Former GB champion powerlifter Shachar Head-Wilson tells us about her experience of lifting during and after pregnancy and how she feels getting back into strength training has benefited her after having her baby.
As an ex-powerlifter I know how important strength training can be. I competed to an international standard for England and Great Britain. I solely strength trained for around 8 years, with a couple of short breaks due to injury. I then had my son Rory in 2020. I had been away from strength training for around a year when I fell pregnant, but still kept up an exercise routine.
I soon realised how my strength training had and would further benefit my body during pregnancy and post-natally. Alongside the general benefits of exercise that we reap so many of, strength training has so many additional benefits such as giving us a strong core, increasing our wellbeing, injury prevention and assisting body composition goals.
The post natal period is one of beautiful turmoil, change and often brings stress. It can be hard to get ourselves into new routines and figure out ourselves as a mum. We often lose ourselves a little in the process, whether it be not knowing what we enjoy as a hobby or what self care looks like for us now.
Exercise, whether we enjoyed it before pregnancy or not, can be a great way to release some of the mental load of motherhood. I suffered with post natal depression after Rory, and I still do with Gaia, and it definitely helped me to feel a sense of achievement and structure. It gives me a focus of an evening when the kids are in bed, this is often where I struggle. It also makes me feel good, energised (a sort of boosted good tired feeling) and like I’ve
done something for myself.
The overwhelm of getting back into it
It can also be really overwhelming getting back into exercise. No matter how strong or fit you were before, our bodies feel so different after a baby and it can be hard to accept our ‘new’ bodies. But know that you aren’t alone in feeling this, and gradually our strength and feeling in control of our body comes back. You are your body are amazing, you’ve birthed a little baby into the world – you’re amazing. I know for a fact I beat myself up a bit if I can’t lift what I used to lift, or if I can’t hit the same reps. But this is absolutely ok, listen to your body and use that to fuel you further (steadily!).
Listen to your body
Our bodies are so clever and definitely let us know if something is not feeling right or needs to be adjusted. I think as we go through pregnancy we can become so much more in tune with our bodies and how movement feels, so take this and trust that you know how your body feels. If something feels too much, scale it back, reset – there is no harm in easing off. Strength training, and any exercise really, we need to ensure our form is not compromised – so listen to those proprioceptors/mechanoreceptors (the nerve endings that detect stretching and movement of the muscles and joints) and do what feels positive.
The above comes with trusting and listening to our own minds. I remember going into the gym whilst I was pregnant and loading up the bar for my squats and deadlifts and people would always say “Isn’t that too much for your condition”, or “go steady, that’s a lot”. My husband was also scared I’d squash the baby… But realistically for me it was ok. If it felt too much I’d drop it back. You get this a lot postnatally too, but if it feels good to you – go for it. Sometimes getting back into exercise after a baby is a bit of not running before we can walk, but if you feel that it’s ok to add a few more kilo’s, or do some extra reps – then go for it. Just remember to listen to your body and tune in on how it feels.
The importance of focusing on your core
With postnatal exercise, especially if you have had diastasis recti, it is important to start with some basic core rehabilitation movements to help knit our abdominal muscles back together and regain that core control. These could be exercises such as bracing our core, pelvic tilt, kegel movements. The kegels specifically are great for our pelvic floor… we all know how important that one is!! This basic core control regain is great for ensuring that our form will be better when we lift, if we know to find out neutral spine and engage that position for weight training exercises then we are putting our self in better stead to reap the full benefits of exercise.
Give yourself time to recover from birth
Looking at strength training in particular, it is important to ensure you are recovered from your birth whether it had been vaginal or c section. Also be aware our ligaments can remain loose from lingering hormones from the pregnancy. Progressive strength training has huge benefits for our pelvic floor and core recovery. It can also help you to cope with a rapidly growing baby and being able to keep up with the demands of daily life. As I mentioned earlier, the psychological benefits are also vast.
Why strength training is so great
Strength training can also act as a rehabilitative act and help with our healing. It helps to strengthen and protects our joints. By strengthening and toning our muscles with correct and good form, this can also improve our posture and balance. That back ache from the pregnancy? Help rehab it with some compound movements, core restoration and strength based training.
Feeling the lag of motherhood and like your stamina is lacking? Strength training can help this. You can feel more energised, feel like you can keep up with the demands of motherhood and have more energy (even though there are DEFINITELY days where we just need to chill).
There are so many benefits to strength training, this doesn’t mean you’ll get big and bulky, hopefully you’ll feel strong, empowered and a greater sense of wellbeing.
Shachar Head-Wilson is a former GB Champion Powerlifter and is now a personal coach and pre and postnatal specialist. Follow her on Instagram @powermamapt