Close your eyes and take some mental screen shots of what these words bring to mind; strength training, barbells, kettlebells, tension, iron, sweat and work.

Now take those images and layer these on top. Women, persistence, confidence, health, power, beauty and… wait for it- pregnancy. Yep, pregnancy. One would think that pregnancy is the odd word out amongst the collective, and you’re correct. The norm when you Google fitness and pregnancy is that, “Physical activity is good for expecting mothers like swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling, step or elliptical machines, and low-impact aerobics.” While these modalities are fine, none of these addresses the importance of maintaining mental and muscular strength, healthy bones, joints, ligaments, and moving one’s body in a functional way for a healthier life. Strength training is unique in these ways.

This brings us to three women’s stories – let’s say three heroines’ stories – because when was the last time you grew a human being inside of you, gave birth to it and made a promise to take care of it for the rest of your life? Right? OK, now that we’re settled, back to our heroines, who chose to strength train pre, during, and post-pregnancy. Each of them trained with a different focus, but faced similar challenges and outcomes. Being new mothers, their journeys have only just begun, but we hope that their shared experiences inspire other moms. Hopefully this helps even one women find the strength in training for two.

I’d like to introduce you to Industrial Strength family members Stephanie Duffy, Lisa Joe and Megan McMillan.

“Before pregnancy, I was strength training and olympic weightlifting 3-5 times a week, often before or after work. I had competed in several olympic weightlifting meets as well as a powerlifting meet, and felt strong and capable of many things. I had been lifting weights regularly for a couple years at that point and was in the best overall physical health of my adult life, so that set a great foundation for my pregnancy. When I got pregnant I made a goal to continue training in a safe capacity for not only my own health (and sanity!) but also for the baby’s well being.

While pregnant I kept up a regular gym schedule, maintaining 2-3 sessions a week, as well as walking regularly to just break up my desk job workdays. Friends and staff at Industrial Strength were such a consistent support network during those months! Besides the modifications offered by the Industrial Strength coaches during group workouts, I read a couple books that empowered me with a knowledge of what my body was going through and how to safely remain active without injury. The Pregnant Athlete: How to Stay in Your Best Shape Ever– Before, During, and After Pregnancy and the seminal Exercising Through Your Pregnancy were great references throughout my pregnancy, guiding me towards what I should and should not do. Thanks to the above resources, I lifted weights up until the day before (!) Eleanor was born at 38 1/2 weeks, and came out of it all without injury.

I received a number of critical comments from family, especially older generations, about lifting weights while pregnant. Thanks to the aforementioned resources, I never wavered in my commitment to my health. I confidently told them that what I was doing was great for both the baby and I.

During the labor, I used a lot of mental references to powerlifting, often comparing a contraction or pushing to grinding through a really heavy rep. No joke, I actually told myself “Last rep, best rep!” during the final pushes of labor. (Thankfully, not out loud.) But I honestly think that the knowledge I had of pushing my body through difficult actions like weightlifting helped me get through my natural labor without the use of any pain medication.

Since having the baby, I have struggled with devoting time to myself. Initially there was a lot of healing that obviously needed to happen. My first day back in the gym was 7 weeks postpartum, but my attendance has been inconsistent ever since due to figuring out our lives, work schedules, needs, and priorities in the wake of creating and caring for this tiny human. I know many other moms that have difficulty prioritizing time for themselves– it’s so easy and natural for our needs to take a backseat to everyone and everything else! I admit, I’m still figuring it out.

However, I’ve been able to semi-regularly attend lunchtime kettlebell classes, and occasionally olympic lifting or strength training on the weekends. That’s mainly due to identifying my needs, communicating them with my partner, and us working together to make that happen. If I go too long without physical activity my mood dramatically shifts downward, and I turn into a grumpy, sad, restless person. The moment I get back in the gym, or heck, even take a walk and get outside, my mood instantly improves. That in turn affects the entire family for the better.

I hope that Eleanor grows up with an appreciation for what her body is able to accomplish and how strong it can be. As her mother, I am the first major example of how women take care of and value themselves. By maintaining my health and making it a priority in my life, I am showing her that being active and strong is not only fun and fulfilling, it’s empowering, inspiring, and feminine. ” – Stephanie Duffy

Stephanie is not only a role model for her daughter, but is wonderful example for all women in how she values her self care . Challenging the norm and choosing to prioritize strength training for her overall health and well being, even when met with opposition, is quite a feat.

And now, Lisa’s story:

“I have always been physically active before and during both of my pregnancies. I had taken Barre classes 4-5x a week during my first pregnancy and for a few months postpartum.  When my daughter was about 6 months old I started personal training sessions with Mira at Industrial Strength.  I felt like I needed the extra attention and care getting back in to the gym, and plus I was interested in taking kettlebell classes and wanted to do so safely.  Working with her was so beneficial in getting back in touch with my body, and being aware of the connectedness of movement and breath when lifting heavy weights.  After training with her 2x a week for a few months, I began taking the kettlebell classes regularly 2-3x a week.

