During pregnancy, exercise works wonders for both you and your baby. Here are gym exercises when pregnant while you’re expecting.
Your back is aching, your ankles are swelling, and you’re having some trouble sleeping (and let’s not even talk about the bloating and constipation). In other words, you’re pregnant! Now if only there were something you could do to minimize the aches and pains of pregnancy. Turns out, there is: exercise. Working out while you’re pregnant offers lots of benefits — a boost in your mood, a decrease in many pregnancy symptoms (including fatigue, constipation and morning sickness), and a quicker postpartum recovery.
It doesn’t matter if you were an iron woman or a sofa slacker until now. You can still benefit from getting active during pregnancy. It’s also perfectly safe, as long as you get the okay from your practitioner before hitting any new or familiar workout routine and follow a few pregnancy-specific modifications. So lace up those sneakers and get going! But before you do, read these guidelines and learn about some of the best exercises for pregnant women.
How Much Exercise Should I Get During Pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that expecting moms get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day, most (if not all) days of the week.
What counts toward that 30 minutes? As far as your heart and general health are concerned, three 10-minute walks sprinkled throughout the day are just as beneficial as 30 minutes on the treadmill or bike at the gym. For that matter, even non-exercise activity — like 15 minutes of vacuuming and 15 minutes of light yard work — counts toward your daily goal.
What Are the Best Cardio Exercises I Can Do While I’m Pregnant?
All of these cardiovascular exercises increase blood circulation, muscle tone and endurance (which you’ll be thankful for come delivery day):
Swimming and water aerobics
It may just be the perfect pregnancy workout. Why? In the water, you weigh less than you do on land, so you’ll feel lighter and more agile. A dip in the pool may also help relieve nausea, sciatic pain and puffy ankles. And because baby’s floating along with you, it’s gentle on your loosening joints and ligaments (your body’s natural response to pregnancy hormones).
Just be careful walking on slippery pool sides, and step or slide into the water rather than diving or jumping in. Your growing baby isn’t equipped to handle the bubbles that form inside the body when you quickly change altitudes under the pressure of the water (it’s why scuba diving is a big no-no). And as your pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity will likely be off too. All that means the impact of diving isn’t worth the potential risk.
There’s no easier exercise to fit into your busy schedule than walking … and it’s a workout you can continue right up until your delivery date (and even on D-day if you’re anxious to help along the contractions). What’s more, you don’t need any special equipment or a gym membership to participate — just some good sneakers.
Want to go a little faster? Experienced runners can stay on track during pregnancy. Stick to level terrain (or a treadmill) and never overdo it (loose ligaments and joints during pregnancy can make jogging harder on your knees — and you more prone to injury).
Ellipticals and stair climbers
Both ellipticals and stair climbers are good bets during pregnancy. Adjust speed, incline and tension to a level that’s comfortable for you. Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses, you may have a harder time with resistance (or not; listen to your body) and need to pay closer attention to where you step to avoid stumbles.
Group dance or aerobics classes
Low-impact aerobics and dance workout classes like Zumba are a great way to increase your heart rate and get the endorphins flowing if you’re a newbie exerciser. As your abdomen expands, avoid any activities that require careful balance. If you’re an experienced athlete, listen to your body, avoid jumping or high-impact movements, and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you’re new to exercise, opt for the water version of aerobics, which is ideal for the expecting set.
If you’ve been spinning for at least six months before pregnancy, you should be able to continue as long as you tone down the workout. Indoor cycling can be great exercise, as it lets you pedal at your own pace without the risk of falling or putting pressure on your ankle and knee joints.
Make sure your instructor knows you’re expecting, and sit out sprints if you feel overheated or exhausted at any point. Also adjust the handlebars so you’re more upright and not leaning forward to avoid adding pressure on your lower back. Stay seated during hill climbs, since standing is too intense for moms-to-be. If spinning seems exhausting, take a break until after baby’s born.
Many expecting kickboxers find they aren’t quite as graceful or quick as pre-pregnancy, but if you still feel comfortable getting your kicks in the ring and you have plenty of experience, it’s okay to continue now. To avoid accidentally getting jabbed in the belly, leave two lengths of space between you and other kickboxers, and let everyone in the class know you’re pregnant (or find a class specifically for pregnant moms).
