For expectant moms, exercise is key — it helps to keep mom healthy, can help her sleep better, and has lasting benefits for baby, too. But often, pregnant moms who’ve been given the green light to work out by their doctors still worry about which exercises are OK and which they should avoid. We polled fitness pros to get the lowdown on pregnancy exercise do’s and don’ts.
There are a multitude of ways doctor-approved exercise benefits your pregnancy and even your unborn child. “Exercise can alleviate certain symptoms, notably fatigue and edema (swelling), excessive weight gain, back pain, morning sickness, and gestational diabetes,” says Amanda Dale, an ACE-certified personal trainer and nutritionist.
Additionally, “Women who have made exercise part of their lifestyle during pregnancy are more likely to continue exercising after the baby is born,” says Adriana Welborn, a personal trainer and ACE Health Coach.
Please note: All pregnant women, even those who have previously been exercising, should have a physician's approval before undertaking any workout program.
Exercise prep for expectant moms
Once you have the go-ahead to engage in prenatal exercise, keep these tips in mind to ensure you’re exercising safely:
- Stay hydrated.
“Be careful of overheating and drink lots of water,” says Minna Herskowitz, a certified personal trainer specializing in pre- and postnatal fitness.
- Stay off your back.
Avoid lying on your back in your second and third trimesters. During the latter part of pregnancy, the weight of your uterus presses against the major vein that circulates blood from your lower body to your heart. Staying in this position for long periods of time can make you feel a little dizzy — and restricts the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the placenta and your baby.
- Know when to call your doctor.
If you experience bleeding during or immediately after exercise, feel faint or overheated, or experience swelling of the lower extremities, cease all workouts and you seek immediate medical attention as these can be symptomatic of fetal distress, strain, or blood clots, advises Dale.
- Exercises to avoid.
“Contraindicated movements include anything that risks overstretching an already hyperflexible body, exercises that are done in a very hot room, activities that risk impact or falling, or intense abdominal contracting exercises,” says Dale. During pregnancy, your body produces extra relaxin, a hormone that makes your ligaments much more flexible. As a result, skip things like hot yoga, cycling, skiing, boxing, biking, and horseback riding.
Trimester tips for moms-to-be
“A pregnancy exercise can consist of anything low-to-moderate intensity, including swimming, yoga, Pilates, and light weights,” says Herskowitz. Try alternating your workouts between yoga and Pilates, water exercises, walking, and strength training with a certified trainer. Here’s an overview of some of our favorite trimester-by-trimester workout advice:
“Women can basically continue the forms of exercise they were doing before becoming pregnant at this stage,” says Colleen Riddle, a certified AFPA (American Fitness Professionals and Associates) pre- and postnatal; exercise specialist and creator of the DVD series “New Mommy Makeover.” Some women may feel early pregnancy symptoms during this time, and queasiness may slow your workouts, so take it easy and do only what feels good.
Riddle adds that this is the perfect trimester in which to focus on strengthening core muscles. “Planks are one of the best core-building exercises and can be done all the way throughout the pregnancy,” she says.
For many women, this is the best trimester of pregnancy. Morning sickness has subsided, your belly is starting to show, and you may have renewed energy. In addition to working on core strength, “It’s also important to work on building strength in the upper back, hips, and glutes. With a growing belly and breasts, your upper back and shoulders will tire easily,” says Riddle. “That’s why it’s also important to stretch the chest muscles, as well.”
You’re in the homeward stretch! Because of your belly’s growing size and the aches and pains that come with having a nearly full-term baby, exercise may be difficult. Also, after the fifth month, you hips’ range of motion can be restricted. Take things slow during this trimester.
If you feel up to it, work on strengthening your lower body. “Leg strengthening exercises (like squats with a ball) will help strengthen quadriceps and reduce risk of injury to your knees,” suggests Riddle.
Additionally, the following workouts are safe for you to do throughout your pregnancy, with your doctor’s permission:
“Pilates is one of the best and safest exercise programs that a woman can do both during pregnancy and after giving birth,” says Eurona Tilley, a Prenatal & Postnatal Pilates Specialist. “Pilates helps prepare the body for delivery and promotes a quick recovery after delivery,” she adds.
Barre clases include a combination of Pilates, dance, yoga and functional training. “Barre-based interval training and stretching helps prenatal clients alleviate circulation issues, reduce low back discomfort and improve overall mood during and after pregnancy,” says Sharon Demko, lead instructor and vice president of teacher development with The Bar Method.
- Swimming and water exercises.
“Water exercise can decrease swelling in the lower body and relieve impact-related aches and pains in the joints,” recommends Dale.
- Prenatal yoga.
“Yoga provides a mild, gentle workout that energizes while promoting relaxation, both of which benefit pregnant women,” says Welborn. A prenata; yoga class can be especially beneficial, as your instructor and classmates are all keyed into your specific fitness needs and contraindications.
Whether it be in your neighborhood or on a treadmill, walking is a great way for women to get some valuable cardio exercise during pregnancy.