Lifting Weights While Pregnant: Benefits, Safety, and Risks

Lifting weights while pregnant is no longer something doctors and trainers scoff at. On the contrary, strength training is now part of physical activity guidelines for pregnant women in most, if not all, countries around the world.

Key Points:

  • Lifting weights is a safe activity with minimal risks during a healthy pregnancy.
  • If you’re not already lifting weights, pregnancy is a great starting point, offering benefits for both you and your baby.
  • Your body will be going through changes, so be prepared to adapt your training accordingly.

Regular exercise and physical activity benefit pregnant women in numerous ways. In the past, women were often advised to avoid exercise during pregnancy, as if being pregnant meant having a debilitating medical condition.

Today, we know better, and physical activity guidelines for adults recommend pregnant women to exercise before, during, and after pregnancy. And we’re no longer just talking about aerobic training, but muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights as well.

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, not in practice. Many women who are pregnant become less physically active. Up to 15% of pregnant women are told to stop exercising by their caregivers.1

That goes against all scientific advice and evidence.

A good exercise routine, including some form of strength training, benefits women’s health during pregnancy. So, we still need more information that reaches out to pregnant women and professionals in the field.

This article looks at what scientific research tells us about resistance exercise, i.e., lifting weights while pregnant: benefits, possible risks, and things to keep in mind while exercising with a bun in the oven.

I have, for obvious reasons, no personal experience on the topic, but there is a considerable amount of research on the subject. And that research shows why strength training and lifting weights are essential parts of a healthy pregnancy for all parties involved.

Benefits of Lifting Weights While Pregnant

Let’s kick things off with a good look at the positive effects you can expect if you engage in strength training while pregnant. Trust me, that list is longer than the list of possible risks. Exercise offers numerous benefits for pregnant people, including easier and shorter labors, and high levels of resistance training might have a particularly beneficial effect.2

Strength Training Lowers the Risk of Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, and it’s the most common medical complication that affects pregnant women. Between 6–11% of expecting women develop gestational diabetes, and that number increases year by year.

When everything works as it should, your pancreas produces insulin, preventing the amount of sugar in your blood from exceeding specific limits. If you have diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to move the sugar into cells, where it breaks down into energy. Instead, too much sugar remains in your blood, and your cells become less sensitive to insulin, a condition called insulin resistance.

During pregnancy, hormones produced in the placenta make your cells insulin resistant. For most women, that’s not a problem, and the pancreas responds by making more insulin. However, in up to 10% of pregnant women, their pancreas fails to meet those demands, and they develop gestational diabetes, usually during the second or third trimester.

Gestational diabetes usually goes away on its own after giving birth, and the mother’s blood glucose levels return to normal. Unfortunately, the risk of future medical issues does not disappear at the same time. After having gestational diabetes, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life increases. Also, infants born to mothers with untreated gestational diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes and become overweight during childhood.3

Women who stay physically active and exercise during pregnancy lower their risk of gestational diabetes.4 5 6 We’re not talking about a slightly lower risk either, but a substantial one.7

If you exercise while pregnant, you are much more likely to keep diabetes away, even after adjusting for age, weight, race, and previous pregnancies. More exercise seems to be better, with women spending more time exercising reducing their risk of gestational diabetes further, in a dose-dependent manner. A 2017 study found that circuit weight training is more effective than aerobic exercise.8

If you end up with gestational diabetes, you can improve your blood sugar levels with strength training. In one study, women with gestational diabetes either treated it with diet alone or with the combination of diet and elastic band strength exercises.9 The women who added resistance training to the intervention didn’t have to use as much insulin, and they also extended the time until they needed to use insulin in the first place.

A recent meta-analysis looking at the available research concludes that strength training improves blood sugar and reduces the need for insulin in women with gestational diabetes.10

In other words: stay physically active during your pregnancy to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes. If you end up with diabetes anyway, chances are exercise helps reduce the amount of insulin you need, if you need any at all. Lifting weights is a great way to keep active while pregnant. Your muscles are your friends when dealing with diabetes. Muscle mass acts as a sponge for blood sugar.

Lifting Weight While Pregnant Reduces Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is another common complaint among pregnant women. When the curvature of your spine changes, it stresses the muscles in your back, especially in your lumbar region. 

