Thursday, December 3, 2015

Weightlifting During Pregnancy: Chest & Triceps

I don't know about y'all, but it feels like this week has flown by to me!  For some reason, I'm putting myself under a lot of pressure to get Christmas "done" early this year, maybe because I want to spend the second half of the month preparing for baby in case of the unlikely event she arrives at 36-37 weeks, so I've spent the week shopping and decorating.

A few fun things have happened around here since I last posted.  Hank somehow got a dead dove past me into the house and under our bed... while the Mister was at work.  Sometimes I have this inner mantra of, "Hannah, you're about to be someone's mom.  You have to be able to kill bugs and handle gross messes on your own and be fearless in your child's eyes." But in this instance I did not have the nerve to handle the situation on my own.  I called Chris and said, "You have to come home now," and luckily he was able to leave in the next hour or so.  While I waited for him, I coaxed Hank out from under the bed and locked him out of the bedroom.  Thankfully, there wasn't any nastiness to be cleaned up once the Mister got the poor birdie out.  Hank was pretty upset to find his dad had stolen his prize when he went back under the bed to play with it later, though.  I'm just waiting for something like this to happen the next time Chris is on a work trip or deployed.  The worst I've ever had to deal with alone were a few spiders and a praying mantis and those almost did me in.  : )

Not to be outdone, Luellen has developed an affinity for wrapping paper.  One of her favorite toys in the whole wide world is the cardboard tube from inside paper towel rolls, so naturally she sees wrapping paper as a very shiny, enlarged, awesome version of that.  After spending way too much time in Target Tuesday picking out my corresponding colors and patterns of wrapping paper for this Christmas so that the gifts under our tree will match (am I the only one who does this?), I was none too happy to spend time chasing her around the house begging her not to put teeth holes in all of my new, fancy paper.  It's hard to be angry with her though when she's smiling from ear to ear and gleefully galloping all over the house with her treasures.  Why do I even buy these dogs toys when dead animals and cardboard tubes are so much more enticing?

In other news, this week I came to terms with the fact that I can't stop buying my little girl boys' clothes.  I had "super cash" from Old Navy to receive a $40 discount on a $100 purchase, and when I went in to shop around I found myself drawn to the baby boy section.  It's not that I want her to be a tomboy or have plans to dress her in a masculine fashion, nor do I dislike girls' clothes.  But the boys' clothes are just so much more FUN.  While most of the girls' clothes were pink and either had deer or bunnies on them (don't get me wrong, I think these are precious, but you can only buy the same thing so many times), the boys' clothes have shapes, fun phrases, and patterns.  They're not particularly "boy-ish," but more neutral, with greens, grays, and plaids.  Hopefully I won't spend the first year of my daughter's life correcting people who call her a "him" because of my clothing choices.

Anyway, none of that is related at all to what I wanted to post about today.  In addition to all of the fun above, I found time this week to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill and lift weights.  Although it did feel a little strange to go without Chris, as I've been nervous to go on my own since I found out I was pregnant, I really enjoyed myself and was happy to find a little of my old confidence returning as I did some familiar exercises.  And I tried to doubt myself less and listen to my body to know how far to push myself.

During our info session about the "dos and don'ts" of pregnancy when I was only one month along, I asked the nurse about weightlifting, and she advised against it other than with "very light weights."  But as I researched online and talked to friends who were pregnant/had babies, I came to the conclusion on my own that there were safe ways to keep lifting.  Although we haven't been as often as I would have liked (first due to intense morning sickness and then to Chris's work schedule being too busy), we have been to the gym a handful of times since I've been pregnant.  I'm hopeful I can start going more on my own now that I feel safer and more confident that I'm not going to hurt the baby without Chris's supervision (he's the weightlifting expert in this house).

