Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Strength Training Through My Pregnancy

by Angie Bryant, SSC | June 09, 2016

Angie pressing 28 days before delivery

I became pregnant with my fourth in March of 2015. I was just about 6 months shy of my 40th birthday. When I discovered I was expecting, I was 10 days out from my annual competition at the USAPL Spring Equinox. Despite understanding there was no problem with competing, it was still a rough decision for me. At that time, I was benching 155 for a double, pulling 330 for a double and had just squatted a lifetime PR of 290 x 2 and 295 for a single. Looking back, I was about 3 weeks pregnant during that test week when I hit those numbers. 

The meet went well. I will admit I was somewhat less aggressive than usual, but I still managed to PR my squat and deadlift. Beau, my husband and coach, said he could see the bar speed begin slowing around week three or four (the week before the comp). I did have some hellacious training sessions at the end of March before the meet, but I chalked it up to par for the course for how my body usually feels in the last few weeks prior to a meet. That said, I was glad I competed (I was about 6 weeks pregnant at the time) and came away with some meet PRs and a total PR as well (squat 292.1/bench 148.8/dead 330.7/total 771.6).

For the first trimester, fatigue and stomach upset seem to be the worst issues for me. However, despite how much I didn’t feel like doing it, I consistently found that getting out in the garage and training always made the nausea better, improved my mood and increased my energy level. I typically tend to back off a little after a meet, so the resets were comfortable (I was around 10-15% off my pre-meet working sets of fives), easily doable even while pregnant and I didn’t have much problem with carrying on my four-day split. Leading up to the meet, I had been running RTS and doing quite a bit of accessory work, and I chose not keep up with that. I did continue to squat, deadlift, bench, chin, press, and pause squat three to four times weekly. I also did some dumbbell benches, more due to some nasty shoulder tendinitis than any pregnancy issues. 

In the beginning of the second trimester, I reset my squat about 10% (I was at 185 for 8s) and continued linear progress on it. I did this thinking I might not be recovering as well and to give myself a little less stress to recover from. I also stopped wearing my belt due to discomfort and my growing belly around 20 weeks, which is about the same time I noticed my center of gravity shifting enough to alter my squat position. My solution was to stop lifting in my Do-Wins and put on a pair of flatter-soled shoes to help adjust for my belly pulling me forward. This worked like a charm. 

At about 24 weeks, I switched to incline bench. It wasn’t that I was necessarily feeling any particular pain or problem with the flat bench, but I understand the risk of inferior vena cava syndrome – a late-term complication involving the compression of the vein by the baby when lying flat in a supine position – and once you get symptoms from that, it’s pretty well too late, so that wasn’t a risk I wanted to take. I did continue doing push-ups, 3 sets of 20 until the 24ish-week mark. I did keep them up afterward, and just noticed I would have to break the reps up more, like 10 or 12, and do more sets. 

The deadlift went well overall. The only problem I found with it was that I had to slowly inch my stance out a little wider – nothing crazy, but slowly a little here and there to accommodate my growing belly. I will say that it is a consideration for both the coach and lifter to understand the difficulty of getting tight enough at the bottom and to get in the proper position once the belly gets to a certain size. I did have some sacral pain here and there (nothing hugely new for me) and mostly this was due to ligament loosening and inability to crank down hard enough off the floor for my start. I never did switch to sumo although I understand some pregnant women do in the last trimester. 

Training went along really well until the end of September (30 weeks), three or four days a week, some resets here and there, but always adding weight to the bar. I used my press to rehab a torn rotator cuff from a fall I'd had, after progressing very well up to 104 for reps at 28 weeks. 

Squatting 28 days before delivery

Training at 36 weeks, 28 days before delivery.

I continued lifting until about 4 weeks prior to delivering. Those last 8 weeks, I really paid attention to my body, did what I could for 3 sets of five for squat and press and a set of three for the deadlift. I also decreased my training sessions to only twice a week. Regarding switching to triples on the dead, I found that toward the end of my pregnancy the strain of five reps in a row in that position simply wasn’t comfortable and really squished my abdomen. This wasn’t the case with the squat or press. I did find staying tight at the bottom of the squat was also more difficult the bigger I got, and I feel like the hormones (the ones designed to loosen your pelvis for delivery) at the end played a role as well. 

Other than that these few issues, I feel that training through my pregnancy helped my recovery from childbirth tremendously. I was back out in the garage about 2 weeks after my delivery hitting the empty bar. Maintaining proper form was my biggest concern in the last trimester, and if from one week to the next I couldn’t, I would take off five or ten pounds and restart there. 

My impression is that training through pregnancy helped me immensely. I gained the least weight with my fourth than any of the others, and was back to pre-pregnancy weight by about 2 weeks afterward, also a first for me. Physically, I believe maintaining my strength allowed me to keep up with my other three children and work two jobs right up to my delivery. However, the best affect by far was on the reduction in morning sickness and my improved mood and energy levels. 

Far too often, pregnant women are discouraged from lifting anything much over 25lbs and often told not to train with barbells. Considering my own experience and that of many of our gym members who have continued their training throughout pregnancy with so much positive benefit, I feel we should encourage our pregnant members to keep up their training when possible. 

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