pregnancy weight training

Pregnancy Weight Training: Pregnancy, strength and fitness

The theory that pregnancy, being a form of graduated weight training, actually improves subsequent performance in women has been dealt a blow by a major new US study suggesting that both fitness and strength decline significantly during pregnancy and are still not fully restored six months after birth.

The study was set up to examine the pregnancy-related changes in physical activity, fitness and strength in women of varying BMIs (body mass index – or the relationship of weight to height). A cohort of 124 moderately active healthy women were recruited to the study, of whom 76 became pregnant and 63 were followed up until 27 weeks postpartum. Of these, 17 had a low BMI (ie were of low weight in relation to their height), 34 had a normal BMI and 12 a high BMI.

The women were assessed before pregnancy and at six and 27 weeks postpartum for body composition, self-reported physical activity, fitness (VO2max, as measured by maximal oxygen consumption test on a cycle ergometer) and strength (as measured by a one-repetition maximum test on leg press, leg extension, bench press and latissimus pull-down).

Key results were as follows:

  • Total self-reported physical activity did not change from baseline to postpartum, although there were changes in the specific activities reported, with a decrease in conditioning and occupational activities and an increase in walking and home activities;
  • Measured VO2max, adjusted for weight, decreased substantially from prepregnancy to six weeks postpartum and was still lower than baseline at 27 weeks postpartum;
  • Significant decreases in strength were observed from pre- pregnancy to six weeks postpartum, and these losses were not fully regained by 27 weeks postpartum.

Commenting on the last finding, the researchers observe that strength was lost from both the legs and arms, with the largest losses in the lower body. ‘This seems somewhat contrary to what would be expected,’ they comment, ‘because maintenance of leg strength would be expected due to gestational weight gain.

‘No study to our knowledge has examined changes in strength in women before and after pregnancy,’ they point out. ‘Our major findings include decreases in both maximal oxygen consumption and leg strength from prepregnancy to 6 wk postpartum, with some of these observed decreases recovering by 27 wk postpartum. These changes occurred regardless of the mother’s initial BMI.’

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2005; 37, 5:832-837

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