Some women who experience low back pain during pregnancy only suffer annoyance-level discomfort. In contrast, others find it painful enough to interfere with sleep and everyday activities, even forcing them to take a leave of absence from work. A Swedish study followed 200 women and found that 76% of them experienced lower back pain at some point during pregnancy.11 Of those, 30% found it difficult to perform their usual daily activities because of the intense pain.

Resistance training tailored to your individual needs with a proper exercise selection for core strength reduces the intensity of lower back pain.12 In one study, 107 women participated in muscle-strengthening exercises during the second half of pregnancy.13 Compared to the 105 women in the control group, the researchers found that exercise reduced the intensity of lower back pain. The women in the control group, on the other hand, reported increased levels of lower back pain as the pregnancy progressed.

Lifting Weights Improves Fetal Development

Not too long ago, doctors advised expecting mothers not to exercise to avoid adverse effects on the development of the fetus. Modern research shows that those old recommendations were not only unnecessary but downright wrong.

Weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy improves fetal growth, according to one study.14 And we’re talking about healthy development, not signs of future risk of obesity. The babies of exercising mothers were born longer and with more lean body mass than those of non-exercising mothers, but without any significant difference in body fat percentage.

Another study found that light resistance exercise during the second and third trimesters might attenuate any adverse effects of the mother’s body weight.15 Being overweight or obese during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and congenital disabilities of the brain or spine, like spina difida. In this neural tube defect, the backbone protecting the spinal cord doesn’t form and close as expected. Of course, the vast majority of babies are born healthy regardless of whether the mother exercises during pregnancy or not, but the risk of congenital disabilities is higher in sedentary pregnant women.

A couple of studies note that children of women who exercise vigorously during pregnancy are slightly ahead of the curve in neurodevelopment at the age of five.16 The researchers speculate that regular vigorous exercise provides more oxygen and nutrients to the fetus through the placenta.

A 2019 meta-analysis found that high-intensity exercise past the second trimester into the third seems to be safe in healthy pregnancies.17 In addition, high-intensity physical activity is associated with a lower risk of preterm birth.

Unfortunately, we need more research to assess the safety of high-intensity exercise during the first and second trimesters and the safety of training at 90% or more of your max heart rate. Nothing suggests any dangers, but it would be irresponsible to say anything for sure without more evidence. In any case, high-intensity exercise does not seem to offer many benefits compared to moderate-intensity activity during pregnancy. Keeping your exercise intensity at moderate levels might be prudent, in other words.

Not only does your baby benefit from you exercising during pregnancy, but you do as well. An older study from 1990 found that women who stayed physically active while pregnant experienced more uncomplicated deliveries and required less frequent surgical interventions during childbirth.18 A later study agreed with those observations and found that training with light weights has no adverse effects on delivery, regardless of type: normal, instrumental, or cesarean.19

Lifting Weights While Pregnant Helps Prevent Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is prevalent during pregnancy, and exercising can help you prevent it or reduce the severity without side effects. Exercises for your pelvic floor muscles, in particular, are a safe and effective treatment.20 A systematic review found strong evidence for a benefit from the combination of strength training and aerobic exercise to prevent urinary incontinence during pregnancy.21

Read more: Urinary Incontinence in Athletes and Exercise: More Common Than You Think

Lifting Weights While Pregnant Lifts Your Mood Too

The physical and mental changes that happen during pregnancy are associated with a higher risk of depression or symptoms of depression. Depression affects around 10% of all pregnant women.22

Sure, antidepressant medication helps, but you might not want to use those when you expose your child to them as well. Fortunately, exercise is fantastic for mental health and something of an antidepressant in itself, both in general and during pregnancy.23 There is no evidence to support the superiority of one type of exercise over another, but the combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is effective.24 And that’s the combination guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy recommend anyway!

Maintaining your strength and muscle tone by lifting weights while pregnant will improve your body image and likely your self-confidence and sense of well-being. Being comfortable in your body is always a mood booster, pregnant or not.

Read more: Lifting Weights to Relieve Depression: Scientific Evidence That Resistance Training Can Help

Exercise Prevents Excess Weight Gain During Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, your body weight increases as the fetus grows. If you gain too little weight, you run the risk of your baby having a low birth weight and a hard time getting used to breastfeeding. However, excessive weight gain can also mean problems.

If you gain more weight than necessary during pregnancy, you might have to resort to cesarean delivery whether you want to or not.

