Can I exercise during pregnancy?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Exercise is an important part of a healthy pregnancy for most mothers. While some women may be advised to limit their physical activity during pregnancy, most women should get a moderate amount of exercise—about 30 minutes a day. As a general rule, you can continue your pre-pregnancy level of exercise throughout your pregnancy, and even begin a new workout if your doctor agrees that it is safe for you. However, certain exercises and sports, such as downhill skiing, water skiing, contact sports, and scuba diving, should be avoided. Also, you need to be aware that changes in the distribution of your weight may affect your balance, so take care to avoid falling when exercising. If you have unusual problems like vaginal bleeding or fluid leakage, dizziness, chest pains, calf pain or swelling, headache, or other symptoms during exercise, stop right away and call your healthcare provider.

Dr. Margaret L. McKenzie, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)
You should know the guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. Watch this video with Dr. Margaret McKenzie to learn about working out when pregnant.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Exercise is an important component of being healthy and a healthy mom helps to make a healthy baby. That being said common sense with exercise when you are pregnant is also key. Now is not the time to start skydiving or an aerobics class. Your exercise should be exercise you were comfortably doing prior to the pregnancy. I tell my patients never exercise to the point of putting your heart rate too high as your heart is already circulating an extra pint of blood for the baby and working out 50 percent harder than before the pregnancy. I also tell them not to exercise to the point of breathlessness so that both the patient and the baby get lots of oxygen. My last rule is not to exercise to the point of sweating or the "glow". The baby is already giving you somewhat of a workout. Pregnancy is a time to work on gentle toning and stretching.

If you take an exercise class, make sure they are pregnancy certified. Pregnancy yoga can be very beneficial and never underestimate the power and benefits of walking which doesn’t cost anything. Along with exercise comes the issue of hydration and drinking adequate water to replace what you lose and what the baby needs. Check with your doctor or midwife before starting any exercise program and share your questions and concerns.

As long as your doctor does not give you any exercise restrictions during your pregnancy, then physical activity is highly recommended and beneficial to both the mother and fetus.  In fact, there are many studies that indicate women who exercise have healthier pregnancies and easier deliveries. If you already exercised prior to becoming pregnant, you may continue with moderate levels of activity throughout your pregnancy. If you did not exercise prior to becoming pregnant, you can still begin a new workout program (a walking program is often recommended) and progressively increase your speed and time. It is important to make some slight adjustments as your pregnancy progresses. In the second and third trimesters women should not perform exercises on their stomach or back. You may also have to alter your cardio program in your third trimester as work capacity is often demised.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends pregnant women can exercise 3-5 times per week. Strength training programs can be implemented 2-3 days per week using light loads of 12-15 repetitions. Be sure to keep your heart rate to 140 beats per minute or less for beginners, and 160 beats per minute or less for advanced exercisers. Most of all, take the time to enjoy your pregnancy and all of the new and excited changes happening to your body. Many women fear losing the “baby weight” gained during pregnancy, but rest assured. There have also been numerous studies that indicate women who exercise during pregnancy have an easier time losing weight after delivery.

Over the years, I have been an advisor to, or personally trained dozens of mothers-to-be. Safe and effective exercise during pregnancy will help boost energy levels, help make delivery easier, prevent excessive weight gain, and can make losing weight easier postpartum.  Furthermore, exercise will also help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, pregnancy related high blood pressure, and postpartum depression.

If you were not an exerciser prior to becoming pregnant, then it is best to start smart and start small. Small workouts consisting of walking and very light resistance training for just 5 minutes a day will yield positive health benefits. As you become more proficient with your exercise routine you can add 5 minutes till you reach 30 minutes of walking and light resistance training 3-5 days per week.

If you are an experienced exerciser prior to becoming pregnant, then the following guidelines should help you put together a safe, effective fitness regime during your pregnancy.

  1. Consult your physician before starting or continuing exercise during pregnancy. ALWAYS be certain it is safe for you and your child.
  2. Make sure your heart rate stays beneath 140 beats per minute (BPM). Perhaps investing in a heart rate monitor would be a good idea if you are not sure you can measure your own pulse. A simple way to make sure your exercise intensity is appropriate is to engage in a conversation without losing your breathe. 
  3. The National Academy of Sports Medicine's guidelines for exercise during pregnancy: 3-5 days per week, with 2-3 of those days including appropriate levels of resistance training (1-3 sets with 12-15 repetitions in each set). As for cardio, make sure it is low impact like walking and keeps your heart rate beneath 140 BPM.
  4. Some cautions: stay adequately hydrated, avoid standing for long periods of time, try to do resistance training seated.  Stop exercising if you become dizzy or feeling faint, experience a headache or see swelling in your face, ankles and hands. After the first trimester (12 weeks) refrain from exercising in the prone (on stomach) or supine (on back) positions.

I strongly recommend exercising during pregnancy, just keep it safe. There will be plenty of time to kick up the intensity after your baby is born!

Good Luck!