High-intensity interval training workouts (HIIT)
High-intensity interval training definitely isn’t for every expecting woman. The workouts, which involve more hardcore moves to get your heart rate up followed by periods of rest, are simply too intense to begin for the first time when you’re expecting.
However if you’ve been at HIIT for a while and get the green light from your practitioner, classes can be safe with modifications from your instructor (avoid jumping, jarring movements and quick changes in direction, and choose lower weights than you might usually pick up). Stop if you’re feeling out of breath or exhausted, drink lots of water, and be especially careful with any exercises involving balance.
Some outdoor sports
Now’s not the time to take on a new sport, but if you’re an experienced athlete, you should be able to continue the following outdoor sports given your doctor’s approval and a few modifications:
Avoid uneven terrain (especially later in pregnancy, when your belly can block your view of pebbles in your path), high altitudes and slippery conditions.
If you’re an avid outdoor cycler, talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe to continue biking outside after getting pregnant (and if, at some point, you should stop). The extra weight of your baby belly can affect your balance, and you don’t want to risk toppling over when baby is on board. If you do get the green light, wear a helmet, skip bumpy surfaces, and avoid wet pavement and roads with tight curves.
Ice skating, horseback riding and in-line skating
You can probably keep these activities up early in pregnancy, but you’ll have to give them up later on due to balance issues.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
These are both fine as long as you’re extra careful about tripping. Just know that downhill skiing and snowboarding are off-limits for now because the risk of a serious fall or collision is too great.
What Are the Best Strength and Flexibility Exercises I Can Do While I’m Pregnant?
Strength workouts help maintain and build your muscles. Stronger and more flexible muscles, in turn, help you to bear the weight you gain throughout your pregnancy and protect your joints from injuries as your ligaments relax. Here are the best strengthening exercises for pregnant women:
Lifting weights is a good way to increase your muscle tone when you’re expecting — just opt for more reps (i.e. 12 to 15 in a set) using a lower weight than usual. You might also want to switch to machines, which limit your range of motion to reduce any chance of injury. Try to skip isometric movements — exercises where you hold still in a particular position — because if you accidentally forget to breathe (it’s a common mistake!), you could easily become lightheaded. Use light weights with multiple repetitions instead. And don’t forget to stretch when you’re done!
Ask your practitioner if you need to make modifications to your TRX routine, and skip the Crossfit unless you’ve been at it for years and get the okay from your doctor.
A pregnancy-appropriate Pilates routine focuses mainly on strengthening your core and lengthening your muscles with low- to no-impact, which will help ease backaches and improve your posture as well as your flexibility (and that all comes in handy during labor). Look for a class tailored specifically to pregnant women or let your instructor know you’re expecting to avoid moves that overstretch or otherwise aren’t compatible with pregnancy.
Barre classes — a mix of Pilates, yoga and ballet-inspired moves — are excellent for expecting women because they involve strengthening your lower body and core without much jumping. They also involve balance exercises, which help keep you stable as your baby bump throws off your balance. Be sure to let your instructor know you’re pregnant before you begin class so he or she can give you modifications for the few exercises that can put extra strain on your abdomen.
Prenatal yoga is another ideal workout for moms-to-be
It encourages relaxation, flexibility, focus and deep breathing — all great preparation for the marathon of birth. Look for a class specifically tailored to pregnant women, or ask your regular yoga instructor to modify the poses so they’re safe for you (that usually means avoiding deep back bends as well as full inversions like handstands and headstands because of potential blood pressure issues). Avoid Bikram (hot) yoga, since you need to pass on exercises that heat you up too much.
This ancient form of meditation involves slow movements that allow even the least flexible to strengthen their bodies without risk of injury. If you’re comfortable with it and have experience, it’s fine to continue tai chi now. Just look for pregnancy-specific classes or stick to exercises you know well, and be extra cautious with those involving balance.
Are There Any Risks of Exercising While I’m Pregnant?
