Powerlifting, Fitness, and Pregnancy


 So, I’m pregnant. I’m almost 20 weeks, or half-way through my pregnancy which seems INSANE. Sometimes it seems like it’s flying by, but most of the time I just wish it would fly even faster so I can finally meet our baby!

Pregnancy was not in my plans for this year. I expected I would feel “ready” mentally, emotionally, and financially when I got pregnant on my own perfect timeline – preferably another couple of years down the road if you would have asked me before I took the test. When I found out I was pregnant, I had just made (non-fundable) payments to fly to Spokane, Washington and compete in the USAPL Raw Nationals. I had just barely gotten my feet wet in my personal training business. I had just started to feel like my strength was reaching a competitive level. I had just been hitting my stride with my nutrition in a way that was honoring to both my mental health and my physical goals. I learned in the biggest possible way that plans don’t always pan out the way we expect. Today, I can truly say I am so happy to have been somewhat forced to give up my progress in other areas to make room for a brand new little person that I already love so much. Though I struggled at first to come to grips with letting go of those goals when I was finally on the brink of them, the sweetness of becoming a mom has been infinitely better. Pregnancy has been hard, but it’s been so worth it.

 I’ve received a few questions over the past couple of months regarding how pregnancy, fitness, and powerlifting all overlap and I’d like to shed some light on what it’s been like for me!

 

“How does this change your powerlifting goals, if at all?”

I don’t really have short-term powerlifting goals at the moment. Before I was pregnant, I felt really close to a 300lb deadlift. I have always wanted to compete at Nationals. I would love to finally get a 135lb bench press. Those are all still goals of mine, they’re just postponed for 9 months of pregnancy and however many months of recovery and getting back into the swing of things post-partum. So, my goals haven’t changed, they’re just further away now. I’m still training all of the Big Three lifts for the same amount of time each week, but I’m not pushing myself to a point of failure and I’m not trying to set any PRs. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to feel like those little goals are so far away, but I’m learning to be patient in this area!

 

“Do you still feel strong?”

Yes and no. I’m not as strong as I was before I was pregnant, obviously. I’m significantly less strong due in part to my body changing, but also due to the fact that I took about 5 weeks completely off from lifting during my first trimester. I was nauseous, exhausted, and all of the other fun stuff that comes along with the beginning of pregnancy. If I wasn’t working or barfing, I was asleep. Once I was able to get back in the gym, I felt so much weaker that I did before. I’m sure my muscles had atrophied significantly during that time because I hadn’t lifted anything, drank enough water, or eaten enough protein to retain my strength. However, I’m past the sickness and exhaustion and I’m able to go to the gym again. Even though I’m not as strong, I still feel great about what I am capable of doing and focusing as much as I can on those things. I’m even making small improvements compared to my first week back in the gym as my body is adapting to lifting weights again.

 

“What have you had to change with your training?”

Funny story… I started to feel like I was maybe pregnant in early September. I knew that I couldn’t lift weights with a weightlifting belt if I was, so I took a test on the 5th right before I was about to work out just to be sure. It was NEGATIVE. I found out later it was a false negative, clearly, but I thought the test was right so I just kept lifting and struggling and barely squeezing into my belt for the next week. I took another test, the one that was actually positive, on the 11th when I felt like I was REALLY pregnant, and that’s when I started to make adjustments to my training. I stopped wearing a belt immediately just because I had to remove that pressure from my stomach. I also stopped pushing myself to a level where I was maxing out or nearing failure on my training. The only real thing that’s changed is that I don’t lift as much weight as I did before and I don’t get lift in a rep range of less than 5. I still squat, bench, and deadlift as normal. I still do accessory movements with dumbbells and cables. For the most part the only change I physically feel is being less strong. Thankfully my mobility, my range of motion and my bar path have remained consistent. My doctor told me that I could keep doing what I’ve been doing as long as I stay hydrated, listen to my body, and don’t push myself to a point of total exhaustion. I’m sure that as the baby grows and I approach her due date that I will have to begin modifying certain exercises, but for now I just look like a chubbier, weaker version of my old self in the gym!

 

“What’s the best exercise when you’re pregnant when you’re not supposed to get your heart rate up too high?”

I don’t know if there is one “best exercise” for pregnant women, but I do know there are many benefits to staying active during your pregnancy. Moms who continue working out while they’re pregnant are more likely to have an improved ability to cope with labor. Working out also reduces swelling and lessens the risk of gestational diabetes. From what I understand based on my doctor’s recommendations and the research I’ve done on fitness during pregnancy, you’re supposed to keep doing whatever you already have been doing pre-pregnancy. So, if you were already powerlifting like I was, you can keep powerlifting. If you were taking HIIT fitness classes, you can keep taking HIIT fitness classes. However, pregnancy is NOT the time to take on a new fitness routine for the first time. If you weren’t active before your pregnancy, the safest way to be active is to take walks. Just be cautious of your heart rate and don’t push yourself to a point of dizziness or exhaustion. There is no one-size-fits-all form of fitness for pregnancy, you just have to be mindful and intentional with how you feel! As far as specifically beneficial exercises for pregnant women, squats seem to be the best in terms of preparing for labor – they increase the strength of your pelvic floor and are the closest exercise to mimicking the position of your legs in labor. So, if you were already doing some squats beforehand, do not neglect them now!!

 

“How do you balance health and pleasure with pregnancy?”

My approach with balancing health with having fun or enjoying myself is the same in pregnancy as it was when I wasn’t pregnant. I make decisions based on what I think would be best for my overall health physically and mentally. Every healthy decision I make now is rooted in love and in wanting to make the healthiest decisions for my baby. Most of the time, that’s exercising, eating lots of vegetables, drinking lots of water, and getting plenty of sleep. Of course, there are times when I just really want to chill on the couch, watch Netflix, and eat pizza. So, I do that every once in a while. I am always weighing the pros and cons of each situation and assessing whether or not what I’m doing will set a healthy or unhealthy habit long-term.

 

“When will you stop exercising before the baby comes?”

I’ll stop exercising if my doctor tells me to or if anything I’m doing feels painful. Many women are able to exercise for the entirety of their pregnancy, which is what I’m planning on if I continue to have a healthy pregnancy!