Also, you increase your risk of long-term fluid retention after childbirth. Women who gain more weight than recommended while pregnant remain heavier during follow-ups than women who kept their weight gain in check.25

Your child also has a higher risk of becoming overweight if you gain a lot of weight while expecting.26

Several scientific reviews and meta-analyses conclude that exercising helps you keep your weight gain under control during pregnancy and not exceed recommended ranges with possible health issues as a result.27 28 29 30

Potential Risks of Exercising While Pregnancy

The main goal of exercising during pregnancy is the health of both the mother and the child, not optimal performance and other measures of athletic excellence.

That being said, past recommendations were likely overly conservative.

We now know that physical activity and exercise benefits everyone, including expecting mothers. Current physical activity guidelines include engaging in muscle-strengthening activities for the major muscle groups at least twice per week.31

You need to consider a few things when you plan your exercise routine—both for your well-being and that of your child.


Hyperthermia, or simply overheating, is when your body temperature goes above normal levels, like during a fever or potentially when you engage in high-intensity exercise, especially in a hot environment. A high body temperature during exercise has long been recognized as a risk for congenital disabilities. However, that’s a conclusion based on animal studies. Looking at a wealth of human research, we find little to no evidence of harmful effects from exercise-induced hyperthermia. Back in 1985, research showed that the body temperature of pregnant women does not reach dangerous levels, 39 degrees Celsius or above, during exercise.32

No research has since indicated otherwise. A recent review found no evidence for exercise heat stress in pregnancy.33 In a 2021 study, pregnant women exercised for 45 minutes in 32 degrees Celsius heat without their body temperature reaching levels associated with any dangers to the fetus.34

In other words, there is no evidence that exercise during pregnancy leads to hyperthermia and risk for congenital disabilities. Saunas, hot baths, and a high fever are sometimes associated with an increased risk of congenital disabilities, but exercise is unlikely to raise your body temperature excessively.35

However, general guidelines state that pregnant women should avoid exercise leading to an excessive body temperature. Even though that does not seem to happen in practice, a safety-first approach is not wrong.

Not much research looks at really high-intensity exercise, and protecting yourself and your child from heat exposure is probably a good idea in general. Better safe than sorry, especially during the first trimester, when the fetus is extra vulnerable. Drink plenty of fluids and wear cool clothes before, during, and after exercise, especially if you exercise in a warm environment.

By the way, those are sensible precautions regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not.

Read more: How Much Water Should You Drink Before, During, and After Exercise?


Miscarriages are unfortunately not uncommon, with about 15% of all pregnancies resulting in a miscarriage.36 Traditionally, exercise is one of the factors worrying pregnant women when it comes to the risk of miscarriage, but that worry seems to be unfounded. On the contrary, exercise helps prevent known risk factors for miscarriage like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

A meta-analysis and a systematic review evaluated the risk of miscarriage in women who exercised during pregnancy.37 38 Neither found an increased risk of miscarriage compared to non-exercising women. Neither was exercise volume, exercise intensity, or exercise frequency associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.

As often is the case with exercise science, the evidence is limited. The available research only looks at moderate-intensity exercise sessions lasting up to an hour. Anything above and beyond is not extensively studied. However, one study featuring highly trained females did not observe any adverse effects from high-volume training during pregnancy to mother or child.39

Most studies only look at the effects of exercise after more than eight weeks of pregnancy when the risk of miscarriage is lower. Because of all these factors, it’s impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about high-volume and high-intensity exercise, especially during early pregnancy. Still, no available evidence suggests a higher risk of miscarriage.

Joint Injuries

When you’re pregnant, you go through a lot of hormonal changes. As a part of that process, your ovaries and your placenta produce a hormone called relaxin. It makes your joints less stable and your connective tissue more pliant. That’s a great advantage when your pelvis and rib cage need to expand to make room for the growing fetus and your diaphragm.

The problem is that relaxin also makes your joints less stable and increases their mobility beyond their natural range of motion. That could potentially increase your risk of muscle, ligament, and tendon injury. In real-life scenarios, though, injuries do not occur more frequently in women who exercise during pregnancy.40

If anything, lifting weights while pregnant might help prevent soft-tissue injuries. Strength training does not only make your muscles stronger but also your connective tissue.41 That means that lifting weights while pregnant could combat the destabilizing effects of relaxin on your joints, as long as you perform the exercises with a controlled range of motion and don’t use overly heavy weights.