You not only can—but I highly recommend it. In fact, you better exercise during pregnancy unless you want to look like the other million women that never lose their “baby fat.” In general, exercise during pregnancy is healthy and can be beneficial for the mother during pregnancy, delivery and after the “beautiful” agony is over. Before your break out your running shoes though, there are some rules. First, ask your doctor before beginning any exercise program.  Second, avoid exercises that make it easy to lose your balance, avoid contact sports, and don’t try to do too much! If you were exercising regularly before pregnancy, chances are you will do fine with light to moderate intensity exercise throughout your nine months, but avoid large increases in volume or intensity to your workload. If you are new to exercise, or just getting used to the idea of exercising with a child on the way, start slowly, make gradual changes and pay attention to your body; when it is painful or difficult to continue, stop. Lastly, don’t do exercises on your back during the second and third trimesters- it’s a bad idea for you and the baby. Cardio exercise is just fine—in fact I enjoyed walking during my pregnancies. Just because you are pregnant, that doesn’t really give you the green light to sit on your butt and eat whatever you want. Of course you will need to increase your daily calories to ensure proper growth of your unborn baby (around an extra 250-300 a day is all you need if you decide not to exercise—closer to 500 if you do decide to exercise), but we don’t want to ensure growth of your butt as well!  Most importantly, get back to activity as soon as possible after the baby is born. As soon as you get that green light from your doctor you better get moving to lose those extra pounds that bundle of joy has left you!

You first want to get permission from your physician. Depending on how your pregnancy is going, you may have limitations. After you have the okay from your doctor, seek the fitness expert or personal trainer that has either training, certifications or experience with pregnancy training. His or her experience and knowledge will be important because, your training program will change with different stages of your pregnancy. The trainer, with information from your doctor can design a specific program based around your needs and goals.

First and foremost, it is necessary to consult with your physician prior to exercising during pregnancy. Your doctor knows best when it comes to providing this advice, based on the condition of your pregnancy. In many cases, it is safe (and recommended) to exercise during your pregnancy, but there are many circumstances where exercise is contraindicated. Your personal doctor is the only one that can answer this question for you.

You can exercise during pregnancy if you are healthy and your pregnancy is considered normal. It may be unsafe to exercise during pregnancy if you have certain conditions including lung/heart conditions, cervical insufficiency, twin pregnancy, preeclampsia, placenta previa among others. Generally if you were active prior to pregnancy you can maintain the same amount of activity during pregnancy. If you are new to excercise you can gradually increase your excercise in pregnancy. You should stop exercising if you develop any of the following indications:

  • weight loss
  • regular painful contractions
  • leaking fluid
  • dizziness
  • chest pain 
  • shortness of breath
  • headache
  • calf pain 
  • vaginal bleeding
Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

Physical activity and exercise are important for good health. Continue doing what makes you happy, gives you energy, and creates a sense of well-being. If you regularly exercise and you are too tired in the beginning of pregnancy, cut back to activities that don't tire you. You can add back running or more vigorous exercise after the first trimester, when the fatigue goes away. Check out the resources in your community, from swimming to yoga.

Throughout pregnancy, you can practice labor positions such as squatting, a position that opens your pelvis and facilitates labor. Perineal exercises (popularly known as Kegels) consist of contracting and releasing your pelvic floor muscles and are simple to do. They help you prepare for childbirth by increasing your muscle tone so you will be able to consciously let go of tension in your pelvic area during labor.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health With more than four million copies sold, "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is "the" classic resource that women of all ages can turn to for...
If you've been exercising regularly before your pregnancy, chances are your healthcare professional will encourage you to keep exercising with some slight changes as your pregnancy progresses.

If you haven't been exercising and want to start, your pregnancy is a good time. Just be sure and discuss this matter with your healthcare professional first. And remember to start slow and steady. 

Exercise is important during pregnancy. It strengthens your muscles, eases some discomforts of pregnancy and can help you prepare for delivery. Walking and Swimming are both great options.

Yoga can also be particularly beneficial, helping with breathing and relaxing, both of which come in handy during labor, childbirth and parenting. Some precautions for yoga while pregnant:
  • Avoid poses on your back after the first trimester.
  • Avoid poses that stretch the stomach muscles.
  • Take care not to lose your balance; keep your heels to the wall or hold onto a chair.
  • Bend forward from your hips, not your back.
  • Do twisting poses more from your shoulders and back to avoid pressure on your stomach.
When exercising, don't get overheated or extremely tired; drink a lot of water at regular intervals; and slow down your overall workout.

Continue Learning about Exercise During Pregnancy

Earning Sweat Equity During Pregnancy
Earning Sweat Equity During Pregnancy
When licensed contractor and personal trainer (what a combo!) Amy Matthews hosts Sweat Equity on the DIY channel, you’re in for great tips on increasi...
Read More
Is it safe to work out during pregnancy?
Margaret L. McKenzie, MDMargaret L. McKenzie, MD
You should know the guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. Watch this video with Dr. Margaret...
More Answers
6 Easy Prenatal Yoga Poses
6 Easy Prenatal Yoga Poses6 Easy Prenatal Yoga Poses6 Easy Prenatal Yoga Poses6 Easy Prenatal Yoga Poses
Basic stretches to help you through pregnancy and labor.
Start Slideshow
What Are Some Tips for Exercising During Pregnancy?
What Are Some Tips for Exercising During Pregnancy?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.