How can I exercise safely during pregnancy?

Sadie Lincoln
Sadie Lincoln on behalf of barre3
Fitness Specialist

There are so many great exercise options that you can do at home while you are pregnant. Leg and glute strengthening exercises will keep you strong for better balance and a healthier back. Arm exercises will help strengthen your shoulders, biceps and triceps for more ease in carrying your baby once he or she is born.

In my studios, I encourage pregnant clients to listen to their bodies and honor what is right for them. While energy levels may drop, especially during your first trimester, many women continue to exercise to the extent they did prior to pregnancy, incorporating modifications as needed. We have even developed several online workouts specifically for our prenatal clients, so that they are able to get a safe yet challenging workout at home.

It is important to note that certain postures, such as deep twists, active flexion (crunches), inversions and stomach lying are good to avoid during pregnancy. You may also notice increased flexibility. While stretching is important, try to avoid over stretching to prevent instability after your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor for more information on this and to find out if there are any specific guidelines you should follow.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Exercise is important during pregnancy to help you feel better, be in good shape for your delivery and to prevent excessive weight gain. I tell my patients that there are several key points to remember when exercising while pregnant:

  • Discuss any exercise with your OBGYN or midwife first.
  • Do not start a new exercise program unless it is something simple like a walking program or gentle pregnancy yoga.
  • The rule “No Pain, No Gain” does not apply.
  • Keep your pulse down during exercise. Your heart is already working 50 percent harder.
  • Don't get overheated. Stay cool and drink plenty of water.
  • Don’t exercise to the point of breathlessness.
  • No abdominal exercises. They can put too much strain on your stomach.
  • Consider purchasing a stabilizing exercise ball. They can be used the entire pregnancy to help you exercise and provide comfort.

The most important thing is to discuss with your health care provider which exercises are appropriate for you in your pregnancy. Remember our goal is a healthy mom and baby.

Dr. Kimberly D. McCulloch, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

A pregnant woman should stop exercising if she is short of breath, lightheaded, dizzy, in pain of any sort, feeling any contractions or having any bleeding. That should definitely be a signal to back off the exercise.

Brooke Randolph
Marriage & Family Therapy Specialist

Exercise will help you lose the baby weight and feel more connected and in charge of your body. If you do not have someone to watch the baby while you are working out, find a gym with child care, work out at home during nap time, or take walks or runs with a stroller.

Being active during healthy pregnancies has shown to decrease postpartum depression, decrease labor time and the pain associated and increase the body’s ability to return to a healthy pre-pregnancy state sooner. However, always consult with your doctor prior to any physical activity, regardless of your previous exercises. Once you have obtained your doctors go ahead, keep in mind that your body no longer belongs to you alone and that you may need to modify the pace a bit. Remember to listen carefully to your body and don't try to push past any discomfort. If you have been relatively sedentary up until pregnancy, take it very slowly.

Resistance (strength) training, cardiorespiratory training and flexibility training are all used during prenatal training phases throughout all 3 trimesters. Most physicians recommend a low-to-moderate intensity workout. Keep in mind this is not the time to focus on weight loss. If you are new to resistance training, hire a personal trainer to insure you maintain proper form and that the intensity of the exercise is not too much. Always make sure that your chosen professional is certified to work with prenatal clients.

Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine Specialist

Yoga is a safe excerise option, unless you have complications. Slow down after 8 or 9 months and check with your physician first. Taking pre-natal yoga is the best option. Make yourself more comfortable by using a chair instead of a block. It's also important to rest on your left side. Lying on your back for long periods of time may reduce blood flow to your heart.

Once you are given clearance by your doctor to exercise during pregnancy, there are some considerations to take into account to ensure safety for both you and your baby.

