After Lea-Ann Ellison's photo was published on the CrossFit Facebook page, a heated debate was ignited over what's safe exercise during pregnancy and what's pushing the limit.
As the lady who literally wrote the book on prenatal and postpartum exercise, I was asked my opinion on the matter by various friends and acquaintances. So I decided to officially weight in on the question: Should pregnant women be lifting weights?
Like it or not, here's the answer: It depends. It depends on what were doing for exercise before you were pregnant and what you've been doing throughout your pregnancy. Every body is different. And we now know, thanks to the great work of James F. Clapp, MD, over the past 35 years, that women who were athletes before pregnancy can safely continue to train throughout their pregnancy without any increased risk to themselves or their babies. Clapp's long term studies are definitive. Not only is it safe, he found it beneficial for women to train five times per week. They had shorter labors, less complications during labor, required fewer medical interventions, gained less weight during pregnancy and had longer and leaner babies.
Having said that, it's important to note that pregnancy is not the time to begin any high-impact activity or weightlifting beyond toning with light weights. Runners can safely continue to run thoughout pregnancy as long as they have no discomfort. Most distance runners decrease their distance as pregnancy progresses. Likewise, women who are accustomed to lifting weights as part of their regular workout routine can safely continue to lift during pregnancy, and most will logically decrease the weight as pregnancy progresses to honor and respect their changing body. Hormonal changes in pregnancy make all the ligaments in the body lax, increasing the risk for joint injury, especially with impact activities. The abdominal muscles, stretched over the ever-expanding uterus, lose strength and no longer function optimally, especially in their role as lumbar stabilizers, putting moms-to-be at risk for lumbar strains. Body mechanics and maintaining proper form with weight lifting are even more important during pregnancy.
Non-runners should wait until after baby comes to take up jogging for exercise. And those who haven't been regularly lifting weights should delay any dead-lift dreams until post-pregnancy. But it's perfectly safe for women who didn't exercise at all before becoming pregnant to start working out during pregnancy. Just be sure to keep cardio activities low-impact, such as walking or swimming, and strengthening exercises should be specifically designed for pregnancy.