Vertical Press Modifications for Pregnancy

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

The vertical press, or strict press/overhead press, helps to move the shoulder through it’s normal range of motion upwards. The vertical press is a functional movement and develops all three deltoids and upper back musculature. Vertical presses also develop core stability, as the core needs to activate in order to maintain a neutral spinal position and keep the ribs from thrusting forward. During pregnancy and the postpartum, developing a strong upper back supports better posture and helps you hold your baby without fatigue and pain.

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 vertical press by 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

During the first trimester, lifts still look fairly similar to pre-pregnancy but weights are reduced to 70% of 1RM or rate of perceived effort. We recommend working in the muscular endurance rep range of 8-12 in 2-4 sets and pairing the lift with a core stability exercise.

The vertical press can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells; the loading method is not as important as focusing on maintaining a neutral spine with overhead movement and keeping the ribs in their position. We also recomend beginning to reduce kipping or jerky movements towards the end of this trimester, as the musculoksektal stress of pregnancy may increase risk of injury.

2nd Trimester

During the second trimester, lifts may still look familiar to pre-pregnancy and the first trimester, but we can look to be more intentional with how we lift as our core stability becomes more compromised as belly grows. We can transition to alternating or single arm strict press, so that we can focus on each arm moving overhead. But it would be perfectly within reason to continue to do a standing strict press with dumbbells, as we tend to move away from the barbell that would require a backwards movement of the head to clear the barbell path.

If you are finding that you are having more issues keeping the ribs down during the press, try incorporating an isometric pull to help keep the ribs downwards.


Or by incorporating some tactile cues to help reinforce the ribs staying downwards. We have placed a barbell behind a prenatal clients ribs so that she focuses on the ribs staying in their position instead of pulling away from the bar.

3rd Trimester


During the third trimester, we may look to have more support in the lift and transition to a seated position. When we move to a seated position, we like to place a Gertie ball or deflated kids ball under our pregnant client’s pelvic floor in order to help maintain a neutral pelvis. You could also use a rolled up yoga mat that you would sit on the edge of to help keep a neutral pelvis.

Pay attention to how the movement 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