  • If you are used to working out regularly prior to pregnancy, keep in mind that your exercise routine may need some adjustments. For example, your cardiovascular system is working even harder now, therefore you may not be able to push yourself, as you did pre-pregnancy. Remember, at this stage, you are doing what is best for you and baby. 
  • Low impact exercise is recommended during pregnancy. Your sense of balance will be compromised due to the growing fetus, therefore ensure supportive footwear. For this reason, core exercises, as well as flexibility will be important components to your exercise routine, since your posture will be altered. Also, exercises in a standing or sitting position will be beneficial, as prone (on stomach) and supine (on back) positions are not advised during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
  • If you are just starting an exercise routine, start slow … very slow. This is not the time to be worried about losing weight or hitting new cardio or weight training goals. It is about maintaining your fitness levels to ensure a smooth pregnancy, delivery and post-partum recovery.
Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

Researchers from the University of Georgia reveal that a supervised, low-to-moderate intensity program is not only safe, but also good for pregnant women—despite reluctance from healthcare professionals to recommend weight training.

However, it is highly recommended that no exercise program be attempted without consulting with your obstetrician. Each situation is unique and study results cannot be translated to all situations.

For more information see The Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

If you are pregnant, discontinue your exercise if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain
  • Faintness
  • Bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fluid leakage
  • Racing heart beat
  • Palpitations
  • Contractions

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines. If your doctor has advised you differently, follow his or her guidelines for you.

Exercise is helpful during pregnancy to maintain good circulation, aid constipation and relieve insomnia, among other benefits. However, if you experience certain complications during your pregnancy, if you are expecting twins or if you have high blood pressure or an incompetent cervix, you probably would benefit from little or no exercise. That said, walking is an excellent exercise for pregnant women, and yoga is becoming popular. When exercising, drink lots of water and wear good shoes and a support bra. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or extreme fatigue, stop exercising and notify your obstetrician. Follow these additional tips:

  • Exercise for shorter periods of time, and rest frequently
  • Avoid impact exercise, such as running or aerobics
  • Switch out weight-bearing exercise (such as weight machines) in favr of non-weight-bearing exercise (such as bicycling or swimming)
  • Avoid getting your heart rate above more than 140 beats per minute
  • Avoid stress to your lower back
  • Avoid doing full sit-ups and raising both legs while lying flat
Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy Specialist

If you are pregnant and can find an exercise that feels good, then do it as often as you can. Trust your body, it knows what it likes. During the first week or two, I typically begin with stretches like the all-fours rocking stretch, the tensor fascia lata (TFL) or the quadriceps stretch. In fact, the all-fours rocking stretch is so effective I ask my clients to perform this every time they experience pain.

I typically ask my clients to commit to performing their stretches as often as possible (two to five times each day) during the first week or two to aggressively reduce their symptoms. After the symptoms have abated, you can cut down on the frequency of stretching and find the ideal number of times needed to keep your pain at bay. I recommend doing them first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, as most back pain is aggravated during sleep.

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For most women, exercise during pregnancy is safe. In fact, several studies suggest that women who exercise during pregnancy will have a healthier pregnancy. We don't know, however, if exercise alone is responsible for the improvement. Some details:

  • As the pregnancy advances, it will be harder to keep up the pace and endurance of any exercise routine. Slow down and reduce your level of exertion if you feel dizzy or exhausted.
  • Women who exercise during pregnancy should drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid exercises and activities in which there is a risk of falling and hitting your abdomen—or having others hit you.
  • Avoid activities that require good balance. Your center of gravity changes during pregnancy, increasing the risk of a fall.
  • Avoid activities that have you flat on your back for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time. This position can reduce blood flow to the uterus.

In certain cases, doctors may recommend limited activity if certain conditions arise, like:

  • bleeding, especially heavy recurrent bleeding late in pregnancy
  • a placenta that covers the cervix (placenta previa) in the third trimester
  • a history of prior preterm birth

If you did not exercise regularly before pregnancy, have a medical condition (such as heart disease) that may limit activity or have had pregnancy complications, check with your doctor or midwife before planning any exercise during your pregnancy.

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility exercises during pregnancy unless you have medical conditions that prevent you from exercising, such as a complicated pregnancy or significant heart or lung disease. Strength training should generally be limited to using only light weights. You should also limit isometric exercises when you're pregnant.

The ACOG recommends a daily total of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise for healthy pregnant women. They provide free educational pamphlets on exercise and fitness during pregnancy at their website.

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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.