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3 Common Myths of Pregnancy and Strength Training

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems.

There’s no shortage of myths and conflicting information when it comes to pregnancy and exercise. It’s no wonder women often feel confused about what’s appropriate exercise-wise during pregnancy.

Many of the misconceptions about pregnancy and exercise lead women to be overly cautious during pregnancy (sometimes to the point of not exercising at all), and overly relaxed about post-pregnancy exercise, jumping back into intense exercise too quickly.

For years, pregnant women were advised to stick to nothing but walking, and maybe some gentle stretching or yoga. Luckily, as more research comes out about the benefits of moderate to vigorous exercise during pregnancy, the tide is starting to turn.

In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) list the following benefits to exercise for pregnant women:1 2

    • Prevents excessive weight gain during pregnancy
    • Reduces risk of gestational diabetes
    • Decreases risk of high blood pressure associated to pregnancy (preeclampsia)
    • Decreases postpartum recovery time
    • Decreases risk of low back pain
    • Decreases severity of low back pain
    • Decreases risk of urinary incontinence
    • Prevents / improves symptoms of depression
    • Maintains physical fitness
    • Prevents postpartum weight retention
    • May reduce the risk of cesarean delivery

As you can see, exercise during pregnancy is very beneficial, and below I’m going to tackle three of the most common myths regarding strength training and pregnancy.

1. You can’t start strength training for the first time during pregnancy.

The often-repeated advice that many women receive to “keep doing what you were doing before you got pregnant and avoid doing anything new,” is not always accurate or helpful.3

You absolutely can start strength training in pregnancy as long as you’re cleared by your doctor for exercise. In fact, ACOG goes so far as to recommend, “Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.”4

The catch here is that, while someone who was training at a moderate to high intensity before becoming pregnant can continue training at that intensity throughout her pregnancy (provided there are no health concerns), someone else who was sedentary before becoming pregnant should only be exercising at a low to moderate intensity throughout her pregnancy.2

Image courtesy of Molly Galbraith

2. You can’t lie on your back after 16 weeks of pregnancy.

This “myth” is one of the most frequently cited, and with good reason, because it’s not as much of a myth as it is just plain unclear. According to the Girls Gone Strong Pre- & Postnatal Coaching Certification textbook:

“In the past, physicians have advised women to not to lie on their backs because the weight of the baby could press on, and block, the mother’s vena cava, the main vein that carries blood back to the heart from the lower body, and some recommendations say that after week 16, a woman should avoid lying flat on her back for long periods of time.4

However, ‘long periods of time’ is not clearly defined, and 2006 research published in BJOG, shows that uterine blood flow decreases when women lie on their backs, although during supine exercise, the decrease is about half of what it is during supine rest.5

Image courtesy of Molly Galbraith

Current guidelines from Sports Medicine Australia suggest avoiding exercise in the supine position after 28 weeks.6 However, more recently, some research has stated that as long as a woman feels OK while lying on her back, and she doesn’t feel lightheaded or nauseated, tingling in the legs, general discomfort, and her breathing is not impaired during or after the bout of exercise or stretching, she should be fine to lie on her back.4

You can see that there are some differences depending on which guidelines you read. If you do perform supine exercises, or program them for a client, check in regularly to make sure none of the symptoms listed above appears.

These guidelines seem to change quite frequently as the science changes and we learn more, so be sure to check them regularly and stay informed. Most women will probably be fine, especially if they monitor how they feel, but if you want to be ultra safe, you can avoid the supine position after 24-28 weeks or work at a 15 percent incline.”

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Body positivity is unlearning the idea that only certain bodies are worth acceptance and praise, and instead recognizing that all bodies are equally valuable. It’s deciding what feels good and healthy for you personally, and letting other people do so for themselves. It’s understanding that you deserve to live in your body without receiving the prejudice of others (whether that means rude comments, reduced economic opportunity, inadequate health care, or something else), and working toward a world where no one’s body is the target of such bias. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Accepting and loving your body doesn’t mean your outside is the most important part about you, or that you cease working to improve your nonphysical qualities. For me, adopting body-positive ideals actually freed up my mind to learn more about what I want out of life, to open myself up more to others, and to work on gaining knowledge and skills I hadn’t gotten around to when I was all-consumed with the size of my thighs. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Which is not to suggest that embracing your own physicality is where the journey ends, because true body positivity still means working toward the EMPOWERMENT (emotional, economic, and beyond) OF OTHERS. Still, it’s worth acknowledging that loving your own body doesn’t make you selfish. ((source: @buzzfeed, you couldn't have said it better)) Read the full article here: http://bzfd.it/2s2wP37 #bopo #bodypositivity #staywoke #highlightreal – pc 📸: my hubs @encarnacionphotography outfit: @alala

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3. Leaking urine during exercise is normal when you’re pregnant.

