Exercise for Pregnant Women

March 19, 2022 11 min read

Exercise for Pregnant Women

The Do's and Don'ts of fitness when you're expecting

Let's be real; being pregnant is a lot to deal with. Over nine months, women experience immense physical changes (hello baby growing inside of you), emotional ups and downs, the excitement and fear of trying to learn everything there is to know about raising a child, all while still carrying on your day job and life as normally as possible.

All things considered, it is understandable why me-time and exercise can quickly fall to the wayside. Fluctuating hormones, fatigue and nausea are suddenly added to your everyday routine, and anxiety around the fact that you're marinating a tiny human can easily overwhelm expecting mums looking to exercise. 

Here's the thing though, if you can't make me-time and movement a priority now, you are fostering a mindset that may continue for the next 18 years (or until your little cherub decides to fly the nest). Finding exercise that lights you up inside and makes you feel good about your body is key to a happy and healthy pregnancy (and life, for that matter). Movement is good for the soul, and countless studies have shown that exercise is good for you and your soon to be little bundle of joy. 

At Aleenta, we are passionate about empowering women to move their bodies in a way that works for them during the many stages of life. Whether you're trying to understand your menstrual cycle, expecting a baby or moving through menopause, our workouts are curated to help women love and appreciate their body a little more. 

If you're pregnant, trying to conceive or want to level up your knowledge on exercise for pregnant women, this guide is a great place to start. Please keep in mind that every woman's needs and capabilities during pregnancy are different, and this information should be taken as a guide only. We recommend all women chat to their Obstetrician, GP, Physio or healthcare provider if they have any concerns about exercising during pregnancy to ensure the best outcome for you and your baby. 

H2: Benefits of exercise for pregnant women

Choosing how you workout is a very personal thing, especially as an expecting mum. Your exercise capacity will depend on several things, including your and your baby's health, the stage of pregnancy, and your pre-pregnancy fitness. Regardless of how you decide to workout, studios have proven that there are countless benefits of exercise during pregnancy. These include:

  • Weight control
  • Improved mood and mental health (thank you, endorphins)
  • Maintenance of fitness levels 
  • Preparation for the physical demands of labour and motherhood
  • Faster post-labour recovery
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced back and pelvic pain
  • Improved posture and circulation
  • Better sleep and insomnia management 
  • Reduced constipation
  • Stress relief and reduced risk of anxiety and depression
  • Prevent and manage incontinence

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) have also shown that exercise during pregnancy can lead to a lower incidence of:

  • Preterm birth
  • Cesarean birth
  • Hypertension
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Lower birth weight

Perhaps the most important benefit of them all is your enjoyment. There is no point hounding yourself to exercise if you don't enjoy it. So, find something that you love, and make time for it every week. All the other benefits will fall into place when you start moving that baby Mumma body of yours. 

H2: Exercise during pregnancy 101: general considerations for expecting mums

As you are probably aware, pregnancy last for approximately 40 weeks from the date of the woman's last period and is divided into three trimesters. During each trimester, the fetus will meet specific development milestones, and your body will experience different changes and symptoms. 

We cover some trimester-specific exercise information further down, but there are a few general things that expecting mums should know as they exercise throughout their pregnancy. 

  1. Get the green light to exercise: Once you know you're pregnant have a chat with your doc about how you should be exercising. Providing there are no complications, most health practitioners will encourage expectant women to exercise for as long as practical. 
  2. Set realistic goals: Now is not the time to train for a marathon or a powerlifting comp. Your goal during pregnancy should be to stay fit, feel good and help your body prepare for birth and motherhood. 
  3. It's all in the timing: the ACOG recommends pregnant mums aim for 150mins of aerobic (cardio) exercise per week combined with 2 or 3 weight training sessions. So aim for at least 30 mins of exercise a day (all together or broken into 10-minute chunks - whatever works for you!). 
  4. Looser ligaments: pregnancy hormones loosen your ligaments to allow for the growing belly. This can leave you vulnerable to joint injuries like sprains, so take it easy and don't overstretch. 
  5. Keep your balance: your weight will increase, and you will see noticeable changes in your centre of gravity as your belly starts to grow. This can impact your balance and coordination, especially in the second and third trimesters. 
  6. Monitoring your heart rate: during pregnancy, your resting heart rate will increase, which means target heart rate zones are no longer the best way for you to monitor the intensity of your workout. Instead, consider using Bor's Rating of Perceived Exertion or the talk test. While working out, you should still be able to carry out a conversation, even if you are slightly out of breath. 
  7. Stay cool: overheating, especially in the first trimester, can increase your chance of miscarriage and negatively affect the baby. So, avoid working out in overly hot or humid weather, opt for climate-controlled environments (aircon is your new best friend), drink plenty of water and wear loose-fitting but supportive clothing. 
  8. It's all in the core: as your bump grows, your deep core muscles will weaken, which can lead to back pain and sciatica. Ensure you shift your focus to strengthening the deep core (transverses abdominis muscle) and pelvic floor to help improve your posture, relieve pressure on the lower back and help with incontinence and pushing during labour. 
  9. Don't put too much pressure on yourself: if you're not feeling up to it, don't push yourself. You are growing a tiny human, after all! If the thought of a workout is doing your head in, don't forget that a gentle walk around the block or even some housework is still a great way to move your body (and it may just help lift your spirits as well). 
  10. Be guided by your body: only you know how you are feeling and what your limits are. If you were super fit before pregnancy, you can likely keep going for as long as practical. If you are just getting into exercise, take it slow and work your way up. Your pregnancy is a special time for you, so don't pressure yourself to do more than you feel comfortable with. 

