Pregnancy is miraculous and one of the most beautiful things on this planet. (And congratulations if you are planning to bring a new life into this world.) While you’re focusing on creating a healthy pregnancy, though, it’s important to address pregnancy workouts. One of the biggest questions I get from pregnant women is “Is it ok to workout while pregnant?” Of course, it’s always best to consult with your doctor, but unless you have some condition that is negatively affected by exercise, your doctor will usually tell you the answer is yes.
Having a healthy lifestyle is very important for your health and the health of your baby. At one time, seeing a pregnant woman exercising was rare. There was a time when seeing pregnant women exercise was rare; but that is definitely a thing of the past and for good reason. A healthy lifestyle includes exercise as well as a smart nutrition plan.
In terms of exercising while pregnant, The American Pregnancy Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise most days each week. That can include a brisk walk, a class at the gym, cycling, running, swimming and even strength training. Levels of intensity are definitely important considerations.
You may have heard of the story of professional volleyball player, Kerry Walsh, getting approval from her doctor to continue playing while pregnant. While that may have seemed extreme, and for some it is, the fact is that your baby is safely nestled in the womb, surrounded by fluid in the amniotic sac, along with muscles and organs. All of this allows for movement back and forth without harm.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to become a professional volleyball player or top marathoner, though I have even read many stories of women who trained for marathons while pregnant. You simply do not have to take it that far to ensure that you and your baby get the benefits of good health and exercise. (1)
However, I want to point out something that is critical. When considering pregnancy exercises, this is not the time to try to lose weight. If that is your intention, you really need to shift your thinking in a big way. It’s normal to gain about 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy.
The focus needs to be on a healthy pregnancy and, while keeping your weight in check is important, it can usually be done with healthy food choices and some consistent exercise — just a little, several times a week. Ultimately, physical activity before, during and after pregnancy can provide great health benefits for you and your baby. (2, 3)
How to Determine If It’s Okay to Exercise While Pregnant
I know many women have concerns about whether it’s okay to exercise while pregnant or not. First, the healthier you are, the healthier your baby will be. You have to take the absolute best care of yourself. If you exercised prior to pregnancy, you are probably fine to continue on an easy-to-moderate level. However, if you did not exercise before becoming pregnant, you need to start off slowly and work into a specific exercise regimen designed for your pregnancy.
Still not sure whether you should exercise during pregnancy? Here is what you need to know to help make this decision. Exercises during pregnancy can provide many benefits such as helping to reduce the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders and general discomfort.
Additionally, it can make the birth process go a lot smoother. On top of that, you are already setting a great example for your family for continued health. If you take care of yourself, you can better take care of your newborn and those around you. Regardless, if you are not sure, talk to your doctor, start slow and choose exercises that you enjoy. Plan time with friends and family to stay motivated. (4)
Things to Avoid While Pregnant
There are hormones that develop during pregnancy that typically cause the ligaments, which support your joints, to become way more relaxed than usual. This creates more risk of injury when you’re exercising while pregnant, especially when you’re using unstable movements on certain terrains. Here are few precautions you should take:
- Avoid activities that could easily cause falling or missteps.
- Avoid contact sports or activities that could create intense or unexpected jarring motions.
- Extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing may not be right for you, depending on your previous exercise routine.
- Be careful when doing movements that require twisting your waist while standing.
- Do not perform high risk activities such as skydiving, surfing, hot yoga or scuba diving.
- Generally, if you haven’t been doing any exercise, make sure that you do not perform sudden bursts of movement. You have to ease into it. Be careful when exercising in hot, humid weather. It’s key to avoid becoming dehydrated. Never hold your breath while exercising and simply do not push yourself too far. (5)
6 Benefits of Performing Pregnancy Exercises
1. Exercise may reduce the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders.
One study evaluated moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise during pregnancy. The study showed a link between any participation in exercise and decreased odds of gestational weight gain and gestational diabetes.
More research indicates that a healthy pregnancy diet and activity greatly reduces “maternal blood glucose levels” and insulin during pregnancy, which can result in a reduction of fetal macrosomia and maternal weight gain. Though more studies need to be conducted, research shows that exercise can help reduce complications and risk associated with preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders. (6, 7, 8)
2. Exercise can greatly reduce discomfort associated with pregnancy. (It’s also scientifically proven to boost happiness!)
Whether active before pregnancy or not, exercise can really help reduce discomfort associated with appearance and general pregnancy-type feelings. Studies indicates that most women who were active prior to pregnancy continued to be active, but reduced their level of activity to some degree, while pregnant.
