safe and recommended throughout pregnancy, there are certain things that most professionals feel you should avoid. This list below is simply what she chose to avoid throughout pregnancy, the list is not all-inclusive, nor does it apply to every pregnant woman’s situation.

1) The Valsalva Maneuver: The act of maximizing intra-abdominal pressure and then forcefully exhaling without releasing any of the built-up pressure has been deemed unsafe during pregnancy as it decreases blood the oxygen available. Not being able to brace with this level of intensity will automatically decrease the weight you are able to move. 

2) Exercises Lying on your Back: After the first trimester, most women choose to avoid exercise that involve lying flat on their back. For many, it will be easy to avoid because it will be extremely uncomfortable because your ever expanding abdomen will crush your soul and you won’t be able to breathe. It is thought that lying flat on your back as the size of the abdomen decreases can but pressure on the inferior vena cava and descending aorta resulting in a lack of blood flow to mom and baby.

3) Trunk Flexion Exercises: Abdominal exercises that involve flexing the trunk can increase the severity of diastasis recti. Emphasis should be placed on anti-rotation exercise, and exercises of the transverse abdominis. Moderate anti-flexion exercises such as inclined planks or push-ups are okay. In most cases, rotation exercises should also be avoided. I highly recommend visiting a physiotherapist that specializes in this area if you are concerned about this.

4) Overheating: Stay cool! Drink lots of water and dress appropriately. Overheating especially during the first trimester has been linked with pregnancy complications.

5) HIIT: Anything that causes your heart rate to elevate to near max and then slow down and then do it all over again seemed to me like something that should be avoided – so I’ve avoided it.

Pregnancy is a whole different sport on its own! You can use your experience as an athlete to make this situation as comfortable and pleasant as possible. On top of that, your prize at the end is a tiny adorable human, instead of a round piece of metal (tiny human > round piece of metal in my opinion). Have fun with it and embrace your changing abilities and situation. Most importantly, ask for help! Reach out to support groups, other moms, other athletes, and professionals! Everyone will be supportive and everyone wants you and your baby to be happy.

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