It’s been a crazy past several months for my wife and myself. The coronavirus pandemic has created several hardships for us but also some benefits too. Now, most of her work is performed remotely at home which has increased the time we spend together. At 26 weeks pregnant, it’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise as we can communicate more frequently about baby planning and other matters. It’s also freed up more time so that we can exercise together.
Many studies and researchers conclude that exercising while pregnant is not only safe but also recommended. According to the American Pregnancy Association, some benefits include increased energy, improved posture and mood, and even better sleep. However, when it comes to using kettlebells during pregnancy, there isn’t a whole lot of information to glean from. Therefore, it’s only natural to worry about the risks to both baby and mom especially when weights are used.
Pregnancy & Kettlebells – Looking for Answers
What helped ease my concern about my wife exercising with kettlebells while pregnant was reading other women’s experiences. Christine Mooney over at Chronicles of Strength shares her story about working out with kettlebells during pregnancy. She mentions a few of her favorite exercises and even says that labor was quick during her 3 pregnancies because of these workouts.
Senior StrongFirst Certified Instructor Yoana Teran recently gave some tips and pointers on the positive effects of kettlebell training during pregnancy. Her key takeaway from that post is that pregnant women shouldn’t push themselves too hard such as setting personal records. It’s also not a time to start your kettlebell journey if you have no prior experience. However, continuing to train and exercise even in a modified format is quite fine.
Finally, Kathleen Walters posted a 2-part blog series on Dragon Door that is meant as a guide for trainers coaching expectant mothers and also talks about her own experience. After having 2 miscarriages and then becoming pregnant again at nearly 43 years old, she decided kettlebell exercises would be a great way to stay fit safely. As she suggests, these workouts should be short and simple. 15 minutes is all that is needed and such a short duration should allow for 4 or 5 sessions a week. Consulting with your doctor about a nutrition plan and your fitness goals is always a good idea too.
My Wife’s Kettlebell Fitness Goals
We had the luxury of planning her pregnancy on our time schedule aiming for an October birth. Still, we both have fitness goals and didn’t want to pause them with the excuse of having a baby. After we both made great progress losing weight for our wedding, the thought was now is not the time to be lazy and erase all of that hard work. Instead, the goal has shifted towards my wife maintaining her weight within a certain range. It’s not realistic nor safe to try to shed pounds while also growing a child in the womb. More energy (food) is required and the trick is to provide adequate sustenance but not over-indulge.
I often joke that once our little girl is born my wife will have an instant weight loss of several pounds! However, her goals go beyond just shedding pounds these days. They include aspirations such as improved mobility and flexibility, increased endurance, and even strength-building – goals that we’re both striving towards. This is what makes the kettlebell so unique. You can target all of these attributes in a single workout session with various kettlebell exercises.
Desiring a Natural Birth
After much research and investigating, we both are in favor of natural birth. In fact, we’ve enrolled in a virtual class covering hypnobirthing. This technique teaches women about self-relaxation so that drugs and anesthesia aren’t necessary. Thus it’s important to have the body in the best shape possible in order to prepare the muscles and mind for pain during labor. That’s not to say women can’t benefit from kettlebell workouts if they chose to have a traditional hospital birth.
As a husband and expecting father, I want to do everything possible to help and aid my wife during pregnancy. That also means staying strong and not allowing her (or us) to cave to temporary desires like copious amounts of junk food or sedentariness. I can’t take the pain away and whatever fitness goals I reach won’t benefit her, however, the support and encouragement by my words and actions let her know that we’re in this together. This includes stopping any form of fitness regression after our child is born and playing the inconvenience card.
Exercising as a couple is a great way to support and motivate one another.
Our Tabata Kettlebell Workout for Pregnancy
A typical Tabata routine is defined as performing at least one exercise in succession for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest. The idea is to push yourself for those 20 seconds with the reward of having that much-needed momentary rest before the next round. We prefer the typical 8 rounds (4 minutes) of a single exercise at 20 seconds on 10 seconds off to complete a set. It sounds simple enough but it will grind you down. If it doesn’t, you’re using too light of a kettlebell weight.
