Vertical Pull 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 concrete for every pregnancy is unique. Our recommendation is to adjust the variation of the deadlift based on how you feel each day.

Pregnancy is a state of growth, both in body and mind. Allowing this time as an opportunity to explore new movement without competition or performance expectation is the most crucial to maintaining the appropriate mindset for growth.

1st Trimester

Vertical pulls, such as pull ups during the first trimester, may look fairly similar to pre-pregnancy as with most of our lifts. As your pregnancy progresses, the greatest concern with vertical pulls will be abdominal coning. Abdominal coning is a pressure management issue that occurs during pregnancy and may linger in the postpartum due to a variety of reasons. This often occurs in the 1st trimester, but might not begin until the 2nd trimester.

We emphasize that all lifts and movements be fairly strict. Additionally, we recommend omitting kipping pull ups until several months postpartum. Research is controversial on the effects of relaxin on the joints, and whether the hormone actually creates increased laxity in joints. However, relaxin is the highest in the first trimester as your body begins to make the initial physiological changes for pregnancy. If relaxin does create more laxity in joints, then kipping and more “flailing” or uncontrolled movements can result in an increase to the likelihood of injury. We are training for birth, so we don’t have time to risk injury.

When strict pull ups no longer work for your body, introducing a resistance band is a great way to continue to do pull ups without abdominal coning. Play around with the band set up, either vertical attachment or horizontal, and see if there is a variation that better suits you. The horizontal set up tends to be our gym favorite, as it prevents swinging and feels more “stacked,” but play around with both and see if there is a version that you prefer.

We would recommend watching yourself in the mirror as you do pull ups. If you notice abdominal coning, refocus on breath and deep core activation on the exhale of breath during movement. If you still find you are coning, then it is time to let go of the movement until the postpartum. We promise it is not going anywhere.

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Transverse Abdominis Engagement . . We cue exhale on exertion during movement; the harder part of the movement we should exhale, while drawing up and in the pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, multifidus, and diaphragm. . . While these muscles are generally returning to their original locations during relaxed exhales, (inhales are pushing these muscles down and out in order to stabilize the spine) when we are under load both inhales and exhales tend to be more powerful to accommodate for the increased stability demand. . . Pulling movements tend to utilize the rectus abdominis (six pack abs) and the anterior abdominals, as we are resisting extension in the spine (abs keep the spine from extending, while your back muscles keep the spine from flexing). Engaging the transverse abdominis (TA) during pulling movements will be incredibly important to help maintain core integrity during pulls. . . When pulling without any abdominal engagement, you can see that this mom’s abdominal cloning is more prominent (pressure pushing out on the linea alba, the connective tissue between the rectus abdominis halves). . . When she engages her TA during an exhale on the pull, you can see that her entire core is more engaged to maintain it’s integrity during the pull. . . Focus on bringing the belly up and in during exhales and on exertion to support your core’s #stability and function during all phases of life, but particularly #pregnancy and #postpartum. . . . #prenatalfitness #postpartumfitness

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2nd Trimester/3rd Trimester

As the second trimester begins, you may notice some abdominal coning while doing pull ups. Again, once the coning cannot be controlled with focused breath and deep core activation, it is time to let it go for a few months.

We recommend transitioning to a seated pull down. The pull down can be performed banded, with a cable, or with a PVC pipe depending on the equipment that you have available.

As you pull down, focus on first engaging the shoulders down and in. This brings the lats into an optimal position to then pull. There should be two distinct movements. First, the shoulders engage and pull away from the ears; secondly, the bar/band/PVC is pulled towards your body. Exhale as you pull, focusing on deep core engagement and your belly should come in.

The PVC banded pull down is fairly easy to set up. Grab a resistance band that provides enough challenge but be mindful of any abdominal coning as you pull. Slid the PVC pipe through the band, and it’s the same movement as if you were doing a pull up.

Check out our blog post on vertical pull progressions, and you may find a variation there that works even better.

As always, these variations are options and should be chosen based on how your body is adapting to pregnancy. You may be doing pull ups for months before you experience abdominal coning, or you may be 6 weeks pregnant. The timeline is not concrete, and this period of growth is an amazing opportunity to explore movement as it suits your changing body.


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