Because relaxin increases your joints’ mobility, observe proper form and make sure not to overextend them during exercise, and don’t use weights that make it hard to keep your range of motion under control.

High-Intensity Training During Pregnancy

As mentioned earlier in the article, high-intensity training into the third trimester seems safe in healthy pregnancies. However, more research is needed for definitive conclusions regarding high-intensity exercise during the first and second trimesters and exercise above 90% of your max heart rate.42

If you’re used to high-intensity exercise and want to keep it up as long into your pregnancy as possible, you need to adjust to the fact that you’re not alone in your body anymore.

High-intensity training increases your energy and fluid intake requirements. You burn many calories and lose water through sweating during exercise. That means you have to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workouts. And you’re no longer eating for just one. Eating for two adults during pregnancy is a mistake, but you have to make sure you get enough calories for your child to grow at a reasonable rate.

A lot of female athletes eat too little, leading to so-called low energy availability. That’s something you need to avoid during pregnancy.

Read more: Performance Nutrition: Eating for Exercise Excellence

If you work out for more than two hours five days per week, you’re considered an elite athlete.43 Even if you don’t compete, such an amount of exercise means you train like an elite athlete and place the demands of one on your body. Past guidelines for exercise during pregnancy considered such high-level strength training inappropriate for two main reasons: the risk of traumatic force to the fetus and the Valsalva maneuver.

The Valsalva maneuver is when you increase the pressure in your chest and abdomen by trying to exhale against a closed airway. An increased abdominal pressure when you lift is usually a good thing, and it makes you more stable and allows you to lift more weight. However, when you’re pregnant, you should avoid creating high abdominal pressure with the Valsalva maneuver. It reduces the blood flow to your abdominal organs and restricts circulation through the placenta, possibly harming the fetus.44 Instead, focus on exhaling when you lift the weight and inhale when you lower it instead of holding your breath during the reps. If you’re used to creating abdominal pressure when you lift, you need to focus on continually breathing properly during a set instead.

There is not a lot of quality research on female athletes who continue to train at a high level during pregnancy.

If you want to keep going with frequent high-intensity workouts while pregnant, you should be aware that you’re in unexplored territory and of potential risks. Talk to your health provider. Also, as a precaution, consider using lighter weights than you used before becoming pregnant.45

Being pregnant is probably not the best time to aim for new personal bests. Train to maintain your strength and your muscle mass as best you can. That will help you return to pre-pregnancy performance levels when your child is born and reduce the risk for potential complications. “Potential” because strength-training studies with pregnant women are uncommon enough that no one has any 100% certain answers.

Again, better safe than sorry.

That being said, the scientific literature gives examples of elite female athletes who train and compete at a high level in marathon running, track and field, mountain climbing, and tennis during large parts of the pregnancy without any reported adverse effects.46

What About Aerobic Exercise?

A few quick words about endurance training during pregnancy! After all, not everyone lifts exclusively but likes to spice things up with a bit of aerobic exercise, too.

According to scientific evidence, low- and moderate-intensity endurance training is perfectly safe during pregnancy. But what about high-intensity and long-duration training? A new review article boils it down to the following:47

  • Vigorous-intensity exercise seems safe in the third trimester of pregnancy. Still, we need more research on the safety of strenuous exercise during the first trimester, when the fetus is the most vulnerable.
  • Current guidelines state that it might be a good idea to stay below 90% of your max heart rate as a precaution.
  • During prolonged exercise, your body temperature goes up. While this has not been shown to harm the child in practice, it’s probably still best to avoid endurance training in high temperatures during pregnancy.
  • During extended endurance training sessions, your blood sugar drops. Because blood glucose drops even more in exercising pregnant women, it’s important to keep your nutrition on point before, during, and after your workouts. For example, pregnancy might not be the best time to perform prolonged fasted cardio.
  • Lastly, because your body undergoes many physiological changes during pregnancy, pay attention to them and don’t “work through” discomforts that might eventually lead to injury.

Lifting Weights While Pregnant: Practical Recommendations

Strength training during pregnancy is associated with minimal risks and many benefits for both mother and child, but it might not be the right time to improve your performance or build as much muscle as possible.

Instead, the health of everyone involved is paramount, and the goal of exercising should be to maintain as much of your physical status as possible. That makes both your delivery and your return to training after giving birth easier.

Your physical performance will go down as your pregnancy progresses, so be mentally prepared for that. If you’re a high-level athlete, it can be stressful not to perform at your normal levels. If you’re untrained and start lifting weights when you become pregnant, you can expect to become stronger, more fit, and improve your chances of safe delivery and better health after childbirth.

If you’re used to strength training, you can continue training at the level you were before pregnancy for as long as it feels comfortable and the anatomical and physiological changes that occur during the progression of pregnancy allow you to.48

Focus a little extra on core exercises for your back and your abs. That helps take the load off your spine and prevent lower back pain. Some claim that specific abdominal exercises increase the risk of diastasis recti, separating your abdominal muscles. However, there is little evidence for such claims. There is no consensus on what type of training or exercises that prevent, aggravate, or improve diastasis recti.49 50 Even though core training should be prioritized, working all your major muscle groups is beneficial. Pregnancy is tough on your entire body, and a strong body helps you deal with that stress.

Current recommendations state that you shouldn’t exercise lying on your back because of the risk of vena cava, low blood pressure and reduced cardiac output.51 52 There is insufficient evidence to tell for sure if exercising on your back is safe or if you should avoid it. Good practice, especially after week 16 of your pregnancy, might be to exercise seated, standing, or lying on your side instead.53 When you exert yourself lying on your back, your uterus can reduce the blood flow back to the heart, leading to decreased cardiac output. During late gestation, it’s probably better to avoid any such risks.54

You Are Unique!

Perhaps the most important part of this entire discussion is that every pregnant woman and every pregnancy is unique. Your body is going through significant changes, and your exercise program while pregnant should fit your unique requirements.

If you’re new to strength training or haven’t been lifting weights for a long time, go with a beginner’s training program.

If you’re used to high-intensity exercise and want to keep working out at that level, you should be able to do so, at least during the earlier parts of the pregnancy. Of course, you’ll have to adapt your training volume and your intensity as your body changes.

Sedentary women are encouraged to start working out with weights to make the pregnancy and delivery easier and to lay the foundation for a strong and healthy body.

Women who are already used to reasonably strenuous exercise can continue their regimen during the pregnancy without any risks. Suppose you’re going to exercise at a high level. In that case, it might be a good idea to consult an obstetrician (a doctor specializing in pregnancy, childbirth, and a woman’s reproductive system) before doing so, just in case there are any contraindications.

In general, research shows that the combination of aerobic exercise and strength training benefits all healthy pregnancies.55

You can expect symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue during the first trimester in particular. Even though they often are more of an annoyance than a real problem, they make it a struggle to keep to a workout routine. If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, adjust your training volume and intensity accordingly. A little bit of exercise is better than no exercise.

There is no scientific basis to exclude specific training methods or techniques due to pregnancy. Likewise, there is no scientific basis to exclude technically complex movements as long as you can do them properly without discomfort. However, pregnancy might not be the best time to introduce new, highly advanced exercises to your routine, as you don’t have the baseline experience of performing them with an ever-changing, pregnant body.

During the first trimester of pregnancy, you can usually stick to your regular training schedule and workouts. Your energy levels and strength might go up and down from day to day compared to pre-pregnancy.

Later on during your pregnancy, it’s probably a good idea not to go for all-out workouts. Instead, easing up a bit on the intensity and do more moderate exercise can be a good idea. For one thing, your belly will start to take a lot of space, making it harder to perform specific exercises with good form. Also, you’ll find yourself getting winded more quickly, as your lungs have less room to expand. Add to that the fact that your joints are more sensitive and unstable, and you have plenty of reasons not to push yourself to the max.

Lifting weights while pregnant is a fantastic way to exercise during pregnancy, but it’s essential to adapt your training to the changes your body is going through. That might mean cutting down on the heavy lifting and go for, say, 70% of your 1RM and avoiding an excessive range of motion, as you risk overextending your joints using overly heavy weights.

Try to perform strength training at least two times per week to keep your muscles in shape. You don’t have to hit the free weights in the gym if you don’t want to. Any kind of muscle-strengthening activity, like training with resistance bands or your body weight, works. If you’re already familiar with strength training, you can aim for 3–5 moderate-intensity workouts, 15–20 minutes each, every week.56 That’s not a recommendation written in stone, though. Feel free to adjust your training schedule to your experience, schedule, and how you feel.