H2: Exercises to avoid during pregnancy 

As a rule of thumb, most health care professionals recommend avoiding the following sports and forms of exercise during pregnancy:

  • Heavy weightlifting (opt for low weights with higher reps instead)
  • Anything that will raise your body temp too much
  • Exercising to the point of exhaustion
  • Any form of contact sport with risk of collision (think soccer, basketball, martial arts, netball etc.)
  • Sports that use hard projectiles (cricket, hockey)
  • Anything that puts you at risk of falling or requires extreme balance and agility (horse riding, gymnastics, ice skating etc.)
  • High altitude training or changes in pressure like SCUBA diving
  • Overstretching 
  • Movements that place jarring pressure on the pelvis and torso
  • Advanced abdominal moves
  • Backbends and contortions
  • Holding your breath
  • Jumping, bouncing and overly jerky movements (see you in 10 months, trampoline)

These are all pretty self-explanatory and if you're ever in doubt, ask a medical professional. If you are exercising, be sure to stop and take it easy if you begin to feel ill, get too hot or dizzy, experience any discharge or bleeding, feel dehydrated or feel excessive pain in the chest, abdomen or calves. It's always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting that little gem growing inside your belly. 

Finally, if you start experiencing excessive fatigue, joint or muscle pain or become increasingly irritable, it might be a sign to ease back and listen to your body. Exercise is meant to make you feel good, so pushing yourself is not the answer. 

H2: Pregnancy specific exercise recommendations 

As the body changes during pregnancy, certain muscles will benefit from strength training, and some will love a good stretch. If you're designing an exercise program or trying to figure out what to do, consider the following:

 Muscles to strengthen: 

  • Pelvic floor
  • Deep abdominals (Transversus abdominis)
  • Obliques (until week 25)
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower traps and rhomboids
  • Arms

Muscles to stretch:

  • Pecs (chest muscles)
  • Latissimus Dorsi (lats)
  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hip Flexors 

H2: Exercise for pregnant woman in First Trimester

When: Weeks 1 - 12

Common symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting (not just in the morning either)
  • Cravings and aversions 
  • Mood swings due to changing hormones
  • Increased fatigue 

Focus on:

  • Core and pelvic floor stability
  • Finding a fitness routine that works for you
  • Gentle cardio
  • Moderation

Stop doing:

  • High-Intensity Interval Training 
  • Any exercise or sport that can cause trauma to your belly

Congrats! You've just found out you're pregnant and trying to figure out your next steps. Your body is going through many hormonal changes right now, so you'll likely feel a bit more tired than usual. The first trimester also carries the highest risk of miscarriage, so be sure to listen to your body and not overpush it. Now is the time to foster some healthy and manageable exercise habits. Remember that the amount of exercise you can do is relative to the individual, so chat to your GP and go from there. 

Workouts to do in the first trimester:

Your higher fatigue levels will make you feel like energy is in short supply, so favour low-impact exercise with some bursts of cardio when you're feeling up to it. Great workouts and forms of activity during the first trimester of pregnancy include:

  • Walking! Whether it's a gentle walk around the park, getting off the bus two stops early for a brisk walk to work or a walk with friends around the shops, walking is a fantastic way to promote wellbeing and safely increase your heart rate. 
  • Swimming has no risk of falling, will keep you cool and is low impact, so you can safely use swimming and water aerobics as a way to tone and strengthen your body. 
  • Pilates, either on the mat or reformer, will help strengthen the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles. Not only will this help with lower back pain, but they are well-rounded full-body workouts. 
  • Barre is a fantastic way to get your heart rate up and give the legs a great workout. At Aleenta, our classes will always have options for pregnant ladies or those with injuries so that you can enjoy a workout tailored to your needs (and grove out to some great tunes at the same time). 
  • Yoga will help you get your zen on, strengthening the body and encouraging mindfulness. You can also start practising some breathwork habits to help with labour. 
  • Low-intensity weight training with free weights or weight machines at the gym will help keep you toned and improve your overall strength (remember, you're prepping those arms to be holding an 8-pound bundle of joy that will only get heavier!). 