While it’s true that now isn’t the time to learn to water ski or enter a horse-jumping competition, you most likely can still enjoy most fitness activities. In fact, many exercises that are off-limits during pregnancy (like mountain biking or downhill skiing) are ones you’d probably have a hard time doing with a basketball-sized tummy anyway.
That said, definitely be sure to get the go-ahead from your practitioner before you start any exercise program during pregnancy. Some conditions (such as severe anemia, placenta previa, incompetent cervix and ruptured membranes, among others) can rule out exercise during pregnancy.
Other Tips on Working Out Safely During Pregnancy
Ready to hit the gym? While exercise during pregnancy is generally very safe, there are a few precautions you’ll want to follow to work out safely during pregnancy. Follow these tips:
New to exercise? Start slowly. Going all-out when you’re a newbie can lead to sore muscles, sagging resolve and even injury. Start with 20 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down, and build to 30 (or more, if you feel comfortable).
Already a gym rat? Don’t go overboard. If you’re already hitting the gym on the regular, keep in mind that while now’s a good time to maintain your fitness level, it’s probably not the time to increase it (save the PRs for after you deliver).
Stay cool. Skip the saunas, steam rooms or hot tubs, since anything that raises a mom’s temperature more than 1.5 degrees F is a no-go. If temperatures soar, keep your workouts inside.
Warm up and cool down. Warming up ensures your heart and circulation aren’t suddenly taxed and reduces the chance of injury. Since stopping abruptly traps blood in the muscles and reduces blood supply to other parts of your body (including your baby), finish with a few minutes of walking and a few minutes of relaxation before taking on the rest of your day.
Listen to your body. Never exercise to the point of exhaustion when you’re expecting. And checking your pulse isn’t the trick to figuring out if you’re overdoing it. Instead, listen to your body: If it feels good, it’s probably fine; pain or strain is not. A little sweat is good; getting drenching isn’t. While vigorous exercise is okay for expecting women, keep your intensity to a 13 to 14 max on a scale of 20; you should work out only so hard that you can still talk while you’re moving. And you should feel energized, not drained, after you finish.
Know when something is wrong. Stop exercising if you have calf pain or swelling, or muscle weakness affecting balance. Serious signs that necessitate a call to the practitioner include unusual pain anywhere (from your hips to your head), a cramp that doesn’t go away when you stop, regular painful contractions, chest pain, very rapid heartbeat, difficulty walking, a sudden headache, dizziness/lightheadedness, increased swelling, bleeding, or a reduction in fetal movement after week 28.
Keep off your back. Avoid exercises that have you lying flat on your back or standing still without moving for a prolonged period of time after the fourth month. The weight of your expanding uterus could compress blood vessels, restricting circulation.
Avoid certain moves. Full sit-ups or double leg lifts pull on the abdomen, so they’re probably best avoided. Also skip activity that requires deep back bends, deep flexing or extension of joints, jumping, bouncing, sudden changes in direction, or jerky motions.
Drink up. For every half hour you work up a sweat, down at least an extra full glass of water — more in hot weather or if you’re seriously sweating. Start sipping ideally 30 to 45 minutes before you begin exercising, and continue to hydrate during and after your workouts.
Snack. High-intensity exercise or exercise for longer than 45 minutes can lead to low blood sugar, so enjoy a light protein-carb combo snack before and after workout sessions.
Dress for success. Wear loose, breathable, stretchable clothes and a sports bra that supports your breasts without pinching. Don’t forget to replace your sneakers if they’re aging to reduce risk of injuries or falls.
Stay motivated. Choosing a pregnancy exercise routine that works for you is pretty simple: Pick what you actually enjoy doing, and consider switching up workouts to keep things interesting. That way, even on the days when you’d rather be scarfing down a pint of ice cream on the couch, you’ll be more likely to motivate yourself in the direction of the yoga mat.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of other ways to fit in fitness during pregnancy — as well as a few more exercises you definitely shouldn’t do, too. If you’re at all unsure what’s safe, always confirm with your practitioner what’s okay and what’s not for you. Whatever you do, try not to be too hard on yourself when it comes to exercising, and don’t forget to have fun!