In general, going by how you feel is likely the best approach. If it feels good, it probably is good. If you experience chest pain, dizziness, abdominal or pelvic pain, contractions, or bleeding, seek medical care immediately. Overall, the risks of any such complications are minute compared to the positive effects of exercise. Your baby is safe and snug, and physical activity provides you both with tremendous benefits.

Sample Workouts

Here you’ll find two strength-training routines suitable for pregnant women: one for the first trimester and one for the second and third trimesters. They are full-body routines with an exercise selection targeting all your major muscle groups, adapted to how far along into your pregnancy you are. Both are excellent for all women looking to maintain their muscle mass, stay strong and healthy, and prepare the body for a healthy delivery.

Of course, these workout routines are just suggestions, but they are effective and might serve as inspiration if you design your workouts, even if you don’t follow them by the numbers. If lifting weights is already part of your exercise routine, feel free to continue business as usual.

Both these workout routines are 100% free to follow in the the StrengthLog workout tracker. Keeping track of your training progress is the best way to make sure you get the results you want.

Use the button for your device below to download StrengthLog for free.

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Pregnancy Strength Training Routine: First Trimester

Pregnancy Strength Training Routine: Second and Third Trimesters

During the second and third trimesters, you no longer perform any exercises lying on your back. In addition, you replace exercises that require forward flexion at the hips or waist, like stiff-legged deadlifts, with suitable alternatives. You won’t find any overhead presses in this workout because that might lead to excessive stress on your back muscles now that your center of gravity is a little off.

Adjust your squat depth if the movement feels uncomfortable or difficult as your pregnancy progresses.

Lifting Weight While Pregnant: FAQ

Let’s dive into a few frequently asked questions while we’re at it!

Can I Start Lifting Weights While Pregnant?

Absolutely! In fact, most authorities recommend that you start exercising if you aren’t already. That includes both aerobic exercise and lifting weights. Get a green light from your doctor first, and you’re good to go!

How Much Weight Can I Lift While Pregnant?

There is no set limit to how heavy you should lift, as it depends on many factors, like your training experience and physical status. Early on in the pregnancy, you probably don’t have to make any particular changes, if you’re already fit and used to lifting weights. However, as your pregnancy progresses, it seems prudent to use slightly less weight. A scientific article recommends staying below 70% of your 1RM, doing 10 repetitions or so per set.57 That might be a good point of reference.

How Much Should I Exercise During Pregnancy?

Ideally, you should get 150 minutes of exercise every week. Not just strength training, but exercise in general, including aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming, and riding the stationary bike. You can divide those 150 minutes of aerobic exercise into shorter workouts and spread them out over the week any way you prefer, although 30 minutes per workout is a common recommendation.58 Include at least two strength-training sessions per week, using barbells and dumbbells, weight machines, elastic bands, or your own body weight.

According to a recent systematic review, the summary below is an excellent way to accumulate enough exercise over a week for optimal health benefits:

exercise recommendations
Womens Health Rep (New Rochelle). 2021; 2(1): 400–412. Professional Exercise Recommendations for Healthy Women Who Are Pregnant: A Systematic Review.

Note that they only recommend light weights for resistance training. That’s because most research on lifting weights while pregnant looks at untrained women, and in that case, it’s a prudent recommendation. If you’re new to strength training, starting with a lower weight for most exercises is always a good idea to learn the movement and for injury prevention. However, if you’re an experienced lifter, you know your body well enough to determine a suitable load. It’s not dangerous to use moderate weights, although, as I said earlier, going all-out heavy might not be the way to go during your pregnancy.

What Types of Exercise Should I Avoid When I’m Pregnant?

Basically, if it involves an increased risk of injury, don’t do it.

  • Contact sports like ice hockey, football, and boxing
  • Sports where you risk falling, like off-road cycling, horseback riding, mountain climbing, and downhill skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Scuba diving
  • High-altitude activities, unless you live at a high altitude and are used to it

Lifting weights while pregnant is generally safe, but avoiding 1RM all-out efforts is likely a good idea.


