Can You Build Muscle While Pregnant?

building muscle while pregnant

Pregnancy is a time of significant change in a woman’s body, and many expectant mothers wonder if they can continue their fitness journey, specifically in terms of building or maintaining muscle during this period.

The good news is that, with certain modifications and a focus on safety, pregnant women can maintain an exercise routine that helps with body composition, strength, and preparation for postpartum physical activity.

This comprehensive guide will discuss the various aspects of building muscle while pregnant, including exercise safety, diet considerations, and the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle during pregnancy. 

Exercise Safety and Precautions

Maintaining an active lifestyle during pregnancy can bring numerous benefits for both the mother and the developing baby.

However, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and take necessary precautions when exercising.

This section will provide essential guidelines and precautions that pregnant women should know before starting or continuing an exercise routine.

Consult Your Healthcare Provider

Before starting any new exercise regimen during pregnancy, it is crucial to consult with your physician, ob-gyn, midwife, or healthcare team.

They can provide personalized advice based on your circumstances, medical history, and fitness level.

Always prioritize the safety of both yourself and your baby during pregnancy.

Listen to Your Body

Pregnancy affects each woman differently, so paying attention to how your body feels during exercise is essential.

Adjust your workouts accordingly and give yourself breaks when needed.

Be mindful of the additional stress pregnancy puts on your body, and recognize that it is okay to rest when necessary.

Modify Exercises as Needed

As your body changes throughout pregnancy, you may need to modify certain exercises to accommodate your growing belly and shifting center of gravity.

This may include using a wider stance when squatting, changing to single-leg squats instead of lunges, or avoiding exercises that put too much strain on your joints.

Remember that your joints are more lax during pregnancy, increasing the risk of sprains.

Avoid Certain Exercises and Positions

There are some exercises and positions that you should avoid while pregnant.

For example, avoid lying flat on your back after the first trimester, as this can increase the risk of orthostatic hypotension, leading to dizziness, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.

Additionally, avoid high-impact exercises or activities with a risk of falling and exercises that strain your joints excessively.

Weight Gain and Pregnancy Diet

pregnancy diet and weight gain

Proper nutrition is vital during pregnancy in supporting the health and development of the expectant mother and the growing baby.

Weight gain is a natural and essential part of this transformative journey, but understanding how to maintain a healthy weight and nourish your body becomes crucial.

In this section, we will delve into the topic of weight gain during pregnancy and explore the key principles of a balanced pregnancy diet.

Focus on Healthy Weight Gain

Instead of concentrating on losing fat or gaining muscle while pregnant, prioritize gaining a healthy amount of weight that supports your baby’s development and the additional physiological toll on your body.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, recommended weight gain during pregnancy based on pre-pregnancy BMI is:

  • Less than 18.5 (underweight): 28 to 40 pounds
  • 18.5 to 24.9 (healthy): 25 to 35 pounds
  • 25 to 29.9 (overweight): 15 to 25 pounds
  • 30 or higher (obesity): 11 to 20 pounds

Maintain a Nutrient-Dense Diet

Pregnancy is not the time to cut back on calories. You will need to increase your caloric intake as your pregnancy progresses gradually.

Dietitians recommend a gradual increase in calories for women with a healthy pre-pregnancy BMI, with no extra calories needed in the first trimester, 340 calories per day in the second trimester, and 450 calories in the third trimester.

These additional calories should come from nutrient-dense foods, including lean protein, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, vegetables, and fruits.

Limit unhealthy extra calories by avoiding foods high in saturated fat and added sugars, such as soda, sweets, and fried foods.

Emphasize Key Nutrients

According to the European Journal of Pediatric Medicine, certain nutrients such as folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, quality protein, and iron are especially important during pregnancy.

By consuming various healthy foods, you can help ensure that you and your growing baby receive the necessary nutrients for optimal health and development.

Cardiovascular Exercise and Pregnancy

cardiovascular exercises during pregnancy

Although pregnancy is a time to embrace weight gain, it is still essential to maintain cardiovascular health and body composition.

Certified pre-and postnatal fitness trainer Holly Roser, CPT, recommends cardio exercises, such as walking, biking, stationary cycling, swimming, and aqua aerobics, to stay healthy during pregnancy.

You can perform steady-state cardio (aerobic) or implement moderate intervals (anaerobic) for a challenge.

Moderate weight training with high-volume rep schemes and lower weights can also help maintain body composition while pregnant.

However, Roser emphasizes that pregnancy is not the time to focus on body recomposition but rather on maintaining the body composition you had before pregnancy.

Strength Training and Pregnancy

Strength training can be beneficial during pregnancy to help maintain muscle mass and prepare your body for the additional weight it will carry.

