Pregnant woman barbell deadlifting

Important Strength Training Exercises You Should Do During Pregnancy

The Importance of The Strength Exercises You Do During Pregnancy

Have you started working out while pregnant, but unsure of what exercises will benefit you the most? When choosing strength exercises for your pregnancy program you want to do exercises that will carry over into everyday tasks as a mom. Some things you will be doing often are squatting to pick up baby, pushing stroller, lifting a car seat, carrying baby, etc. You will also want to do exercises that will help with the changes your body goes through during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum.

With so many exercises out there, it can be overwhelming to narrow down which ones to focus on during pregnancy. It can be confusing hearing you should do hinging movements, compound exercises, and anti-movement core exercises.

What does this all mean!?

Don’t worry we will cover it all! We will discuss movement patterns to include in your routine, then break these down into exercises you can do.

You will want to read The Complete Guide to Safe and Effective Exercise During Pregnancy and Strength Training Exercise Modifications During Pregnancy. These articles cover the exercise intensity you should be working at, or how much weight you can be lifting and for how many repetitions and sets. As well as what exercises to avoid, signs to look out for while exercising, and how to modify strength exercises, especially the big compound lifts.

Now that you understand the importance of the exercises you are doing during pregnancy, let’s get into what those exercises are!

*Disclaimer – If you are a postpartum, pregnant or have any other health conditions, make sure you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Content on this blog should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, expertise, or treatment.

Movement Patterns to Focus on During Pregnancy

 There are certain movement patterns you should focus more on during pregnancy. These movement patterns are important because they will coincide more with the types of movements you will be doing as a mom. The muscle groups you want to focus on are the muscles of the back, glutes, hamstrings, and core.

Making sure you are including a variety of movement patterns will make for a more well-rounded program. For example, you may be doing an upper body day that may consist of these exercises: overhead press, chest press, overhead tricep press, and pushups. This is great if you want a chest and tricep focused workout, but you are forgetting your back muscles, which are more important to train during pregnancy! To train your back, you will want to do more pull movements, like lat pulldown and barbell row. It’s important you know the different movement patterns, which muscles are working, and how these movements correlate to everyday movements.

Lower Body Movement Patterns

First, lower body movements will help you strengthen muscles of your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. You will need to squat and hinge multiple times a day to pick up baby, toddler, laundry, or toys. You’ll be lunging up the stairs while holding a baby or car seat. Strengthening the muscles of the lower body will also help stabilize your pelvis and relieve or help reduce pelvic pain and low back pain.

Below are lower body movement patterns you should train during pregnancy as well as strength exercises for each movement pattern.

  • Squat (knee dominant) – back squat, front squat, goblet squat, Bulgarian split squat, leg press, step up, pistol squat.
  • Hinge – sumo or conventional deadlift, hip thrust, glute bridge, Romanian deadlift (RDL), stiff leg deadlift, good mornings, reverse hyperextension, glute focused hyperextension.
  • Lunge – walking lunges, forward lunge, reverse lunge, lateral lunge, front foot elevated lunge, deficit lunge, curtsy lunge.
  • Hip Abduction – lateral band walks, standing or seated hip abduction, lying banded hip abduction, lying hip raise, fire hydrant, monster walk, clamshell.
  • Hip Adduction – copenhagen plank, standing or seated hip adduction, side lying leg raise, slider side lunge, cossack squat, ball squeeze.

Upper Body Movement Patterns

You will also want to equally include upper body movement patterns. Pull exercises will help strengthen the back and biceps. Push exercises will help strengthen the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Moms need to be able to push and pull a stroller in a parking lot, hold a baby for long periods of time, and lift a child out of a highchair or crib. Strengthening muscles of the back will also help with posture and alignment as your weight shifts throughout pregnancy. Having strong lats (long muscles that run along either side of your back) will also help with pushing during labor.

Here are upper body movement patterns and exercises you can do to work those movement patterns.

  • Pull (vertical, horizontal, angled) – lat pulldown, pull-ups, high row, straight arm pulldown, bent over row, seated cable row, inverted row, ring row, landmine row.
  • Push (vertical, horizontal, angled) – military press, overhead dumbbell press, Arnold press, incline chest press, flat chest press, incline pushup, landmine shoulder press, tricep dip.
  • Elbow flexion – dumbbell bicep curl, preacher curl, hammer curl, high cable curl, EZ bar curl, vertical/horizontal/angled pull exercises.

Core Movement Patterns

Your core will stretch and weaken during pregnancy and will take some time to regain that strength postpartum. Therefore, core training is essential during pregnancy and postpartum. The core exercises we do should strengthen our core in different directions and target the deep core muscles.

The core is involved in a lot of compound movements like deadlifts and squats, as it is constantly working to keep you upright and stabilized. However, you should still do core specific exercise that challenge the different movement patterns of the core.

Doing anti-movements for the core, like planks, dead bugs, and pallof presses, will help strengthen the stabilizers that are responsible for keeping us in alignment and protect our spine from injury. Having strong deep core muscles will also carry over to postpartum when we are baby wearing or holding an infant all day.

You will also want to perform core exercises that require movement. A popular misconception is that we cannot rotate our spine while pregnant, however this is another range of motion that we need to be able to do as mothers. To keep our thoracic spine mobile, we need to do rotational movements as well.

Below are core movement patterns and exercises you can do to work those movement patterns.