Involuntary leakage of urine (i.e. urinary incontinence) at any point in time, while common, is not “normal.” The two most commonly described conditions are stress urinary incontinence (SUI) or urge urinary incontinence (UUI). Stress urinary incontinence is defined as a “complaint of involuntary loss of urine on effort or physical exertion (e.g. sporting activities), or on sneezing or coughing.”7 Examples of this might be leaking of urine when doing a box jump or jumping rope.

Just how common is incontinence during pregnancy? Some research suggests that around 48 percent of pregnant women who have never given birth have signs of incontinence by week 308. This rate increases to around 67 percent for those who have given birth before.

For most women, this is stress urinary incontinence and results in a few drops of urine only once a week. For others, this is a significant symptom that affects quality of life. The good news is that you don’t have to live with urinary incontinence. There are pelvic health physiotherapists who specialize in helping women just like you find relief from incontinence.

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[NEW ARTICLE: Coaching Clients Who Want Their "Pre-Baby Body" Back] We're bombarded with messages in our culture pressuring us to shrink. This is especially prevalent when examining the messages new moms receive. . "Take it easy. Don’t be lazy! Get comfortable in your new role. Don’t get too comfortable with the extra weight! Prioritize bonding with baby. No, sleep. Wait, diet! Actually, exercise. Just… do it all and keep your house clean while you’re at it! Your body has done something miraculous! Now punish it into submission so that it looks like such a miracle never happened." . If you're a coach or trainer working with new moms, you know that many of them come to you with this type of goal. There's nothing inherently wrong with this type of goal, but is there something deeper there? How can you help? In her latest article, @sweatglow digs deeper into how to listen to and coach your new mama clients and provide them with care that leaves them feeling safe, energized, and encouraged. Read more at the link in our bio! . #girlsgonestrong #icoachwomen #strongwomenlifteachotherup . [H/T @denupzter for the photo!]

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And even if your incontinence is mild and doesn’t affect your life? It’s still important to get evaluated by a pelvic health physio. Incontinence is a sign that something in your core “system” is breaking down, and your pelvic floor happens to be where the breakdown is showing up. Being evaluated by a qualified physiotherapist can help reduce your risk of future pelvic floor dysfunction like pelvic pain, dyspareunia (i.e. pain with sex), and pelvic organ prolapse.

Whether you’re new to strength training during pregnancy or a seasoned veteran, keep these three myths in mind so you can have a safe, strong, happy, and healthy pregnancy and postpartum experience.

Featured image courtesy of Molly Galbraith.


1. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription 10th Edition. Wolters Kluwer; 2017. 480 p.

2. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 650: Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Dec;126(6):e135–42.

3. Downs DS, Chasan-Taber L, Evenson KR, Leiferman J, Yeo S. Physical activity and pregnancy: past and present evidence and future recommendations. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2012 Dec;83(4):485–502.

4. ACOG Committee on Obstetric Practice. Committee opinion #267: exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2002 Jan 1;99(1):171–3.

5. Jeffreys RM, Stepanchak W, Lopez B, Hardis J, Clapp JF 3rd. Uterine blood flow during supine rest and exercise after 28 weeks of gestation. BJOG. 2006 Nov;113(11):1239–47.

6. Hayman M, Brown W, Ferrar K, Marchese R, Tan J. SMA Position Statement for Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. 2016; Available online.

7. Haylen BT, de Ridder D, Freeman RM, Swift SE, Berghmans B, Lee J, et al. An International Urogynecological Association (IUGA)/International Continence Society (ICS) joint report on the terminology for female pelvic oor dysfunction. Neurourol Urodyn. 2010;29(1):4–20.

8. Wesnes SL, Rortveit G, Bø K, Hunskaar S. Urinary incontinence during pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2007

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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