Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

Personal Training | Women's Health

Strength Training During Pregnancy: Benefits, Safety, and How Physical Therapy Can Help

May 24th, 2024 | 6 min. read

Strength Training During Pregnancy: Benefits, Safety, and How Physical Therapy Can Help
Molly Cheeley

Molly Cheeley

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Herman and Wallace Pelvic Floor Level 1 Certified // EW Motion Therapy Trussville

Print/Save as PDF

Pregnancy is a time of profound change, both physically and emotionally. As the body adapts to nurture and support the growing life within, it's crucial for expectant mothers to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Among the various fitness options available, strength training stands out for its numerous benefits during pregnancy. This guide will delve into why strength training is important, explore its benefits, discuss safety considerations, highlight other helpful exercises, and explain how physical therapy can ensure safe prenatal fitness.


Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


The importance of strength training during pregnancy

Strength training during pregnancy isn’t just about maintaining fitness; it's about preparing the body for the demands of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. Regular, moderate-intensity strength training helps build and maintain muscle strength and endurance, which are essential as the body undergoes significant changes to accommodate a growing baby.


Strength training also improves proprioception — the body's ability to sense its position, motion, and equilibrium. This is particularly important as the center of gravity shifts during pregnancy, increasing the risk of falls and discomfort. By strengthening the core, lower back, and pelvic muscles, expectant mothers can gain better control and balance, reducing the likelihood of injury.


Benefits of strength training for pregnant women


Physical health benefits

  1. Reduced back pain: By strengthening the back and abdominal muscles, pregnant women can alleviate the strain on the lower back, which is often exacerbated by the extra weight carried in the front.
  2. Improved posture: As the breasts and belly grow, body positioning can be affected. Strength training helps correct postural imbalances and reduce discomfort.
  3. Faster recovery: Building muscle strength helps contribute to a quicker post-delivery recovery.


Mental health benefits

  1. Stress reduction: Exercise, including strength training, is a proven stress reliever. It helps in releasing endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
  2. Increased energy levels: Regular exercise boosts energy by improving sleep and reducing fatigue, which is a common complaint during pregnancy.


Safety considerations for strength training during pregnancy

Before beginning any exercise program, it’s crucial for pregnant women to consult with their healthcare providers, including their OB/GYN or midwife. This discussion should ensure that the exercise plan is safe based on the individual’s medical history and current health status. If you maintain an active lifestyle before getting pregnant, it is likely that you will be able to maintain your regular exercise routine during pregnancy, barring any complications or specific instructions from your care team. 


However, if you were not as active before your pregnancy, it is not advised to begin a new fitness regimen during pregnancy without the observation of a professional. As pregnancy progresses, the body’s ability to handle certain activities changes. If you did not lift weights or do high-impact movements before pregnancy, avoid these to prevent strain on the joints and ligaments, which are more susceptible to injury due to hormonal changes. Incorrect form can lead to injuries, so it’s important to perform exercises under the guidance of a qualified instructor who understands prenatal fitness. 


How else should pregnant women exercise?

While strength training forms a solid foundation for physical wellness during pregnancy, incorporating various exercises can provide a more holistic approach to prenatal fitness. Here, we explore the importance of core strengthening, pelvic floor exercises, and other beneficial activities.


Core strengthening

Core exercises during pregnancy are crucial for several reasons. Combined with deep diaphragmatic breathing, they help improve balance and stability as the body's center of gravity shifts, support a healthier posture, and reduce the risk of back pain by strengthening the spine and pelvis muscles.


However, it's important to adapt core exercises as pregnancy progresses. Traditional exercises like crunches or sit-ups are generally not recommended, especially in the second and third trimesters. Instead, modified exercises focusing on the transverse abdominals and obliques can be more beneficial and safer. These might include:


  1. Pelvic tilts: A gentle way to engage the core muscles without putting undue pressure on the abdomen.
  2. Bird dogs: Helps to strengthen the core, hip, and back muscles.
  3. Standing core exercises: Standing pelvic tilts, pallof presses, or abdominal contractions can maintain core strength without requiring supine positioning. 


Pelvic floor exercises

The pelvic floor muscles support the uterus, bladder, and bowels, and relaxing them during pregnancy can have multiple benefits, including reduced risk of incontinence, reduced risk of tearing during labor and delivery, and easier postpartum recovery. Integrating pelvic floor exercises into daily routines is beneficial, as they can be done discreetly and at any time. Many physical therapists can provide guidance on how to properly engage and strengthen these muscles, ensuring that the exercises are done effectively.


Yoga and Pilates

Both yoga and Pilates focus on mind-body connectivity and can be adapted for pregnant women to include poses and exercises that are safe and beneficial during pregnancy. They are excellent for enhancing flexibility, building strength, and managing stress.


  1. Prenatal yoga: Includes specific poses that accommodate the pregnant belly and help relieve tension in areas prone to discomfort during pregnancy.
  2. Pilates: Helps maintain alignment and balance, focusing on the pelvic floor and core.


Adding core strengthening and pelvic floor exercises to a prenatal fitness regimen, along with yoga and Pilates, provides a comprehensive approach to maintaining health during pregnancy. These exercises not only help manage and prevent discomfort but also prepare the body for childbirth and recovery. As always, it’s crucial for pregnant women to consult with healthcare providers before starting any new exercise program to ensure it’s safe for their specific circumstances.


How physical therapy helps with prenatal care

Physical therapists are instrumental in prenatal care, as they specialize in managing musculoskeletal pain. They can tailor exercises that specifically address pregnancy-related discomforts such as pelvic pain, sciatica, and round ligament pain. They can also help prepare the body for childbirth through core and pelvic floor exercises, which strengthen the muscles critical for labor and delivery. 


Additionally, your physical therapist is a vital resource in helping pregnant women safely build strength. They ensure proper technique, posture, and body awareness, especially as the mom’s center of gravity shifts during pregnancy. They also help with any pelvic floor problems that pregnancy can bring, such as incontinence during exercise.


Strength training during pregnancy offers extensive benefits that extend beyond physical health, encompassing mental well-being and preparation for childbirth. Pregnant women can enjoy a fit and healthy pregnancy journey with appropriate guidance, safety measures, and the complementary support of other exercises and physical therapy. Remember, the key to a successful fitness regimen during pregnancy is personalization and moderation, ensuring the activities chosen are enjoyable and adapted to changing needs. Your physical therapist can be an excellent resource to customize exercise programs and ensure your safety as pregnancy progresses - we consider it a privilege to help all of our moms at EW Motion Therapy do this every day. To learn more about how physical therapy can meet your needs, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently asked questions.


New call-to-action