Pregnancy Exercises: Tips, Guidelines, & Benefits

Coach Rachael, MS, BS, ACSM, NASM

Rachael Meyer is a military spouse and mom of two boys. She earned her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and her master’s degree in health promotion and exercise science. She is certified by both the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer. Rachael thrives on pursuing her passion for helping women reach their wellness goals.
women working out while pregnant

Whether you are currently pregnant or considering expanding your family, you may be wondering what happens with your fitness goals after the two pink lines pop up on a pregnancy test. 

I’m here to tell you, fitness can and should be incorporated into your baby-bearing routine! In fact, the Office of Women’s Health (OWH) recommends that healthy, pregnant women should plan for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.

It’s always a wise idea to chat with your doctor about your plans for incorporating fitness into your routine, especially if you have any previous injuries or health concerns. As your pregnancy progresses, your doctor may give you some limitations based on exercise positions that could restrict blood flow to you or your little peanut.

Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

There’s so much to be said about the benefits of exercise alone, but what about when you’re expecting? 

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), here are some benefits regarding regular exercise during pregnancy:

  • Reduces potential back pain
  • Assists with reducing constipation
  • May decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery
  • Promotes healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • Improves your overall general fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels
  • Helps you to lose the baby weight after your baby’s birth

I’d like to add, from experience and research, exercising was key to getting through some of those tough emotional days of hormone-raging pregnancy. After a major freakout over something somewhat trivial in the scheme of things (like my husband eating the last Greek yogurt), I would find so much relief in just getting outside for a walk or attending a yoga session. And that was typically followed by an apology and a somewhat comical conversation with my husband. Exercise improves your mental health, self-esteem and cognitive function — all things needed to improve our quality of life, whether pregnant or not.

What Type of Exercise Should I Do?

Low-impact exercise with moderate intensity is best suited for most healthy, pregnant women. Finding activities that are comfortable is key. And hey, exercise during pregnancy can be fun! Some good pregnancy workouts and activities include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Cycling
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Weight lifting
  • Pilates
  • Barre
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi

I do want to mention, in some cases, high intensity, vigorous workouts are safe for women who were doing them prior to becoming pregnant. Again, you’ll want to chat with your doctor if you fall into this category.

Ideas for Working Out While Pregnant

Bump into baby steps

woman working out while pregnant

This is me, pregnant as can be, getting my speed walk on at 26 weeks in 2016, and 37 weeks in 2018.

If you haven’t been exercising prior to becoming pregnant, walking at a brisk pace is a great way to boost your cardiovascular endurance and get that blood pumping. Plus it just feels good! 

Start off with a 15-minute walk around the block and aim to do this twice per day. If you’re able to reach 30 minutes of walking 5 times per week, you’ll be hitting the recommended target of 150 minutes of exercise per week. BOOYAH!

Safety Tips: Start slow and steady and avoid uneven surfaces. If you’re walking outside, be sure to bring water with you to keep hydrated.

Pop into a group exercise class

woman working out while pregnant

Working out while pregnant: Coach Kate & Coach Rachael popping into the group fitness area for a sweaty selfie photo opp! 

Group exercise classes are the bomb-diggity, especially if you’re trying to get into the fitness scene during pregnancy. There are even classes you can join solely consisting of pregnancy exercises. You may be wondering why – don’t worry! I’ll tell you!

First, you have a certified fitness instructor demonstrating movements and critiquing form which makes for a safe environment — yay for pregnancy-safe workouts! Additionally, having a professional there to modify exercises for you and your bump is so very important, especially if you are new to working out. 

Next, there are so many diverse classes to try out to help you find a niche and good pregnancy workouts. Pregnancy-friendly classes you can typically find at local gyms include:

  • Yoga (prenatal, if available)
  • Pilates
  • Water aerobics
  • Spin or cycle
  • Group resistance training
  • Barre

Just a little note on Barre class because this was one of my go-to pregnancy workouts during both pregnancies. It was completely new to me but provided the perfect mix of cardio and strength training for pregnancy exercises. The instructor was well-versed in exercise during pregnancy and how to modify to ensure everyone in the class was comfortable. This was such a blessing as I needed something to destress and tone. Additionally, there were just times I wanted to show up and be told what to do rather than doing my own concoction of pregnancy exercises.