  • Physical activity and strength training during pregnancy are associated with minimal risks while offering many benefits for healthy women.
  • Try to make lifting weights or some other form of strength training part of your routine at least twice per week. Train all your major muscle groups, but focing a bit on your core muscles, meaning your abs and back, is a good rule of thumb.
  • As long as no medical conditions contraindicate lifting weights while pregnant, it’s not only a risk-free activity but a beneficial and healthy one, both for you and your baby. If strength training is already part of your life, keep doing what you’re doing, and if you haven’t already picked up the weights, now’s a good place to start. Prenatal exercise should always take your physical status into account.
  • While you know your own body the best, consulting with a doctor before you start lifting, especially if you’re looking to do some high-intensity work, is helpful. They might be able to identify things that can be hard to self-diagnose. Again, better safe than sorry. Also, a personal trainer certified to train someone during their pregnancy could be a good idea, at least if you’re new to strength training.

More research on exercise in general and strength training in particular during pregnancy is still needed. However, everything we know shows that physical activity, including lifting weights, offers both mother and baby many benefits during pregnancy and after childbirth. Active women have the advantage. Nothing suggests any risks or harmful effects by lifting weights sensibly during a healthy pregnancy.

Lifting weights while pregnant will make your body prepared for when the stork arrives.

More reading:


  1. PLoS One. 2015; 10(6): e0128953. Physical Activity Patterns and Factors Related to Exercise during Pregnancy: A Cross Sectional Study.
  2. Strength and Conditioning Journal 33(5):p 67-75, October 2011. Resistance Training During Pregnancy: Safe and Effective Program Design.
  3. Exp Diabetes Res. 2011;2011:218598. Maternal diabetes in pregnancy: early and long-term outcomes on the offspring and the concept of “metabolic memory”.
  4. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth volume 18, Article number: 440 (2018). The effect of exercise during pregnancy on gestational diabetes mellitus in normal-weight women: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  5. Obstetrics & Gynecology: November 2006 – Volume 108 – Issue 5 – p 1200-1207. Associations of Physical Activity and Inactivity Before and During Pregnancy With Glucose Tolerance.
  6. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 146, Issue 11, 1 December 1997, Pages 961–965. Physical Activity, Obesity, and Diabetes in Pregnancy.
  7. Birth. 2008 Sep;35(3):188-95. Does physical activity during pregnancy reduce the risk of gestational diabetes among previously inactive women?
  8. Bulletin of Faculty of Physical Therapy volume 22, pages 89–95 (2017). Comparative study of circuit resistance training and aerobic training on glycemic control of gestational diabetes mellitus.
  9. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Dec;203(6):556.e1-6. Resistance exercise and glycemic control in women with gestational diabetes mellitus.
  10. Midwifery, Volume 91, December 2020, 102839. A meta-analysis of the effects of resistance training on blood sugar and pregnancy outcomes.
  11. Spine, March 15, 1996 – Volume 21 – Issue 6 – p 702-708. Back Pain During Pregnancy, A Prospective Study.
  12. Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 5 – p 67-75. Resistance Training During Pregnancy: Safe and Effective Program Design.
  13. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2005 Mar;88(3):271-5. The effect of exercise on the intensity of low back pain in pregnant women.
  14. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2000 Dec;183(6):1484-8. Beginning regular exercise in early pregnancy: effect on fetoplacental growth.
  15. International Journal of Obesity volume 33, pages 1048–1057 (2009). Resistance exercise training during pregnancy and newborn’s birth size: a randomised controlled trial.
  16. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2003 Sep 22;110 Suppl 1:S80-5. The effects of maternal exercise on fetal oxygenation and feto-placental growth.
  17. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth volume 19, Article number: 281 (2019). The effects of vigorous intensity exercise in the third trimester of pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  18. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1990 Dec;163(6 Pt 1):1799-805. The course of labor after endurance exercise during pregnancy.
  19. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):590.e1-6. Type of delivery is not affected by light resistance and toning exercise training during pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial.
  20. International Urogynecology Journal volume 24, pages901–912 (2013). Stress urinary incontinence in pregnant women: a review of prevalence, pathophysiology, and treatment.
  21. Early Human Development, Volume 94, March 2016, Pages 43-48. Benefits of aerobic or resistance training during pregnancy on maternal health and perinatal outcomes: A systematic review.
  22. BMJ 2016;352:i1547. Depression in pregnancy.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach and bodybuilding specialist with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.