Horizontal Press Modifications for Pregnancy

by: Gina Conley, Head Coach of MamasteFit, (CD)DONA, B.S. Exercise Science

All trimester recommendations are general guidelines that we have found to work well for our prenatal clients. As a disclaimer these guidelines should not be considered the set-in stone standard for every pregnant woman as every pregnancy is unique.  Our recommendation is to adjust the variation of the deadlift on how you feel each day. 

Pregnancy is a state of growth, both in body and mind. Allow this time to be an opportunity to explore new movement without competition or performance expectations.

1st Trimester

The horizontal press, or the bench press, can be modified to meet the demands of pregnancy based on each individual mother. During the first trimester, as with most lifts, the bench press will probably look fairly similar to pre-pregnancy. The biggest adjustments will be loading. All lifts should decrease to the 70% 1RM loading, focusing on muscular endurance with 2-4 sets at 8-12 repetitions. We like to pair the bench press with a core stability movement, such as the pallof press or farmer carries. Remember that you always have the option to explore with loading options; barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.

2nd Trimester

During this trimester, it will be important to fully incorporate the ninja roll into all movements on and off the bench or floor for the horizontal press. This movmenet should be how you get up and down onto your back, regardless of location; this includes when you get up out of bed in the morning!

Bench Press w/ Feet Up Option

Bench Press w/ Feet Up Option

As this trimester progresses, the additional curvature of the lumbar spine and additional weight of the belly may result in discomfort in the hips/back when the feet are on the floor during the bench press. We recommend adjusting to an elevated feet position or feet on the bench. Feet on the bench may feel a little less stable, so be prepared for that sensation and ensure you are in the middle of the bench. Option to also elevated the feet (in video below), but this will be the most unstable of the options.

3rd Trimester


As the third trimester approaches, the desire to lay flat on the back may not be as comfortable. We tend to progress towards the inclined dumbbell bench press during the later portion of this trimester. We prefer dumbbells over barbell in the incline press, as it’s easier to get in and out of, and the movement is significantly less awkward with dumbbells.

The inclined position allows the mother to decrease the distance that she needs to lean back, thus preventing or limiting any abdominal coning, and the inclined position tends to be more comfortable as the lumbar spine becomes more curved in the later portions of pregnancy.

The modifications per trimester are not set in stone, and can flucauate between mothers and pregnancies. Some mothers prefer the incline bench press starting the first trimester, and other will bench press their entire pregnancy. Pregnancy is a state of growth, and an opportunity to explore movement that best suits your body each day.

Pay attention to how the movmeent feels for your body, not necessarily how hard the movement is. Do you feel pulling or strain in your abdomen or back? Is the position comfortable to be in? Do you feel confident in the lift? Use this opportunity to really sync up with your body and actually listen to what it is telling you.

Interested in prenatal programming that offers variations based on trimester?  Check out our prenatal programs.  We offer a strength specific program and a strength endurance program for prenatal women that we have tested and refined at our training facility.  If you are local to our training facility, come check us out!  You do not need to have a lifting background to enjoy our intentional programming.

Gina Conley