Another analysis focusing on happiness and physical well-being found that women who were physically active during pregnancy found a greater sense of well-being and pleasure of life and continued this lifestyle after pregnancy. (9)
3. Exercise helps eliminate backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling.
Because pregnancy can totally change your center of gravity, it often causes backache. Additionally, pregnancy often leads to bloating, constipation and swelling of the body. By maintaining an exercise routine that is safe for pregnancy, you can keep your back strong, which may reduce pregnancy-associated back pain.
Exercising with good form also maintain a strong posture, something that can also alleviate back pain. Exercise even helps reduce constipation, bloating and swelling by reducing the buildup of excess gas. This helps the stool move through the body to keep your more regular. (10, 11)
4. Exercise may greatly increase your energy, improve your mood and improve sleep.
Pregnancy is a well-known energy zapper. It makes sense — a beautiful human being is developing and that creates the need for some pretty big hormonal changes in the body, in particular, progesterone. All of this can be mentally draining, something that often leads to mood swings. The first and third trimesters are reportedly the toughest in terms of energy.
The second trimester is usually a bit easier as the body and mind have had some time to adapt to the development that is occurring inside it and there is a lot of excitement with planning.
To better manage these changes, exercise can provide much needed energy as well as give you the benefit of a good night’s sleep. Just keep it in check. Don’t overdo it. In fact, too much exercise lead to low energy levels. Check with your doctor as you go through the stages of pregnancy and adapt as needed. (12)
5. Exercising while pregnant can improve labor.
Mona Shangold, MD, director of the Center for Women’s Health and Sports Gynecology in Philadelphia, told FitPregnancy and Baby: “People used to think rest was the norm and exercise was dangerous, but now we realize that in a pregnancy free of complications, the opposite is true.” (13)
While exercising during pregnancy prevent excess weight gain, it also may help shorten your delivery time. Pregnant women who stay in shape through appropriate exercise are better able to cope with the stress that often accompanies labor. Fitness improves endurance, another factor that improves labor. Childbirth classes also help as they will explore options for breathing patterns and address kegels, exercises that help strengthen the pelvic area. (14, 15)
6. Pregnancy exercises help you get back into shape faster.
If you exercised during pregnancy, and continue after, there’s a good chance you’ll get back into shape faster after you have the baby. Just keep in mind that you should set realistic expectations to prevent disappointment and postpartum depression.
Reports show that women are less likely to continue exercise after childbirth, but this is a critical time to keep it going if it’s medically safe to do so. Women who regularly exercise during the breastfeeding stage tend to have improved fitness levels without affecting breast milk production or the development of the baby.
So can you do it? Yes, of course. But unlike a lot of celebrities that make it seem so simple and easy (don’t forget they have personal trainers, private chefs, assistants and so on), your body needs the right time to get there.
One of the best things you can do is exercise before and during pregnancy, then continue a program after birth. You will be very busy with your newborn and exhaustion will play a tremendous role, especially with lack of sleep, but there are ways to plan a little time in each day — just be sensible. (16, 17)
6 Types of Pregnancy Exercises
Walking is great for anyone. It’s a relaxing workout and perfect if you weren’t exercising prior to pregnancy. It is also perfect for gathering a group of friends or others who are pregnant and making it a date. (This will help you stick with it.) And, of course, the fresh air and vitamin D are wonderful side effects of pregnancy exercises that take place outdoors.
Having the right shoes can make this more enjoyable, so stop by your local running shoe store and an expert can help you find the right match. Also, be cautious on trails that may be unstable or slippery. Keep in mind that there are different levels of walking. Walking of any sort is great, but if you are just strolling, you are not going to gain as much benefit than if you pick up the pace a little bit. Again, if you are new to this, it may take a little time. Work into it slowly and keep a close check on how you feel.
Walking too easy for you? Try running. This is more likely to happen if you were already a runner. Just remember to check with your doctor first regardless of whether you were a runner prior or not.
Easy jogging can be great while pregnant. It will definitely get your heart rate up and exercising your heart is part of the goal. You can wear a heart rate monitor or use the good ole’ standby: the talk test. If you cannot talk while running, you are probably going at it at a high intensity that may not be appropriate for pregnancy. Just keep it in check and be safe.
Weight Training and Strength Training
Weights and resistance or strength training can be great but you have to be cautious about the amount of weight you are lifting, even if you lifted before becoming pregnant. Light hand weights and resistance bands can provide great muscle toning during pregnancy and instead of increasing the weight, you can simply increase the number of repetitions.
