Weight Training While Pregnant

Safely lift your way to fewer aches.

pregnant workout
Photo: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

Lifting weights while pregnant is one of the best ways to minimize aches and pains. It's also an excellent way to stay in shape, build strength for labor, and help prepare you for all the heavy lifting that comes with having a baby.

If you're already familiar with lifting weights, you likely have a set routine. Still, it's wise to make some allowances for your body as it changes throughout pregnancy. To stay safe, try using weight machines, which are ideal, especially for gym newbies, because they control your range of motion. However, you can continue if you're accustomed to doing free-weight exercises.

Steer clear of any machine with a pad that presses against your belly, such as the seated row machine or abdominal machines. In addition, forgo any overhead lift since this kind of motion can increase the curve in your lower spine (aka hyperlordosis).

Lifting Routines to Prevent Aches During Pregnancy

The strength routine below targets the muscles that are key to reducing discomfort during pregnancy. Do 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps for each except the Plank. Choose a weight that allows you to perform the repetitions properly and comfortably.

And after the first trimester, avoid exercise while lying on your back. And finally, always talk to your doctor before performing any exercise routine while pregnant.

Upper and Middle Back

During pregnancy, it is common to experience back pain as the tendons loosen, thanks to a hormone called relaxin. But, with good posture and strong back muscles, you can prevent a sore back from becoming unbearable. Also, as your breasts get bigger, your shoulders round forward; strengthening the muscles between your shoulder blades helps counteract the slump.

Try strengthening your upper and middle back muscles with these two machines:

Seated cable row

The seated cable row uses movements similar to rowing a boat. This machine works the upper back muscles and the latissimus dorsi, a broad muscle covering the middle back around the sides of the chest. Together, these muscles can help give you a strong posture and prevent back pain.

Lat pulldown

The lat pulldown is a long handlebar that creates a weight through cable resistance. Pulling the bar from overhead down toward the chest allows you to work the latissimus dorsi muscles, just like on the seated cable row.

The latissimus dorsi muscles help build a strong posture and stabilize the spine, which is an excellent way to prepare for birth.


In nature, everything must be balanced. So, if you work your back muscles, you should also work your chest muscles. The chest muscles help strengthen and stabilize posture and help with deep breathing—a fantastic skill to have in preparation for childbirth.

Try working your chest muscles with this machine:

Seated chest press

The seated chest press is a machine version of a weight bench. Instead of lifting free weights over your head as you lay down, you push and pull weights toward and away from your chest while seated. This machine works your pectoral, deltoid, and tricep muscles.

Arms and Shoulders

Soon, you'll need strong arms and shoulders as you schlep your new beautiful baby, a diaper bag—and the groceries. The triceps and biceps are on opposite sides of the upper arm; by working them together, you can strengthen and stabilize the shoulder and elbow, which can help prevent injuries.

Not to mention you can show off a little and flex your arms after a sweet workout.

Biceps and triceps machine

When you push, you work the tricep muscle and when you pull, you work the bicep muscle. Make sure to do equal movements for each muscle to balance your strength training.

Lower Body

If you plan on doing any squatting during childbirth, you'll need strong legs. But even after childbirth, you'll need strong legs for carrying your baby (and all their gear) until they can walk o their own—and then you'll be chasing them!

To help build strong, lean muscles in your legs, try these machines:

Leg extension

The leg extension machine works the quadriceps (aka quads) muscles on the front of the thighs by "pushing" against a weight while lifting the lower leg and extending it straight.

One great benefit of this movement is that the leg extension will also help strengthen the knees, which can prevent injuries.

Seated leg-curl

The seated curl works the hamstring muscle opposite the quad muscle on the upper leg. Again, balance is critical when weightlifting for strength, so if you work the top muscle, you must also work the bottom.

You "pull" the weight using your hamstring muscles to perform a seated leg curl. It looks like the same motion as the leg extension, but the leg employs the weight from a different side.


Planks are ideal because you can work your back and front muscles in one simple, static movement. The plank not only strengthens and lengthens muscles, but it can prevent aches and pains, including pregnancy-induced back pain, by keeping your abdominal muscles strong through all stages of pregnancy.

If you have a diastasis recti, talk to your doctor before doing a plank. Planks are an excellent muscle-building exercise, but they might not be safe for everyone.

How to perform a plank

Lower onto all fours so your wrists are directly under your shoulders. Lift your knees off the floor (don't arch your back) so your body forms a straight line. Hold for 1 to 2 breaths, working up to 5 breaths.

Strength Train at Home

All you need are 2- to 5-pound dumbbells and a chair. Do 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise, choosing a weight that is comfortable or simply using your body weight.

Triceps overhead extensions

Holding one weight between both hands, raise the weight straight up over your head, then slowly bend at the elbow, lowering the weight down behind your head.

Biceps curls

Holding a weight in each hand, palm facing up, slowly bend at the elbow and bring the weights toward your body and then slowly return to starting position.

Lateral raises

Holding a weight in each hand, palm facing down, slowly raise your extended arms out to your sides and then slowly return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Squats

Holding one weight in each hand, palm facing your body, and feet shoulder-width apart, slowly lower your body by bending your knees, but keep your back straight and arms extended down, all the way down. Slowly return to starting position.

The Bottom Line

Lifting weights is a safe and beneficial exercise for pregnant people that can build muscles and prevent injury, aches, and pains. Strong muscles can also help you prepare for child birth and recover faster in postpartum.

Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you are pregnant.

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