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Trainer Tip: Lift Heavier

This month’s tip comes from the PROnatal Fitness Director of Education, Carolyn Appel, who shares a tip for prenatal exercise that very well may be the complete opposite of what you’ve heard.  This is one of the concepts we incorporate into our Performance-Training Approach, given how critical it is to helping you have an easier pregnancy and delivery.

What was your motivation for working with the pre and post natal population?

Mine is a common story among many women working in the fitness industry.  I had been working for 15 years training clients of all types —  recreational athletes, grandparents, even cancer survivors. Then, three years ago, I became pregnant and experienced the frustration of trying to find reputable, evidence-based information to help me better prepare for what I knew would be an incredibly difficult physical (and mental) feat.  So, I decided to turn my frustration into action by becoming an advocate for women who may not have the background or experience (or quite frankly the time!) to critically evaluate all the information (or misinformation) that permeates our cultural understanding of what pre and postpartum women should, and should not, be doing.  Now, as the Director of Education for PROnatal Fitness, I devote my time to an area I am particularly passionate about — educating other fitness professionals to better serve their pregnant and postpartum clients so that we can impact more and more women.

What is one tip you give your clients?

The biggest “aha” moment with pregnant clients comes when I explain the importance of lifting heavier weights.  Most often it’s the complete opposite of what they thought they should be doing. The prevailing wisdom has been that pregnancy is a time to minimize stress, so as not to overtax mom or baby, and therefore it’s best to reduce loads or lift lighter weights.  However, this strategy is not an effective way of preparing women to move through life successfully when carrying an extra 25 – 35 lbs (and many times much more than this) by the end of their third trimester.  If you think about carrying around a backpack with 30 pounds (in the front of your body) and moving through your day – going to the bathroom, climbing stairs, carrying groceries – you will quickly see that low-stress, light weight training will not adequately prepare your body for those more extreme stresses.

In exercise physiology, there is a foundational principle called SAID, or Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. That simply means that your body will adapt to however you train it. If you apply small stresses, then expect modest gains in terms of strength, bone density, cardiovascular changes, etc. Likewise, the greater the stress you apply to it by, for example, lifting heavier loads, the greater the changes your body will experience, and the more well-prepared it will be to face the physical rigors of pregnancy, labor, and motherhood.  Of course, I NEVER introduce loads until my clients have mastered proper movement and core activation.  Once they are moving and breathing properly though, then we start increasing the loads.

While I believe any movement is better than no movement (and I applaud anyone mustering the energy to workout, because it is “work”), I also believe that we can more effectively prepare for, what many women will say, is the most physically-demanding feat of their lives.

Proper functional strength training is a key component of the PROnatal Fitness Performance-Training Approach.  Learn the keys to safe and effective strength training by working with a PROnatal Personal Trainer.