I decided to take a little different approach with this week's post. We've been maxing out last week and this week at our gym, and thought that may be a good post for the blog.
Maxing out during pregnancy
I would not recommend maxing out during pregnancy beyond the 1st trimester. Personally, I was able to hit a few PRs during my first trimester- which I attribute to my increase in carbs & gaining weight.
Moms who are pregnant with their second, third, etc. may find that they develop symptoms sooner. By symptoms I'm referring to pelvic/back pain, leaking, pressure, etc. If this is the case, I would not recommend attempting to max out- the risk is not worth the reward.
Moms in their first trimester may be struggling with fatigue and morning sickness. In this scenario, I would not recommend the athlete to max out if they're not feeling well. That increased intensity is not necessary at this time.
For those who are in their second and third pregnancy, I recommend working off of a percentage of their 1RM for strength training work. Using about 70% of their previous 1RM to take percentages off of is a good starting point. When the rest of the gym is maxing out, I would recommend pregnant athletes work up to that 70%, and instead of going for as much weight, go for reps. Focus on the quality of movement, using good posture/alignment, breathing strategy for each rep. When the quality starts to break down, that's the stopping point.
Also, I would hope this obvious but just in case, please don’t wear a weightlifting belt. Now a SI belt or something similar is a different story- don’t wear a belt that you would use to brace or push into.
Maxing out postpartum
I would not recommend a postpartum athlete attempt to "max out" until AT LEAST 12 weeks postpartum. Ideally these steps would have been taken as well:
Assessed & cleared to return to activity by pelvic floor PT. Being cleared to return to activity by the OB is absolutely necessary & no gym should allow athletes to workout until cleared by their physician (hello liability!).
Athlete has slowly returned to fitness, ideally working with a coach who specializes in pregnant/postpartum athletes, whether this is in a class or individual setting.
Athlete is not having any symptoms- pain, leaking, pressure, etc.
Focusing on quality of movement, paired with alignment and strategy is more important than the amount of weight on the bar. Strength will increase quickly in the first few strength cycles. YOU SHOULD NOT BE AS STRONG IN EARLY POSTPARTUM AS YOU WERE BEFORE YOU WERE PREGNANT OR BEFORE YOU HAD A BABY. Read that one more time. Sorry for the all caps, but I want to be sure that point got across.
I personally have really liked taking the approach of not truly "maxing out"- i.e., not going to failure to find a 1RM. At our gym, we offer athletes the option to either "max out" or "rep out" for their 1RM. When an athlete "reps out" their 1RM, they perform multiple reps until can no longer perform with sound technique. This is then adjusted to a 1RM, which is used for percentage work. We have charts at our gym we use to calculate a 1RM from "repping out", or I also use an app called 1 Rep Max on my phone.
The early postpartum athlete can work up to a weight that is challenging, but still able to be performed with sound technique and strategy. If they can "rep out" that weight, I would prefer that over continuing to add more weight to lift to failure. This works well for deadlifts, squats and presses. However I would not necessarily recommend this for Oly lifts.
For maxing out Oly lifts, I would recommend performing "power" variations of the clean and snatch, avoiding catching in a squat position. In early postpartum, this can put a lot of extra stress on the pelvic floor.
PLEASE DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH WHEN MAXING OUT. I would recommend avoiding valsalva techniques until much later postpartum. It is imperative that the athlete have no symptoms and good pelvic floor strength/coordination with the rest of the core before attempting this. Athletes who are much later in their postpartum recovery may be able to perform a valsalva technique, if they feel comfortable and knowledgeable. I'm personally 11 months postpartum and not going to even attempt valsalva until I've weaned and had some time to readjust to my new body. It's habit now to exhale through any movement that requires significant force anyways.
I would also not recommend using a weightlifting belt in postpartum until much later on, like my recommendations above for valsalva technique. Focus on using your core instead.
As athletes get further into their postpartum recovery, they can go closer to that position of fatigue and maxing out. I would still prioritize sound technique and strategy with myself and athletes I coach. IMO, going for an extra rep or 5-10# is not worth it if it causes injury or brings back symptoms.
It is important to also be mindful that putting too much pressure on a pelvic floor and system that isn't ready yet, can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction, back pain, and other conditions such as prolapse. If you have any symptoms while maxing out, please see your physician and consider going to a PFPT as well.
We have a lifetime to build strength back and do fitness! Instead of pushing ourselves to extremes early in our recovery, focus instead on building a solid foundation of movement patterns & that strength will come.
When considering scaling an athlete, try to keep in the mind what functional movement is being performed. Is it a variation of the squat, hinge, pull, push, etc.? Try to maintain the integrity of the functional movement, while modifying it a level that is appropriate for your individual athletes. If you would like to learn more about coaching pregnant and postpartum athletes, please look into Brianna Battles' coaching course here. For questions regarding scaling/modifications for the injured athlete, please feel free to contact me and/or work directly with the athlete's healthcare provider.
***All pregnant and postpartum women should have their physician's approval to workout. If you don't, please do not workout. If you have any physician restrictions, to ignore them is placing you and your baby's health in jeopardy.
***I recommend all postpartum women get assessed by a pelvic floor physical therapist. Find one by you here. I also highly recommend finding a Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism coach by you to go over strategy with specific exercises, programming and recommendations. Find one here.
***At any sight of coning with any movement, stop. Stop if you begin experiencing "leaking", sensation of something "falling out" and/or anything that doesn't feel right. Take more breaks as needed, if it's due to fatigue. Focus on your breathing and movement strategy. If you continue to have symptoms, scale the movement more or stop the workout. If you haven't consulted with a healthcare provider and/or postpartum fitness specialist regarding your symptoms, please do.
If you have specific questions regarding this post, please comment below or contact via social media or email. I'm happy to help- but remember my advice is not accompanied with a hands-on assessment, which is the best way to make recommendations. If you are interested in meeting with me, please contact me. If you're interested in finding an appropriate healthcare provider/coach, please contact me and I will do my best to help you find one.