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ObGyn/Pregnancy issues/Leg Presses and Other Leg Exercises While Pregnant



I have a question about the safety of strength training for legs during pregnancy, as I have been getting advice to decrease weight lifting and to stop doing strength training for my legs at all.

I am 10 weeks along in a (so far) normal, uncomplicated pregnancy and have been very physically active all of my adult life.  To that end, I have been lifting weights consistently for 15 years (with training at various points), and I have continued my pre-pregnancy weight regime of lifting weights 3 times a week.  I am not a heavy, heavy lifter (usually I do 10 and 15 pound free weights for my arm workouts, 40-50 pounds lat pull down, etc.) and use weight machines.  Since becoming pregnant, I have also reduced the amount of certain weight exercises I do.  For example, I used to do 180-190 pounds on the leg press machine, but I have cut back to 160 pounds (with proper form), and I don't feel like I am straining.  In fact, it feels good!  I also don't exercise to the point of exhaustion and I don't feel overtired or like I am overexerting myself.  

However, I currently live overseas in a country where doctors and nurses tend to be very conservative when it comes to exercise during pregnancy, and I have been told that I should immediately stop altogether doing leg presses and any sort of leg or back work.  I have also been told to reduce the amount of weights for my arms, but I feel great and I don't feel like I need to do that yet, particularly because I am in my first trimester!  I will of course reduce and/or stop if I ever start feeling uncomfortable or like something is wrong, but it is very frustrating to me to be told to reduce my training so much that it will feel like I am not exercising at all, and it seems that many of the guidelines for exercise during pregnancy do not take into account a woman's pre-pregnancy fitness level.  

At the same time, however, I don't want to do anything to hurt the baby, so it is hard to know what to do when I am being told to cut back.  Any help or guidance would be much appreciated!

The advisories regarding exercise during pregnancy are "one-size-fits-all" and are geared toward unfit or only moderately active women. Here in the USA, only 15% of all pregnant women walk for a minimum of 30 minutes on most days of the week. Given that most women of childbearing age are unfit, and in the 2/3 (again in USA) are either overweight or obese, these general guidelines make sense. But certainly not for you.

In the first tri, you really don't need to modify your workouts at all. Most athletic women have small baby bumps well into the 2nd tri. It's not until your belly "pops out" that your abs stretch enough that they no longer adequately support/stabilize your torso. Then you need to modify.

From about 20 weeks gestation onward, your ligaments will soften and begin to lengthen in response to pregnancy hormones. Ligaments provide joint stability, so that joints move in their proper range of motion. This is the time to cut back on resistance/intensity, to prevent injury.

Generally, as long as you can maintain perfect form, you're moving safely for your own abilities. Some women find joint instability more problematic than others. Also, as your belly gets big, your center of gravity shifts, and even some very athletic women find that lunges and other exercises get dicey, at any weight.

Tune into your body, so that you recognize these changes, if and when they occur. Then modify as necessary.

Leg press is a closed chain exercise, and should be OK for you to do normally till 20 weeks or so. Then it might become too stressful on you joints. Leg extention and knee flexion place more strain on the knee ligaments so will need to be modifies sooner, and possibly eliminated in the 2nd and 3rd tris.

With any of these, you want to avoid extreme ranges of motion so protect your joints.

Smith machines are know to place more stress on knee ligaments than free weights, so this is something to modify too.

As to back work, choose exercises that require you to stabilize a neutral spine. You don't want to do exercises that increase your lumbar curve during pregnancy. Seated compound row, with cables, so that your belly is not pressed against the machine, is one of the best prenatal exercises and should be part of every workout. Lat pulls, all variations which utilize neutral spine, are also great.

Don't do cable exercises like "wood chop" and others which flex and rotate, or extend and rotate your spine after 20 weeks. These types of exercises place shear forces across the mid line and can cause diastasis recti to occur.

Always perform abdominal bracing (you should see your baby bump get smaller as you do this) before every exercise, and keep your "internal girdle" tight through every rep. If you are a lifter who has been trained to push/inflate your abdomen into your weight belt to provide stability so that you can lift heavier weight, stop this now. This will cause diastasis recti.

One meta-analysis study done in Europe showed a correlation between high intensity/high impact/high volume exercise, such as running more than 20 miles per week, and miscarriage in the 1st tri. Certainly, your activities do not fall into this category.

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Helene Byrne


I can answer all questions regarding prenatal and postpartum fitness and exercise. I will not answer any questions that are not related to prenatal and postpartum fitness and exercise. I will not answer questions regarding getting pregnant, or signs or symtoms, only fitness and exercise during and after pregnancy. No due dates, medical problems during pregnancy, signs or symtpoms of pregnancy, pregnancy tests, vaginal problems/smells/discharge, periods or ovulation.


Pre-and-Postnatal Exercise Specialist ACE certified Personal Trainer Author: "Exercise After Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best" Book Author: "Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning" DVD Founder: BeFit-Mom Teacher: Post Pregnancy Exercise Workshops

IDEA Health and Fitness Association

numerous regional parenting magazine

Dancing Thru Pregnancy, Pre/Post Natal Exercise Specialist Certification 2000 Resist-a-Ball Core Program, 1999 American Council on Exercise, Personal Trainer Certificate, 1999 Peak Performance, San Francisco, CA, Pilates Instructor Training Program, 1992 Health and Fitness Institute, Cal State Hayward, Personal Trainer Certificate, 1990 American College of Sports Medicine, Group Exercise Leader, 1989 Boston Conservatory, BFA/Dance, 1982

Awards and Honors
´┐ŻBounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning´┐Ż, 2005. Winner of the Platinum Award from the Family Review Center, 2007.

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