“Strength training while pregnant should be about training your body to carry the extra weight,” says Roser. “You’re suddenly going to have a lot more extra weight out in the front of your body, so you need to strengthen your posterior chain [glutes, hamstrings, and lower back] to deal with that.” (Livestrong)

If you had an intense, heavy-lifting routine before pregnancy, your goal during pregnancy should be to use comfortably challenging weights instead of maxing out on lifts.

Roser suggests focusing on moderate weights and high reps to maintain your current muscle mass without wanting to grow more while pregnant.

Roser provides a sample week of pregnancy workouts for maintaining body composition:

  • Monday: 30 minutes of lower-body strength training
  • Tuesday: 30 to 60 minutes of low-impact cardio
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: 30 minutes of upper-body strength training
  • Friday: 30 to 60 minutes of low-impact cardio
  • Saturday: Low-impact circuit training or rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Safe Strength-Training Exercises During Pregnancy

YouTube User: Pregnancy & Postpartum TV

Resistance training is a safe and effective way to maintain muscle mass during pregnancy.

Here are some exercises that can be safely performed while pregnant, with modifications as needed:

  • Pelvic rock: On your hands and knees, exhale and pull your belly towards your spine (giving your baby a hug with your muscles), hold, and gently shift your weight over your hands.
  • Seated row: This exercise targets the back muscles and can be performed using a resistance band or cable machine.
  • Lateral raise: This shoulder exercise can be performed with light dumbbells, focusing on proper form and posture.
  • Dumbbell squat: A lower-body exercise that targets the quads and glutes, using a wider stance to accommodate your growing belly.
  • Calf raises: A simple exercise to strengthen the calf muscles, which can be performed using body weight or light dumbbells.
  • Plank: This core exercise can be modified for pregnancy by performing it on your knees or using an incline, such as placing your hands on a bench or step.

Avoid exercises that involve lying on your back or stomach, holding your breath for too long, performing isometric moves like planks, or exercising in hot environments, such as Bikram yoga.

Managing Energy and Fatigue During Pregnancy

A healthy pregnancy diet and regular exercise can help manage energy levels and alleviate fatigue during pregnancy.

According to a study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, acute bouts of low-to-moderate intensity resistance exercise are consistently associated with increased feelings of energy and decreased feelings of fatigue in pregnant women during the second and third trimesters.

Maintaining an exercise routine with resistance training can help improve your energy levels, mood, and overall well-being during pregnancy.

The Impact of Exercise on Baby’s Development

Exercise during pregnancy benefits the mother and positively affects the baby’s development.

Babies of mothers who exercise regularly tend to be longer and leaner, with some studies showing that resistance training may be especially beneficial in this regard.

Moreover, babies born to mothers who exercised vigorously during pregnancy show heightened attentiveness and discipline compared to those of less-active mothers.

In addition to these benefits, maintaining a consistent and effective exercise regimen during pregnancy can help with labor and postpartum recovery and mitigate common pregnancy-related aches and pains.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you still get toned while pregnant?

Yes, it is possible to get toned while pregnant. A well-rounded exercise routine with strength training, cardiovascular exercises, and proper nutrition can help you maintain muscle tone during pregnancy. However, it’s important to prioritize safety and consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any exercise regimen.

Can I lift more than 20 lbs while pregnant?

Lifting more than 20 lbs during pregnancy depends on factors like your health and pregnancy stage. While lifting objects under 20 lbs is generally safe, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

How can I bulk up during pregnancy?

Focusing on bulking up or gaining significant muscle mass during pregnancy is generally not recommended. The priority during this time should be your and your baby’s overall health and well-being. However, you can still maintain and strengthen your muscles through safe and appropriate exercise routines, including strength training exercises.

Can I bench press while pregnant?

Bench pressing while pregnant is generally not recommended due to the potential risks involved. As pregnancy progresses, the growing belly can alter your center of gravity and affect your stability. This may increase the risk of injury or strain on your abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and lower back.

Can you tone your arms while pregnant?

Yes, it is possible to tone your arms during pregnancy. Incorporating exercises that target the muscles in your arms, such as arm curls and tricep dips, can help strengthen and define them.

Over to You!

Maintaining muscle and staying fit during pregnancy is possible if you prioritize safety and listen to your body.

Following a nutrient-dense diet, engaging in regular cardiovascular and strength-training exercises, and consulting with your healthcare provider can support a healthy pregnancy and prepare your body for life after giving birth.

Remember to prioritize your and your baby’s well-being during this special time.


  • Cam Russo

    Cam is a blogger, author, and content strategist with a keen love for the written word. His journey with high-functioning autism has kindled a strong advocacy for autism awareness. Today, Cam dedicates his efforts to educating parents. He sees laughter as a game-changer in learning, and strives every day to make education a fun and enjoyable journey for all his readers.