Weight training, such as Olympic and power lifting for women has gained in popularity over the last 5 – 10 years. These individuals can lift significant weights and have trained for this over a long period of time. In this blog, we’re asking the question is it still safe for them to continue this type of training while pregnant? Do they have to give up what they love, or can they keep lifting? And as practitioners are we underdosing these individuals throughout their pregnancy for fear of poor maternal and fetal outcomes?

Australian recommended exercise guidelines in pregnancy are, 60mins of moderate intensity exercise each day with x2 strength/resistance training sessions on non-consecutive days. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists corroborate that strength training such as body weight or light weights can be completed twice a week. Aiming to complete 1-2 sets of 12-15 reps for each exercise.

In this recommendation they say to avoid “heavy” weights that involve straining or breath holding for the general population. But what about the elite and athletes? Exercise intensity is such an individualised experience, what one person’s 80% effort is another’s 50%. If these individuals who have spent years building their tolerance to lifting heavy weights of 100kg + prior to pregnancy what about them? The question is, is it safe for them to continue to lift at these weights or should they stop altogether? Let’s have a look.

A study conducted in 2022 by Christina Prevett et al investigated training and health outcomes of individuals who engaged in heavy resistance training during pregnancy. Christina looked at women who engaged in CrossFit and weightlifting (Olympic powerlifting) during their pregnancies. In this research, women who were previously active in the CrossFit or weightlifting space continued to complete 80% of their 1RM throughout their pregnancy. From their research they found the following outcomes;

  1. No difference in pregnancy and delivery complications between those who continued to lift weights and those who didn’t.
  2. Individuals who continued to train until delivery reported significantly less pregnancy and delivery complications than those who reduced their training level.
  3. Training volumes, Olympic weightlifting and Valsalva maneuvers did NOT increase OR decrease the incidence of urinary incontinence pre and postnatally.
  4. If you were previously active in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, or weightlifting prior to becoming pregnant you were more likely to continue to complete sessions during your pregnancy.
  5. Completing heavy weightlifting (if previously active in the sport) demonstrated similar or a lower rate of complications such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, postpartum anxiety and depression compared to the general population.
  6. Those who engaged in heavy weightlifting during pregnancy were less likely to report a caesarean section compared with global rates.
  7. Those who continued their heavy training up until delivery had a lower incidence of reproductive complications.
  8. Heavy training until delivery may not increase the odds of reproductive or delivery complications.
  9. There was no difference in pregnancy, labour or delivery in those who completed the Valsalva maneuvera during pregnancy.
  10. There was no difference between incidence of urinary incontinence in Olympic weightlifters and those who participated in high impact training (running).
  11. Pelvic floor physiotherapy during pregnancy and postpartum reduced symptoms and episodes of urinary incontinence.

Christina found that for women who previously engaged in this type of training prior to their pregnancy, had a typical perinatal and pelvic floor health outcome that were not altered or worsened by continuing to weight train during their pregnancy.

The important point from this study is that women who have experience in Olympic or powerlifting had no adverse pregnancy complications with continued training during pregnancy reported in this research. If you’re an athlete who is thinking about getting pregnant, currently pregnant or in your postpartum period the research supports the input of a pelvic floor physiotherapist in this period. This research indicates that it is safe to continue to complete your training with modifications to be made with the guidance of a trained health professional. The physiotherapists at Bump Fitness pride themselves on keeping women as active as possible during and post pregnancy to ensure you can continue to participate in exercise the way you want to.

References

For adults (18 to 64 years) | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Impact of heavy resistance training on pregnancy and postpartum health outcomes (springer.com)

https://ranzcog.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Exercise-during-pregnancy-pamphlet.pdf