  • Loaded Carry – farmers carry, overhead carry, goblet carry.
  • Rotation – upward/downward wood chop, lunge with rotation, rotational medicine ball throw, pallof with rotation, diagonal pulldown.
  • Extension – kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, squats, step-ups.
  • Anti-lateral flexion (prevent side bending) – side plank, single loaded carry, squat or lunge with weight on one side.
  • Anti-rotation (prevent twisting) – pallof press, half-kneeling single arm row, single-arm plank, bird dog, single-leg RDL, plank with weight drag.
  • Anti-flexion (prevent rounding) – glute bridges, goblet squats, deadlifts, goblet carry, mountain climber.
  • Anti-extension (prevent arching) – plank, dead bug, stir the pot, sled push, bear crawl.

How to Choose Specific Exercises

Now that you know what types of movements patterns are beneficial to include in your pregnancy program, let’s talk briefly about how to narrow it down and choose specific strength exercises. We can break exercises down into compound and isolation, as well as unilateral and bilateral. Each of these has its own importance and should be included in a prenatal program.

Compound vs Isolation Exercises

 Compound exercises are those that use more than one muscle group or joint. For example, a squat is a compound exercise because it utilizes the hip and knee joints. Therefore, an isolation exercise focuses on just one muscle and moves at one joint. An example of this is a bicep curl.

The exercise examples in the movement pattern graphs above are majority compound exercises. Having a program consisting of primarily compound exercises, with few isolation exercises, will give you more bang for your buck. This is because they work multiple muscle groups at once, they tend to be more functional, and they are more efficient by saving you training time.

Since compound exercises take more energy to execute, you will want to start your workout with compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, chest press, shoulder press, hip thrusts, etc. Then you can end with some isolation exercises to hit smaller muscles groups.

Unilateral vs Bilateral Exercises

Unilateral vs bilateral exercises refer to using one side of the body or the whole body. Bilateral exercises use both sides of the body, for example a squat. With these types of exercises, you will usually be able to use more weight and they are a little easier because they require less stability.

Unilateral (single-arm or single-leg) exercises, for example a single-leg squat, will offer a little more of a challenge with stability and will help work on any muscle imbalances and improve coordination.

When programming these exercises, your workouts should have a bias towards bilateral exercises, but should also include unilateral exercises.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

It’s important that we put special focus on strengthening our pelvic floor during pregnancy. We can strengthen these muscles by first learning how to connect with them. You may think of kegels when you hear of pelvic floor exercise. Kegels are fine, but there is a better alternative that will offer more benefits.

The Connection Breath helps you learn how to sync your breath with your pelvic floor and core. While kegels focus on contracting your pelvic floor and sometimes “bearing down”, the connection breath takes your pelvic floor through its full range of motion. This allows you to contract and relax, so these muscles remain balanced and function more optimally.

This exercise also helps you connect these muscles to breath, which will protect your core and pelvic floor from increases of pressure. This is essential when lifting objects, whether that be a toddler or a barbell, when your core is more vulnerable in pregnancy and early postpartum.

You can work these muscles in conjunction with other exercises by focusing on the connection breath with each movement. I would also recommend programming these into your workouts weekly as a warm-up to help you gain this awareness. When working on strength, you can hold the pelvic floor contractions longer. You could even do pulses or quick contractions to work on endurance. As you get into the third trimester, it would be a good idea to start focusing on pelvic floor relaxation, instead of contraction, to help prepare for opening the pelvis for birth.

Creating A Pregnancy Workout With Strength Exercises

You’ve now learned which muscle groups and movement patterns to put special focus on during pregnancy. As well as the importance of doing more compound exercises and using a variety of bilateral and unilateral exercise. It’s time to put it all together to create a pregnancy specific strength workout!

The example below shows a three day full body split with just the movement patterns. You can fill it in on your own with exercises you enjoy or prefer. Following a guide like this will help make sure you aren’t missing any movement patterns or important muscle groups.

Full body workout consisting of movement patterns.

Here is an example of the full body three day split filled in with exercises. Notice that each day should include a type of warm-up, this could be a variety of things, but should include a connection breath and some dynamic movements that might mimic your exercises for that workout.

Three day split Full Body Workout with exercises

To determine repetitions, sets, and weight to use you can check this blog out here!

*Remember this training example shows strength training exercises only and doesn’t include any cardiovascular or flexibility training you should also include into your pregnancy routine. You can find more about these recommendations here.

What Exercises Should You Do During Pregnancy: Conclusion

 There are lots of exercises you can use as part of your prenatal program. Some will offer more benefits than others. Focus on exercises that will target the muscles of the glutes, back, and core to benefit you during pregnancy. You should also make sure to do different movement patterns to ensure a well-balanced prenatal program, especially those that will carry over into your everyday life as a mother.

Emphasize doing compound exercises in your program, especially towards the beginning of your workout since these are more tasking. You can then add in some isolation exercises to hit smaller muscles groups. You should include some single or unilateral leg or arm exercise variations to keep your muscles balanced as well as challenge the stabilizers. Keep in mind as you get further into your pregnancy these will become more challenging and you may need to modify them.

To make your workout routine even more specialized to your pregnancy, you should include the connection breath to learn how to properly contract and relax your pelvic floor. This will help strengthen and protect your core and pelvic floor from too much pressure. It will also help you relax your pelvic floor which is necessary during birth.

I hope this helped breakdown the strength exercises you should be doing during pregnancy so you can better exercise with a purpose. To learn more about how many repetitions and how much weight you should be lifting read this next! If you need help with how to modify many of these exercises we covered today, then head over and read this!

Similar Posts:

What Strength Exercises To Do During Pregnancy