You can also do a lot of strength training using your own bodyweight. Talk to a personal trainer or work with a professional at your local gym. They can show you how to do the movements correctly to ensure to best results while being safe.
If you were to ask me what my all time best suggestion is for exercise during pregnancy, I would have to go with swimming workouts. Water exercises are amazing because they support the weight of your body while reducing stress on the body and they help eliminate tension in your legs and back.
Maybe the best part? You don’t have to worry about injury through tripping and falling. You can get the heart pumping while working all of your muscles and while getting some much-needed relief for your muscles and skeletal system. You can join a class at your gym and even work with a swim coach for a more specific exercise plan.
Yoga benefits for pregnant women, called prenatal yoga, include a low-intensity exercise for moms-to-be. It offers a holistic mind-body-soul approach that seems to help expecting mothers get in tune with their bodies bringing a sense of awareness.
Some yoga poses can be harder than others. Take it slow and easy, listen to your body and only do what feels right for you. Do not put yourself in a risky pose that could cause you to fall. If you feel pain, stop.
There are tons of videos online and prenatal yoga classes are usually very easy to find. However, I strongly recommend avoiding forms of hot yoga, such as Bikram. Because the rooms are set at a high temperature, it can be dangerous for you and your baby and may cause hyperthermia. (18)
Cycling is very popular these days and you may be already be a cyclist, but pregnant women often worry about the dangers of on-road cycling, including falls or even getting struck by a car. There are options.
If you are concerned, choose a spin class at the gym. Whether you’re new to cycling or are an avid cyclist or triathlete, these classes are often a great fit. They’re low impact and done in a group setting, providing motivation.
Can’t make the class times? Most gyms allow you to use the spin bikes when classes aren’t in session. You can do lots of different workouts on your own, such as intervals, to get the heart pumping. Using cycling shoes that allow you to clip in can provide a better workout, but they aren’t required. Most have straps that you can slip over your running shoes to help maintain better contact with the pedals.
Regarding the class, just like the other exercises, you have to decide what is most safe for you and your baby. If standing feels too intense or gives you the sense of possibly falling, avoid it. Keep an eye on your heart rate and how you feel. Pushing harder may be risky so monitor your effort. (19, 20)
5 Exercises for Pregnancy
Here is a great routine that you can do in 15 to 20 minutes. You can add a 10-to-20 minute brisk walk to this routine a few times a week. Do 2 sets, with a 1-to-2 minute break between each set, working up to 3 to 4 sets over time.
Squatting during labor can be beneficial by opening your pelvic area. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and slowly lower into a squat position, as if you are going to sit in a chair. Keep your back straight, and put your weight into your heels. Hold the squat for 10 to 20 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. Do 5 to 10 repetitions.
Pelvic tilts help strengthen the muscles in the abdomen area while reducing possible back pain during labor. Get on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Tilt your hips forward while pulling your abdomen in and rounding your back. Hold this position for a 5 to 10 seconds, then return to tabletop position. Do 5 to 10 repetitions.
Bent Over Dumbbell Row
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Hold a light weight in each hand with the palms facing each other. Lean over, bending at the hips and pushing your butt back. Try to keep a flat back. While bent over, extend arms towards the floor, then slowly bend the elbows and lift the weights up by your chest. Extend your arms and repeat. Do 10 to 20 repetitions.
Standing Side Bends
Stand with your feet hip distance apart holding a light dumbbell in one hand. Knees slightly bent. Bend to the side that is holding the dumbbell and return to an upright position. Repeat 10 to 20 times, then do the set on the other side.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart, knees slightly bent. Start with a dumbbell in each hand, arms down by your sides. Slowly bend the elbow, bringing your arms up so that the forearms are parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position. Do 10 to 20 repetitions.
Risks of Pregnancy Exercises
As noted previously, always make sure you get clearance from your doctor before starting any exercise program. If you experience any dizziness, vaginal bleeding, chest pain, contractions, breathlessness or discomfort, stop your workout immediately and consult your doctor.
Final Thoughts on Pregnancy Workouts
Getting your doctor’s approval to perform pregnancy workouts can not only improve your health and mental mindset during pregnancy, but it can also get you into great shape heading into labor. Pregnancy workouts are linked to a lower risk of pregnancy health issues like high blood pressure, preeclampsia, back pain, mood swings and other symptoms.
It’s best to avoid super high-impact exercises while pregnant. The best exercises to choose depend someone on your exercise background heading into pregnancy, so consult with your doctor to find the best types of pregnancy workouts. For most women, though, exercise can be a safe and healthy part of pregnancy.