When I became pregnant with my second daughter, I had continued taking kettlebell classes.  They were perfect for me, in that I was getting a cardio and strength workout in a relatively short amount of time without over-exerting myself.  I loved the small class sizes, and the camaraderie that I felt with the lunch time crew.  I continued using the same heavy weights that I had established the previous year in training.  I even did the snatch test 8 months pregnant and still nailed 93 snatches!  Yes, I did have to modify a few exercises as my baby was getting closer to full term with some of the explosive movements that were done in class.  I never really got much criticism from anyone when I told them that I was still taking kettlebell classes, more responses of praise and being impressed.

Being physically active has always been important to me.  I felt so good being strong during my pregnancy, and believe exercise to be important in one’s daily life.

Having babies does a number on your body and self care is so important.  I’ve eased up on myself after having this second child, and know that I will get my body back and me time at the gym in due time.   Working out with other people pushes me to perform at a higher level.  I have only recently been able to start working out again and it feels great.  It’s almost harder getting back to exercising after having a baby; knowing how strong you once were, and how challenging it feels to be back at square one.

These things will not deter me.  You’ve got to start somewhere.  I put myself first, not in a bad way, but I can’t be good to my partner, my kids, or to others if I’m not good to myself.  Exercise helps me feel good, and I like being strong.  It gives me energy, and lord knows I need it!  I know I will get back in shape and be a good role model to my girls to be healthy and strong women, but I’m also going to give myself a break and enjoy this precious time while they are so young. ” -Lisa Joe

Lisa reminds us that small steps can lead to big ones, and that you have to start somewhere in order to effect change. And while it’s important to find the time to take care of yourself, finding the time to enjoy a young family is something worth pausing for.

And last but not least, Megan’s story:

“I did NOT grow up as an athlete. I skipped gym class so many times junior year that I nearly failed–many a round of groveling earned me a GPA-ruining C. I started running when I turned 30, and finally found my way to strength training when I needed a break from racing.

By the time I joined Industrial Strength, I was already hooked on the way strength training made me feel healthier and happier. The family-like community and amazing coaching at I.S. took it to a whole new level. I trained with my friends at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays (best way to start the day!), and was often back in the gym on evenings and weekends for olympic weightlifting, too. The gym was my “me” time and my social hour, all in one.

None of that really changed when I became pregnant, although I opted to work out solo so I could modify exercises without holding back the group. As weird as it sounds, I still miss being pregnant sometimes. I consider myself lucky in that I never experienced pain or reduced mobility. I really just kept living life, including my life in the gym! I delivered my son at 39 weeks in a fast and furious 6-hour birth. That morning I was hiking, the day before I was swimming laps, and two days before I was back squatting. (Reminder: if you think that’s because I am a super athlete, see previous statement about almost failing gym class.) Although I believe pregnancy and childbirth are a little bit like a snowflake–no one experiences it exactly the same way–I also believe that I had such positive experience because I never stopped moving. And let’s be honest: a vaginal delivery is basically the equivalent of maxing out your back squat over and over at the end of a marathon. Nothing can prepare you better than lifting weights.

So pregnancy, labor, and staying active were the easy part (for me). The hard part has been finding the space and time to get back into the gym now that my son is here. I used to think that people who didn’t engage in a sport just “didn’t make time” for it. Now I know that those people are probably just parents, haha! In all seriousness, I’ve really struggled with finding my “me” time and recovering physically from the alterations pregnancy made to my body. My 6:30 a.m. workout has been replaced with breastfeeding. My evening consists of the cherished and all-too-quick minutes between the end of my work day and the beginning of Jack’s bedtime. I had a bit of a false start at seven weeks postpartum and tried to hit the gym like nothing had changed…but the truth is, everything has changed. I know that as Jack gets older, I’ll get more “me” time, but in the meantime, I’m still finding the balance between taking care of myself and giving myself grace for rebuilding my strength (very!) slowly and surely. Knowing that my Industrial Strength family has my health and happiness in mind makes all the difference.” –Megan McMillan

And finally Megan shares how strength training changed her life, in the best way, helping her to find “her” time and how it will help her to find balance in her life as an athlete and new mother.

So here you have it, we hope that these stories enlighten and empower more women to be strong, to share their experiences honestly, and most of all to support one another in leading active, healthy and fulfilling lives. These women show us how it is possible to be both vulnerable and tough. Strength training and motherhood need not be mutually exclusive. In our experience, they’re a perfect pair.