The advice online for weightlifting during pregnancy from "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and various other pregnancy/fitness sites is pretty much universal - never lie flat on your back, never strain, never hold your breath, and don't use weights more than 15 pounds.  Now, if you look at some other women's blogs who continue to lift and/or do crossfit during pregnancy, you'll find that they break a lot of these "rules," but I'm more comfortable not pushing the limits (not saying what they're doing is wrong or right, I'm no expert and I haven't studied any statistics on the subject).  So, I've been sticking to light weights with higher reps, paying very close attention to my body.  If I feel like I'm straining, short of breath, or dizzy, I stop or adjust immediately.

Chris and I tend to favor isolation workouts instead of full body sessions, so I thought I'd share with you what a chest and triceps weight workout looks like for me right now.  My plan is to do a few of these posts with different exercises for the various muscle groups I like to target.  Disclaimer:  I am not a personal trainer nor do I have any type of certification when it comes to weightlifting or fitness in general.  This is just what has worked for me.  I would not advise any woman to take up weightlifting for the first time while pregnant - correct form is very important when lifting weights to prevent injury, and there is little room for error when a mother's body is changing so rapidly and she is responsible for a life other than her own.


Arguably the most popular chest and triceps exercise, bench pressing is the token "meathead" weightlifting exercise.  It deserves its reputation though as it REALLY strengthens your whole chest and your arms.  There are few things quite as empowering as reaching a new goal weight on bench press. But since I'm not trying to make "gains" (hate that cliche weightlifting word) right now and I can't lie flat on my back, I've had to make a lot of modifications to the way I do this exercise.  Instead of using the 45 pound bar plus weight plates, I use dumbbells which are lighter and easier to control, and I lie on an incline bench (with an elevated head/back).  Usually I do 15 reps with lighter dumbbells for my first few sets (5-10 pounds) and then a final set with 10 reps and heavier weights (10-15 pounds).  15 pounds in each hand used to be easy peasy for me since I was used to the bar and additional weight before I was expecting, but as time has passed I'm much weaker and can sometimes only do the 10 pounders (which is perfectly fine - I'm still pushing myself and keeping muscle tone by staying active).

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There are a variety of exercises you can do with a cable machine to work your triceps, but my favorite is the one pictured below using the rope attachment.  I especially like using the cable machine right now because the only modification I really have to make due to pregnancy is being careful not to use too much weight.  It's better for me to do reps of 15-20 with the machine set at a low weight than pushing myself to do 10 reps with a challenging weight.  I usually do four sets of these.

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Chest flies can be done on a bench with dumbbells or with a cable machine, but I prefer to use the machine that is specifically for this exercise.  Once again, this doesn't require much pregnancy modification other than being careful not to strain.  I do four low weight/high rep sets of these, usually trying to increase the weight setting by a little bit on the last rep.

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I think this is my very favorite exercise for the triceps!  Even though I miss doing it with heavy weights, I still get a lot of benefit from using a 10 or 15 pound dumbbell and doing 15 or so reps (four sets on these as well).  I'm very careful when lifting the weight over my head to hold it securely and if I were to drop it (which isn't very likely with such a light weight other than just because of clumsiness) I would try to drop it behind me instead of in front where it could risk hitting my tummy on the way down.

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Right now, I'm typically stopping myself at four exercises with four reps each (I do cardio as well so weightlifting isn't my only work out).  If I were to do a fifth exercise (or if I needed to sub one of these out because a machine or bench wasn't available), it would probably be assisted dips using a dip/pull-up machine.  I prefer to do these with a lot of assistance right now (think almost my body weight) and high reps.  They burn - in a good way!  But they do sometimes pull on my round ligaments and hurt my preggo belly, so I don't love them as much as some of the other exercises.

Although I know this isn't the case for every pregnant woman, I've cut ab-targeting exercises out of my fitness repertoire entirely for now.  I just don't feel safe straining or crunching my tummy muscles.  I figure I can catch up on all of that after baby is out - even though I'm sure that area will never look exactly the same. : )

So that's a day at the gym focusing on the chest and triceps for me as a pregnant lady!  Hope that wasn't totally boring if weightlifting's not your thing!

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