Callie Gullickson teaches a Peloton strength class

Yes, You Can Lift Weights While Pregnant—As Long As You Keep These Safety Tips In Mind

Experts share what you need to know.

By Erin Bunch May 10, 2024


The idea of weight lifting during pregnancy can seem counterintuitive; isn’t it common knowledge that you should abstain from heavy lifting when you’re pregnant? But we do know that exercise during pregnancy can offer notable benefits (when done safely.) So, can you lift weights while pregnant, or not? 

Below, experts weigh in (no pun intended!) on the truth about weight lifting during pregnancy—including the risks and benefits, proper safety precautions and modifications, specifically recommended exercises, and other intel that might help ensure you’re making the best choice for both you and your baby. 

Can You Lift Weights While Pregnant?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, weight lifting is safe during pregnancy; however, you should always check in with your healthcare provider first, says Dr Lucky Sekhon, Double Board Certified REI & OBGYN at RMA of New York.

She notes that there are certain women who should avoid lifting weights altogether, including anyone whose pregnancy has been deemed “high risk,” anyone with certain medical conditions, including placenta previa, or anyone with a history of preterm labor.

For many other women, Dr. Sekhon says weight lifting can be beneficial, but that it’s important to be aware of potential risks and take appropriate precautions. “There is an increased risk of injury because pregnancy hormones can loosen ligaments and joints, increasing the risk of strains or sprains while lifting weights,” she says. Additionally, lifting weights that are too heavy or performing exercises with poor form can lead to overexertion, which may cause discomfort or injury.

And because pregnancy can create issues with the pelvic floor, and heavy lifting can strain the pelvic floor muscles, lifting during pregnancy can increase the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction and or urinary incontinence, she says. 

If you are going to lift weights during pregnancy, there are a few best practices to keep in mind that will help you mitigate some of these risks. According to Peloton instructor Callie Gullickson, if you lifted weights prior to pregnancy, it’s generally safe to continue during pregnancy. As a general rule of thumb, however, you’ll want to go lighter than you did pre-pregnancy, with higher reps, making sure to pay attention to your form and enacting modifications where appropriate (more on that in a bit). If you are new to weight lifting, check with your doctor before beginning a new regimen and be sure to start small. 

Benefits of Lifting Weights While Pregnant

With proper form, precautions, and modifications, there are many potential benefits to weight training during pregnancy. Generally speaking, it’s a great way to help your body move through pregnancy while also helping it prepare for what comes after, says Callie. Specifically, it offers the following benefits: 

Reduces Back Pain

Pregnancy creates all sorts of strain on the back, which often results in pain. With the added weight in front, the natural curvature of the spine changes, as does the center of gravity. Both of these changes tax the lower back muscles significantly. On top of this, a hormone called relaxin loosens up spinal ligaments, which affects the stability of the spinal joints and contributes to chronic aching. Lifting weights can help strengthen the back muscles, says Gullickson, making these changes easier to bear and resulting in less pain. And according to research, any exercises that specifically strengthen the core are particularly useful in alleviating lower back pain.

The added weight at the front of your body—in your belly and your breasts—can cause your shoulders to slump forward. Strengthening the muscles in your upper and middle back, as well as in your chest, can help correct this. 

Helps with Stability and Coordination

Shifts in the alignment of your spine and pelvis, in addition to an altered center of gravity, can make you feel clumsier than usual. “By continuing to lift weights while pregnant, you'll help keep your stability and coordination through pregnancy,” says Callie. 

Helps Counterbalance Core Strain

Your core takes a beating during pregnancy and childbirth, so anything you can do to strengthen it is going to make the whole experience a little easier, and put you in a better position to recover postpartum

Benefits Labor

Research shows that resistance training, such as weight lifting, can improve various elements of labor. For example, it can shorten the early stages of labor, decrease the chance of a C-section, and decrease the length of a hospital stay. And strengthening your chest muscles will also help with deep breathing, which may come in handy when it’s time to give birth.

Moderates Excess Weight Gain

Research published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that resistance training during pregnancy helped to substantially reduce excess weight gain. 

Lowers Risk of Gestational Diabetes

Research has also shown that those who exercise during pregnancy have a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes by up to 59 percent. And while this data isn’t specific to weight lifting, there is data to show that women with gestational diabetes who engaged in resistance training during pregnancy reduced their need for insulin.

Improves Energy Levels

Strengthening exercises, such as those done by lifting weights, can also improve energy levels and reduce pregnancy fatigue, according to research.

Makes Postpartum Demands Easier

Carting around a baby, along with all of their gear, is no joke in terms of load. By strengthening your arms and shoulders via weight lifting prior to giving birth, you’ll find it easier to manage lifting this weight after. 

How Much Can You Lift While Pregnant?

There is no set or standard amount of weight, or weight limit, that pregnant women are recommended to lift. The right amount for an individual depends on how much weight they were lifting before pregnancy, where they are in their pregnancy, their current health, and how their body feels during pregnancy. In other words, it’s all about finding what makes sense for you. “Pregnancy affects each body differently, so it's important to listen to your body and if something feels uncomfortable, you can decrease variables such as the load and range of motion,” says Callie.