Tip: It's time to become a pro at Kegels and strengthen up that pelvic floor (you'll thank us when you can sneeze without peeing in a few months!). Kegels are exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor that supports the abdominal muscles like your uterus, bowel and bladder. Kegels can be done anywhere (sitting, standing, waiting in line at the supermarket…) and are super easy to do. 

Kegels 101:

Step 1: With an empty bladder, pretend you are stopping the flow of urine

Step 2: Squeeze the pelvic floor and hold for 5-10 seconds

Step 3: Release and try again

Other good visuals include picking up a blueberry with your pelvic floor, pretending it is going up on an elevator, or trying to pull a tissue out of the box (honestly, use whatever metaphor you need to get that pelvic floor working!). As you do this, try and avoid squeezing the surrounding muscles like your glutes, legs and abs. 

Exercise and pregnancy, can i exercise whilst pregnant, is barre safe while pregnant

H2: Exercise for pregnant woman in Second Trimester

When: Weeks 13 - 26

Common symptoms:

  • Increased energy and reduced nausea (compared to trimester 1)
  • Stretch marks and a growing baby bump
  • Round ligament pain
  • Nipple changes

Focus on:

  • Upper body strength
  • Maintaining good posture as your bump grows
  • Core and pelvic floor stability
  • Inner thighs and glute strength
  • Cardio

Stop doing:

  • High impact exercise that involves jumping, balance, running or exhaustion
  • Lying on your back or standing still for extended periods

As the second trimester rolls around and your baby grows, most women will experience a noticeable increase in their energy levels. Renewed energy may encourage you to do some more exercise; just make sure you remember to stay cool and listen to your body, especially as the second trimester triggers a noticeable drop in your blood pressure. As a result, try and avoid rapid changes in position to decrease the risk of dizzy spells.

Workouts to do in the second trimester:

Providing there are no complications, you can keep doing most of what is recommended for the first trimester. Consider implementing the following exercises (or mention them to your barre instructor at Aleenta to ensure we are helping your body during this exciting time). 

  • Start stretching the hip flexors and quads. Your growing belly will start changing your centre of gravity, so a stretching routine that targets the hip flexors, lower back, quads, glutes and calves is going to feel amazing. 
  • Side-lying work will limit time on your back, help strengthen your core and work on pelvic stability. Reformer and mat Pilates classes will be the best places to implement a side-lying routine. 
  • Keep up the cardio, especially if your energy has returned. Walking, swimming and spin classes (on a stationary bike) are your best bet as you avoid running and jumping. 

Tip: try to avoid standing still or lying flat on your back for long periods, as your growing belly and uterus can put pressure on the large vein that returns blood to your heart. When you stand, blood may pool in your legs and feet, lower your blood pressure, and trigger a dizzy spell. 

H2: Exercise for pregnant woman in Third Trimester 

When: Weeks 27 - 40

Common symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath as your growing uterus and baby press onto your diaphragm
  • Frequent urination - that baby is pressing on your bladder as well
  • Swollen feet and ankles due to fluid retention
  • Braxton Hicks contractions, aka 'practice contractions'

Focus on:

  • Lower body strength
  • Breathwork and meditation
  • Mobility and deep abdominal strength
  • Cardio

Stop doing:

  • Anything that puts you at risk of falling as your centre of gravity changes
  • Laying on your back
  • Crunching your stomach

You're on the home stretch! By now, you will be sporting a lovely round bump, growing breasts and should be well acquainted with kicks and movements from the little one growing in your uterus. As your body takes on a new shape and you prep for birth, nothing is stopping you from doing exercise, providing you feel up to it. 

In the third trimester, your balance may be different, so keep steady and (as always) avoid anything that involves hopping, skipping and bouncing. Continue with those kegel exercises from trimester one and two, and consider avoiding anything where your legs are too far apart, especially if you feel any pain in the public bone area. 

The third trimester can be exciting, stressful and overwhelming at times. Embrace the changes in your body and celebrate the fact that you are about to meet your child. Be sure to enjoy moments of stillness now as they may be few and far between once the little one has arrived. 

Workouts to do in the third trimester:

Keep focusing on strengthening the pelvic floor, legs and arms. If you're attending classes, your instructor or fitness professional will ensure there are plenty of alternative exercises for you to do that work with your body. With this in mind, feel free to keep attending your favourite barre, pilates, yoga and swimming classes to keep your body moving and socialise with friends. 

If you're working out at home or the gym, the following exercises would be great additions to your routine:

  • Bodyweight squats (providing you don't have public pain). Consider taking a wider stance to help with balance. 
  • Bicep curls and triceps kickbacks
  • Wall push-ups 
  • Glute work in the four-point kneeling position 
  • Seated arm work with a resistance band

Tip: As your belly gets heavier a support belt is a great way to take a load off, especially when walking or during cardio. 

Exercise and pregnancy, can i exercise whilst pregnant, is barre safe while pregnant

You've got this, