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How to Navigate Using a Barbell in Pregnancy

“Is it okay to continue barbell lifts throughout pregnancy?”

I get asked this question often, so I’m sharing some considerations to take and how you can make adjustments to your training to accommodate your evolving body, while also supporting your core and pelvic floor health through pregnancy and beyond.

Although these considerations are primarily for the Olympic lifts (snatches and cleans, as well as all barbell variations of these movements), these also apply to deadlifts/hinges/pulls, squat variations, lunges and other unilateral movements, presses, etc.

As always, these are general considerations that I personally use and take with my clients to decide how to proceed in a way that will best support the athlete long term. I also take each woman's specific circumstances, history, goals, etc. into consideration when deciding the best approach for her.

Let’s dive into these considerations!

-As your belly continues to grow more (especially in the second trimester for many women), continuing Olympic lifts can get tricky. Trying to maneuver the bar around your growing bump so you don’t hit it can result in an altered bar path. The problem with an altered bar path is that the lift will then be inefficient (aka a crappy lift) and you are at a greater risk of losing your balance.

*From my personal experience in my first pregnancy (before I learned better!)-trying to “retrain” an altered bar path when returning to the barbell postpartum is a real pain in the butt. So take it from my mistake, don’t mess with that bar path that you have so diligently worked hard for!

-Learn what your tendencies are when using a bar. Are you more likely to breath hold?

Breath holding (especially when loaded under a barbell) in pregnancy will put extra stress on vulnerable tissue of your core and pelvic floor.

Are you bearing down or pushing pressure outwards into your abdomen while breathing (or breath holding)?

*Some people are much more likely to breath hold while using a barbell, sheerly out of habit, even at lower loads where a breath hold may not be necessary. I don’t recommend this in pregnancy for the reason of placing unnecessary stress in those vulnerable areas and because it is easier to get light headed and lose balance during pregnancy.

-What positions do you move through or catch the lift in? If you are finding yourself clenching your butt or arching your back a lot, you may be putting more pressure in those vulnerable areas.

*A common example: in an overhead press (strict, push press, jerk), if you are finishing the lift squeezing your butt and thrusting your rib cage up in order to maintain or complete the lift, it may be placing some strain on your linea alba (the tissue between your “6 pack abs” that thins and stretches during pregnancy, often resulting in diastasis recti) or on your pelvic floor.

So, what can you do instead of traditional barbell lifts if it’s time to change it up?

Pretty much every barbell movement can be done with dumbbells or kettlebells. These can be a great substitute that won’t mess with your bar path and may be easier for you to be more aware of your tendencies while lifting.

*If it is feeling uncomfortable to start in a lower position for movements like cleans and snatches, start in a hang position, with the weights above your knees like pictured above.

Using other equipment can provide some great versatility in your training to keep you from getting bored and keep you strong throughout pregnancy.

Switch it up and see how it feels!

Pregnancy is an excellent time to slow down and work on technique with lower loads.

If you are having a hard time deciding if you are exempt from this-ask yourself, what is the reward of continuing the exercise in question vs. any potential risks?

And remember, just because you can (or it feels fine in the moment), it doesn’t mean it’s the most appropriate thing for your long term health and performance. You have nothing to prove to yourself or anyone else.

Want more info on how you can navigate exercise, symptoms, and your journey? Fill out this form to schedule a FREE call with me to discuss how you can get better guidance with exercise and managing symptoms in pregnancy!

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