Even if you did lift regularly pre-pregnancy, Dr. Sekhon says you may not be able to continue lifting at the same intensity. “Generally, you can continue with your pre-pregnancy weightlifting routine during the first trimester, but be cautious and listen to your body,” she says. “As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to decrease the intensity and modify certain exercises to accommodate your changing body. Avoid heavy lifting and high-impact exercises that could strain your joints and pelvic floor.” As a general rule of thumb, she recommends using lighter weights than you did before you became pregnant and engaging in higher repetitions—aim for 9-12—to reduce the risk of injury. 

Types of Exercises to Focus On While Pregnant

When it comes to which types of exercises are most beneficial during pregnancy, Callie says it’s helpful to consider your current goals. “You are preparing for your pregnancy journey, labor and delivery, postpartum, and motherhood,” she says. “Keeping that in mind, compound movements which involve activating multiple muscle groups will benefit you.” There’s no need, Callie adds, to “get fancy.” Instead, you can stick to the basics, engaging in exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, chest presses, bent-over rows, and shoulder presses. 

Dr. Sekhon additionally notes that it’s important to start your workout with a warm-up to prepare your body for exercise, and to also end it with a cooldown to reduce the risk of injury. And whatever exercise you’re engaging in, it’s important to do so with proper form. Taking classes can help with this, as trainers will often provide notes on form as well as demonstrations. 

Two to three weight lifting sessions per week is a good goal—any more, and you risk overexerting yourself. When designing your weekly workouts, it’s best to make each session comprehensive so that it hits a number of different muscle groups rather than just one, e.g. “leg day,” as this will help reduce pain and strain. 

Callie Gullickson teaches a Peloton strength training class

What to Avoid During Your Pregnancy

After the first trimester, Dr. Sekhon says you should avoid any exercise that involves lying flat on your back (i.e. sit-ups, crunches, etc.) due to the risk of supine hypotensive syndrome, which can decrease blood flow to the uterus. And whatever exercises you’re doing, you’ll want to beware of bumping your bump with the weight or barbell. 

Beyond this, Callie says there are also some exercises that should be avoided if you’re feeling discomfort or showing signs of a future injury. “For example, during some core exercises, a pregnant woman may notice a doming or coning in her stomach. This is a sign of diastasis recti, which happens when too much pressure is placed on your abdominal wall and the muscles begin to separate,” she says. “It’s best to stop doing an exercise when you begin to notice that and choose an alternative exercise.” Generally speaking, it’s important to be cautious around core work in general after 12 weeks of pregnancy, says Dr. Sekhon—weighted sit-ups and exercises involving abdominal rotation are a no-no. While you can continue to exercise the core, proper modifications and safety are key.

Callie also reiterates just how much your body changes over the course of a pregnancy and says that movements will feel different at different stages. For this reason, it’s important to continue listening to your body and making modifications as necessary. If you were able to do something two weeks prior that you don’t feel you can do today, it’s actually not best to push through but to instead adjust the exercise or decrease its intensity. Pregnancy is not the time to push yourself to the edge. 

When to Stop Lifting Weights During Your Pregnancy

On a similar note, you’ll want to know what signs to look for that you’re overexerting yourself and potentially putting yourself or your pregnancy in danger. According to Dr. Sekhon, there are four main warning signs to look out for: 

  1. Dizziness: If you feel dizzy or lightheaded during exercise, stop immediately and rest, she says. 

  2. Trouble breathing: If you’re struggling to breathe or experiencing any chest pain, that is a sign you’re overexerting yourself. 

  3. Bleeding or leaking: If you notice any vaginal bleeding or fluid leakage while lifting, you should not only stop exercise but also seek immediate medical attention. 

  4. Intense pain in the abdomen or pelvis: Pain in this region is also a red flag. If you experience such pain, Dr. Sekhon says to stop exercising immediately and call your doctor, or whomever is on call. 

Final Takeaways

While weight lifting can provide numerous benefits to your physical health during pregnancy, Dr. Sekhon recommends reviewing any exercise plans with your OBGYN both before and during your pregnancy. “They can provide personalized recommendations based on your individual health and pregnancy,” she says. The general rule of thumb, says Callie, is that if you were doing it before pregnancy, it’s likely safe to continue doing it during your pregnancy with appropriate modifications but this, of course, depends on the specifics of your pregnancy. “I am a firm believer that lifting weights will benefit the wonderful journey of pregnancy and motherhood,” she says. “The most important thing is to listen to your body and do what feels good for you.” 

If it makes you nervous to continue weight lifting during pregnancy given some of the risks, there are many other types of strength training you can do instead. Peloton offers a variety of weight-free strength classes and pregnancy workouts, including Pilates and Barre classes, classes that utilize resistance bands instead of weights, in addition to prenatal yoga and cycling classes. 

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


Featured Peloton Instructor

Callie Gullickson

Callie Gullickson

Callie comes from a family of athletes but broke the mold to pursue dance. Her knowledge of technique and emphasis on quality of movement extends to her classes.


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