Alright -thus far we have covered technique for both the Russian and American kettlebell swings (read here), as well as simple tests you can do to determine if you are ready for American swings (read here). Now we are going to cover kettlebell swings as they relate to the pregnant and postnatal athlete. So, if you were participating in kettlebell training before you became pregnant, you may be wondering if it’s still safe to continue doing so through your pregnancy and into the postnatal period.
As much as I would love to say â€œSure, go right ahead and keep doing your kettlebell training!â€, it really just isn’t that easy of an answer. I will have probably pissed off a lot of female kettlebell devotees in writing this article, but my role as a prenatal/postnatal fitness professional is to keep mamas and mamas-to-be feeling safe, strong, and confident through their pregnancies -so there absolutely are some activities and exercises that that I will recommend you to eliminate and others to substitute.
I very much believe that you should listen to your body during pregnancy. However, just because a certain exercise may feel fine to you in the moment, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t have some cumulative and long-term detrimental effects. There’s a saying that I like to use often: â€œJust because you can do something, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD be doing it.â€ I believe this especially holds true during the prenatal and postnatal period. In order to help you understand my reasoning for this, let’s talk about the Relaxin hormone and how it affects your body during and after pregnancy.
When you hear about this hormone it is most often related to pregnancy. However, Relaxin is also found in both non-pregnant females and males as well. In women, it is secreted into the circulatory system by the ovaries and also the placenta, the uterine lining, and the membranes surrounding the fetus during pregnancy. It is secreted from the prostate gland in men and can be detected in their semen, but Relaxin is not normally found in their blood circulation. Relaxin will typically increase about fourteen days after ovulation in a menstruating female, but if pregnancy does not occur, then its levels will decrease. This hormone is at its highest levels during the first trimester and will pick back up again later on in the third trimester as a woman gets closer to giving birth. Relaxin is responsible for preparing a woman’s body for pregnancy in many different ways. However, for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the following facts:
- Relaxin promotes a softening of the connective tissues in the body in order to prepare a mama’s body for labor and delivery. This happens primarily to widen the connective tissues of the pelvis. However, the release of Relaxin has a systemic effect on the body resulting in laxity of ALL the ligaments, tendons, and fascial tissue throughout the body. This greatly contributes to joint instability and more strain on weight bearing structures, especially through the lumbar spine and pelvis.
- Relaxin softens the abdominal muscles in order to accommodate the growing size of your uterus. The hormone also relaxes your pelvic floor muscles. These factors also contribute to decreased stability of the lumbar spine and pelvis.
- After delivery, this hormone will continue to have a softening effect on the joints and connective tissues for up to 6 months postpartum if not breastfeeding and even longer if a woman is breastfeeding.
So Now What
Well, taking everything from above into consideration, I believe it’s best to taper off the kettlebell swings as your pregnancy progresses as well as during the postnatal period. Remember, there are high levels of Relaxin circulating around in the body both during and after pregnancy which causes your joints to be more unstable, particularly the sacroiliac joint, and more vulnerable to injury and pain. Speaking from personal experience, when the SI joint goes you will know it and you will be left with incredibly annoying and nagging pain through the pelvis and down the leg. It’s just not worth the pain.
Some may say that kettlebell swings are great because they even more so force you to have to stabilize through the pelvis and core in order to absorb and transfer the ballistic force of the movement. Under normal conditions, a combination of ligaments, deep core muscles and proper joint alignment will indeed create enough of a compressive stabilization force to stabilize the pelvis and allow for normal pain-free movement during the kettlebell swing.
However, this is an even harder task for the pregnant and postpartum core and pelvis to accomplish because the abdominals, pelvic floor muscles, and pelvic ligaments have been stretched and weakened as a result of pregnancy. Therefore, a pregnant and postnatal core isn’t able to fully and effectively stabilize against the intense nature of a kettlebell swing. This can lead to compensation by the surrounding musculature, greater force being placed upon the pelvis itself, poor muscle recruitment patterns, and painful symptoms like low back pain, SI joint pain, pelvic pain, or sometimes radiating pain down the legs.
Believe me mama! I am huge advocate for keeping yourself strong and supported throughout your pregnancy and beyond with sound exercise programming. So by all means, keep on using those kettlebells for strength training, but with movements that are less ballistic in nature and allow for more control like squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, etc. This will protect you from avoidable aches and pains that could damper your pregnancy experience as well as hinder your postpartum recovery.
So when EXACTLY is it okay to add kettlebell swings back into your workout routine? Before I give you a general guideline, I want you to keep in mind that every mama’s body heals differently. It may take you a little bit longer to ease back into kettlebell training, and that is perfectly okay. Practice grace with yourself and your body and with all that it has been through/will go through over the course of your pregnancy and postnatal recovery. I would tentatively suggest starting back at around 6 months postpartum with a LIGHT kettlebell. Also, make sure that you have had AT LEAST 3 solid months of strength training under your belt as well. Be careful when you start and listen to how your body feels in the moment. Ask yourself a few questions to determine if you are ready for kettlebell swings again -and be honest with yourself:
- Does your back/pelvis feel strong and stable or does everything still feel a little â€œloosey-gooseyâ€ when you swing the kettlebell?
- Do you experience any pain around your SI joints/pubic bone, or radiating pain down the leg after performing kettlebell swings?
- Does your pelvis feel â€œheavyâ€ shortly after or the day following a kettlebell swing workout?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you probably aren’t quite ready for kettlebell swings just yet. Finally, it’s always best to practice common sense when it comes to exercise selections during your pregnancy and postnatal recovery. Both of these periods are very physically challenging for a woman, so why force yourself to carry on with an intense exercise routine when you just aren’t quite feeling up to it anyway? You don’t need to prove to others or yourself that you can still be a â€œbad-assâ€ in the gym even though you are pregnant or have just given birth!! Isn’t the fact that you are growing ANOTHER HUMAN in and of itself an awesome feat?!?! Just keep in mind that you will be able to gradually build your fitness back up to where it was pre-pregnancy – when the TIME IS RIGHT and if that’s really what you want to do.
One last thing while we are on the subject of kettlebell training. Now that you know the kettlebell swing is a ballistic movement, I would also ease off other ballistic kettlebell exercises like cleans, snatches, and other variations of the kettlebell swing as you progress further into pregnancy and the early into the postnatal period. Again, everything may seem fine in the moment of performing these exercises, but it’s after the fact that your unstable pelvis and lower back will feel the effects of these demanding exercises. Also, I absolutely love the kettlebell Turkish Get-Up and Windmill for training strength, stability, and mobility. However, the â€œsit-upâ€ portion of the TGU and the twisting motion of the Windmill place too much stress along the weakened linea alba (connective tissue between the abdominal bellies).
So there you have it! This is the last part in my three part series on the kettlebell swing -so swing safely!