Friday, September 27, 2013

Exercise during pregnancy – Lea-Ann Ellison challenges the boundaries

Last week a weightlifter and mum of two, Lea-Ann Ellison, sparked a bit of a media storm when pictures of her weightlifting at 8 1/2 months pregnant went viral. Opinion, as is always the case when it comes to anything to do with pregnancy, was highly polarized.  Some people thought she was great, rushing to her defense; others were absolutely disgusted and accused her of being irresponsible. What struck me most about the whole thing though was the fact it highlighted something that has been bugging me for a long time.

People think they are open-minded, and now the vast majority “support” the idea that exercise during pregnancy is beneficial. But all you have to do is barely scratch the surface and the hypocrisy emerges. It turns out that to the majority of these people think exercise during pregnancy should be limited to walking, pregnancy yoga or gentle swimming. Oh, and I did I mention, definitely not weightlifting! The benefits of moderate (not gentle!) exercise during pregnancy are numerous. It prevents back pain, reduces risk of gestational diabetes and obesity, reduces complications during labor and boosts recovery post-partum to name but a few.
The pictures of Lee-Ann horrified a lot of people attracting comments describing what she was doing as “sickening” and “a good way to lose your baby”.  The reality is these pictures were only shocking to most people out there as they are physically incapable of doing what Lea-Ann was doing, pregnant or otherwise, and have no concept of what is involved. This woman is an experienced weightlifter and this is her day-to-day stuff. The best comment I read in support of her was from a guy in a forum and said it all really: “The woman looks as strong as horse so what's the problem?”
Lea-Ann just exposed a nerve, and forced people to confront what they really think about exercise and pregnancy. When I was pregnant last year, one of the things I noticed was many people, though they supported the concept of exercise during pregnancy, were of the opinion it was only OK to do something as long as you had been doing it before you got pregnant. I frequently heard the comment “its OK for you to exercise, you are used to it”. This is rubbish! There is absolutely nothing in the scientific literature to suggest that women shouldn't start exercising during pregnancy, even if they have never lifted a finger before. The benefits far outweigh any perceived risk. The only rule women need is “listen to your body”. I myself only started weightlifting when I was pregnant – it was great for self-esteem, it prevented too much extra fat deposition, it enabled me to recover very rapidly after the birth and I ended up with a pair of toned arms to die for!
In Lea-Ann’s own words, "I strongly believe that pregnancy is not an illness, but a time to relish in your body's capabilities to kick ass."

I loved the pictures, they show a beautiful strong woman, comfortably lifting weights, with as much effort as another pregnant woman would use hanging clothes on the line.


  1. I'm 30 weeks (7 months) pregnant with our first, Baby Kamden is due December 22. While I've always been athletic and strong, my inactive lifestyle (mixed with not-so-great eating) led to me becoming seriously overweight. In fact, I was the heaviest I've ever been when we found out (very surprisingly) I was pregnant. At the time I had an episode with gallstones, but as soon as I recovered, I joined the local gym. I knew this was the perfect time to make better lifestyle choices and minimize weight gain. With diligence, I've managed to LOSE 18lbs since June. My OB doctor is very pleased and supportive, especially since Baby K is growing and developing perfectly. (Last week, I had a growth scan ultrasound and, at 29 weeks, he measured 3lbs, 3oz.) I'm not being stupid or irresponsible at the gym -- I do water aerobics 3-5 days a week, Yoga, cardio (treadmill) and light weights. If I'm feeling up to it, I'll participate in BodyPump, Pure Barre, and Zumba classes. My fitness trainers are wonderful and very supportive too, offering advice and alternative moves to accommodate my tempo and growing belly! I also wear a heart-rate monitor watch and I'm diligent to keep my HR at 140 or below. Besides the exercise, I've also improved my diet since the gallbladder issue and pregnancy announcement. I eliminated completely sweet tea and fried foods (a big deal for this Southern girl!!!) and added more fruits, vegetables, lean means, and LOTS of water. After delivery, I will continue this positive trend, especially since I plan to breastfeed.

  2. Its great to hear of someone turning it around like that while pregnant - well done Nicole! You and Baby K will both benifit greatly from your approach. So many women are afraid to start anything like that when pregnant. Sounds like you have very supportive OB to which really helps. Keep up the good work, I found i had lots more energy then most people towards the end thanks to all the exercise!