The following is a 3-set (12-minute) Tabata kettlebell workout that you could do with your pregnant wife, girlfriend, or friend. I’ll explain how the supporting partner can ramp up the difficulty if necessary. Just the act of doing these exercises together is a bonding experience with a great sense of satisfaction afterward. Also, make sure you do some warmup and stretching exercises to prime your muscles.
Set 1 – Squats
- 20 seconds of goblet squats, 10 seconds rest
- Repeat for a total of 8 rounds (4 minutes)
This is definitely the most difficult set of the workout. That is why I suggest it be the first one you do. My wife will either use a 15 lb. or 20 lb. kettlebell. She’ll even just do bodyweight squats from time to time as the very motion is extremely beneficial.
I prefer to stick with my normal kettlebell weight of 35 lbs. Typically, I can perform 12 squats within 20 seconds. That means a total of 96 squats within the 4-minute round. And yes, I absolutely feel it in the legs right after! Occasionally, I’ll bring out my 45 lb. kettlebell for the goblet squats. When I really want to challenge myself I’ll use two 35-lb kettlebells for racked squats. Thankfully, the next two sets are easier on the body.
Set 2 – Hip Hinge Swing
- 20 seconds of kettlebell swings, 10 seconds rest
- Repeat for a total of 8 rounds (4 minutes)
My favorite kettlebell exercise, the Russian Swing, works many muscles at once and keeps the heart rate elevated. There are several variations of the kettlebell swing, although I do prefer the hip hinge style. A squat style swing is another popular variation and you can see the differences between the two here. Neither is wrong nor superior. It should come down to preference, comfortability, and goals.
Both my wife and I use the same weights as mentioned in the squat set. 12 also seems to be the magic rep number that I consistently hit per 20 seconds. Sometimes, I may perform alternating 1-handed swings every round. For more insight on the swing, take a look at how it involves the entire body.
Set 3 – Clean & Press
- 20 seconds of clean & press sticking with one arm, 10 seconds rest
- Repeat for a total of 8 rounds (4 minutes) alternating between arms after each round
The clean and press make for a good finisher as it’s the least intense set of the 3. Alternating your arms after each round allows for plenty of recovery time for those tired limbs. Curious as to why the clean and press is such a good combo move? Check out the many benefits here. I usually can get 4 or 5 reps done within each Tabata round with my 35 lb. kettlebell.
For an additional challenge try implementing the dead clean. That’s where the kettlebell is moved from the floor into the rack position. Otherwise, stick with the swing or hang clean. I do have a sense of relief knowing that things are winding down when reaching this set. That being said, if you do use a heavier kettlebell don’t be afraid to incorporate a push-press to help lift the weight overhead. I sometimes perform a random 4th kettlebell exercise Tabata set before doing this workout with my wife. The push-press helps get me across the finish line.
Final Thoughts on Kettlebell Training During Pregnancy
As always, listen to your body during workouts. It’s not a competition between you and your partner. If one of you feels tired, set the kettlebell down until recovery. Make sure that you give each other ample space too. I recommend exercising side by side with several feet between each other. After enough workouts, you’ll probably notice synchronizing moves with one another, especially during the swings. It’s pretty neat to watch and helps motivate each other to keep pace.
As far as Tabata timers, I recommend Flex Timer by GymNext. It’s highly customizable and features other popular formats such as EMOM. Flex Timer is available for free on both Apple and Android devices. It might be a good idea to put some music on that you both enjoy during the workout too. We usually allow for a couple of minutes rest in between sets so expect to only take 15 to 20 minutes out of your day. Once you start regularly incorporating a workout such as this it becomes an excellent habit.
As other articles I’ve referenced mention, pregnancy isn’t a disease! It’s an exciting time in your life and shouldn’t impede your personal goals. Life will be harder for sure, but support, motivation, and determination needn’t be sacrificed.