Safety Tips: Always let the group fitness instructor know you are pregnant and your current trimester. It’s important to ensure the instructor knows to modify movements and positions specifically for you. For example, after 16 weeks, you’ll want to avoid lying on your back. 

Exercise during pregnancy has some differences, and if your instructor is not comfortable or knowledgeable on how to modify for you, I recommend finding classes exclusively for pregnancy workouts.

Stroll over to the weight area

woman working out while pregnant

Coach Kate, Certified LadyBoss® Personal Results Coach, tearing up the weight room with deadlifts & squats during her pregnancy workouts. 

I know I made some of my fellow gym-goers nervous when I would stroll into the weight room baby bump ablaze at 36 weeks. I’m not sure if they were afraid I was going to pop right there, amidst my third set of squats, or if they were fearful I was harming my unborn child.

If you’re concerned about the latter or working out while pregnant in general, research shows, low-intensity resistance training performed during the second and third trimesters does not negatively impact a newborn’s health. Let’s just kick that myth to the curb right now.

If you have already been doing resistance training in the weight area, chances are, you’re OB will give you a thumbs-up in continuing strength training, with some possible modification. 

If you’re completely new to weight training, with your doctor’s OK, you can get started! I recommend starting with selectorized weight machines. Ask a gym staff member to set you up with an equipment orientation to show you how to safely adjust and use the weight equipment.

Begin with one set of lightweight on the selectorized machines; try to complete 8-12 repetitions of each exercise. Concentrate on slow, controlled movement and keeping good form. 

Pregnancy weight training circuit with selectorized weight equipment for beginners:

Back: Machine Row 

Shoulders: Isolation Machine Lateral Raises

Chest: Machine Chest Press 

Biceps: Machine Biceps Curls

Tricep: Machine Tricep Push-downs

Legs & Booty: Machine Leg Press

Safety Tips: It may sound silly, but don’t hold your breath while you are completing strength training exercises. Remember to breathe! Exhale during exertion. If you begin to feel light-headed or dizzy while working out, immediately stop exercising and seek medical attention.

Additional Tips for Exercising While Pregnant

Due to the physical changes your body goes through, it’s recommended to take the following into account when pursuing exercise:

  1. That bump is making you front-heavy, and therefore, potentially off-balance. Ensure you are exercising on a stable surface – if you feel unstable, modify the movement or move on to another more-stable exercise.
  2. Get some solid support for your sisters. Find a sports bra that will support your breasts, this will help you be more comfortable while exercising.
  3. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water before, during, and after your workout to keep from becoming dehydrated.

Activities to Avoid While Pregnant

You’ll want to steer clear of activities that could put you and your little cherub at risk of injury. Stay away from sports where you could get hit in the abdomen or activities that have a risk of falling. Here are a few examples of activities to avoid:

  • Contact sports like boxing, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, and wrestling
  • Skydiving, bungee jumping, diving
  • Risk of falling activities like horseback riding, downhill or water skiing, surfing, and gymnastics
  • Activities performed above 6,000 feet (if you do not already live at a high altitude)

When You Should Stop Working Out

According to ACOG, if you experience any of the following, cease exercising and contact a medical professional

  • Dizziness, headache, blurred vision
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Fluid or blood leaking from the vagina
  • Less fetal movement or contractions

Pregnancy is such an exciting time, and a time where starting or continuing your exercise regimen (with modification for pregnancy exercises and your doctor’s go-ahead), is highly encouraged!

Whether you decide to get moving with a stress-relieving walk, try out a new fitness class, or pump a little iron at the gym, the benefits of working out during pregnancy are aplenty! 



Related Posts

Workout warm-up

Workout Warm-Ups

I’ll never forget my early athletic days when I absolutely dreaded the warm-up portion of practice. After surviving an incredibly long and exhausting day at

Read More »