Pregnancy is an amazing phenomenon, but it is not without its sacrifices. During these nine months, expecting mothers are encouraged to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to keeping themselves and their little ones healthy.
Luckily, staying healthy during pregnancy also includes exercising. But how much is too much, and what types of activities are okay for you and the baby? Read along as we do a deep dive into everything you need to know about exercising while pregnant. Also, don't miss the next part of this series: Pregnancy (Part 2): 5 Things You Should (Or Shouldn’t) Do When Exercising After Birth
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy
Overall, exercise is safe during pregnancy and highly recommended.
If you were physically active before you became pregnant, then it is most likely safe to continue with exercise throughout your pregnancy, as long as there are no underlying health conditions that would prevent it. Your obstetrician will be able to discuss specific exercise restrictions with you during each check-up visit.
You can (and should) exercise during pregnancy for these reasons:
- Helps to reduce backaches and gastrointestinal problems like constipation, bloating, and swelling
- Can prevent or treat gestational diabetes
- Increases your energy levels, mood, posture, and muscle tone
- Helps you sleep better at night
Consistent and regular physical activity allows you to maintain your level of fitness and may improve your ability to handle labor. It will also enhance your postpartum recovery in the months to follow.
Is it safe to work out during pregnancy?
Exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or an early delivery during a normal pregnancy. As long as you and the baby are healthy and you are not considered to be high risk, then it is safe to work out during pregnancy.
However, this is not the time to lose weight or manage weight gain. Weight gain is necessary to ensure the health and development of your little one. If you are concerned that you may be gaining too much weight, check with your obstetrician before taking action.
There are many exercises that you can safely perform while pregnant, but it is important that you listen to your body and not overexert yourself. Take comfort in knowing that your baby is safely suspended inside a fluid-filled amniotic sac which is nestled inside your uterus and cushioned by the organs, muscles, and tissues within your body. Therefore, you should avoid high impact activity that may affect the safety of the baby’s environment, but you have so many other options for exercise.
Look for these warning signs that you may be overdoing it:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Bleeding or leaking fluid
- Calf pain
- Chest pain
- Feeling short of breath before starting to exercise
- Painful and regular contractions
How many days per week should I exercise?
Aim to exercise for 20-30 minutes, 3-4 days per week. Overall, your goal should be to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity on a weekly basis, but remember that everyone is different and you need to stay carefully in tune with the messages your body is sending.
Follow this guideline while you are working out: moderate intensity during a workout means that you can exercise while talking to a friend, but you cannot sing along to your favorite song.
What are the best exercises to do during pregnancy?
Experts agree that these are the best exercises for pregnant women:
- Walking - moderate intensity walks provide a total body workout that is low impact and easy to accomplish. It is also a great starting point for those who are not usually active.
- Swimming/water workouts - the buoyancy of the water supports your weight so that you can safely exercise and avoid muscle strain. Be mindful of the temperature and avoid exercising in warm pools.
- Stationary biking - cycling on a stationary bike is a low impact activity and safe for your ligaments and joints.
- Modified yoga and Pilates - both of these activities reduce stress, improve flexibility, and focus on breathing techniques that can be useful during labor. Be sure to avoid lying on your back for long periods of time after your second trimester.
- Low impact workouts - a wide variety of low impact exercises may work when pregnant, just remember to listen to your body and adjust accordingly. You’ll want to avoid uneven surfaces, exercises where you might have a chance of falling, ballistic style stretches, and movements that put your joints in compromising positions. Search hundreds of low impact workout videos (keep in mind that modifications may be necessary).
If you are an avid runner, then you may be able to continue throughout your pregnancy. Please discuss this with your obstetrician.
Weight training is safe for the baby, but poses a risk to you due to the hormonal changes that cause the ligaments and muscles to relax around your hips and pelvis. However, if done properly, weight training can allow you to maintain your muscle mass, strength, and endurance that will enhance your experience during labor. Squatting is safe to perform, as long as you practice good form and do not experience discomfort in your hips and low back.
As your midsection expands, performing pelvic tilts (or ab hollows) will strengthen your stretched core muscles and alleviate low back pain that is characteristic of pregnancy. Pelvic tilts should be performed while lying on your back during the early stages of pregnancy or on your hands and knees.
Lastly, it is never too early to begin strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Performing pelvic floor holds will teach the muscles to support your pelvic organs throughout pregnancy and prevent incontinence, especially while coughing or sneezing. Here’s a routine that incorporates some great pelvic floor work - Pilates Flow - Lower Body Pilates Workout.
Activities to avoid while pregnant
Your balance, equilibrium, joints, and endurance levels significantly change as your body grows to accommodate the little one inside of you. As a result, you may not be able to safely perform some activities that were once a piece of cake.
It is generally recommended that you avoid these activities while pregnant:
- Activities that increase your risk for falling
- Sports that may increase trauma to your stomach, low back, or pelvis
- Contact sports
- Excessive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing
- Twisting movements
- Intense bursts of exercise
- Exercising in hot, humid weather
- Holding your breath for long periods of time
- Exercising to exhaustion
In a nutshell, if you are a fitness fanatic who likes to play ice hockey, scuba dive on vacation, ride horses in the summer, and practice hot yoga in the winter, then you may need to find new hobbies for the next few months.
If you are looking for a safe alternative to high impact workout programs, then we’ve got you. Fitness Blender’s Low Impact programs can be easily modified during pregnancy, especially as you enter the second and third trimesters. Look for FB Low Impact and FB Low Impact Round 2, or if you have FB Plus, the 2 Week Beginner Challenge or 2 Week FB Fundamentals
For those of you who are wondering about exercise during postpartum recovery, don't miss Pregnancy (Part 2): 5 Things You Should (Or Shouldn’t) Do When Exercising After Birth
Feel free to comment below on your #1 tip for expectant mothers!
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician, your obstetrician, or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Written for Fitness Blender by Kayla Covert, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Neurological Clinical Specialist
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2019, July). Exercise During Pregnancy. Retrieved January 15, 2021, from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website
Exercise during pregnancy. (2018, July 19). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from American Pregnancy Association website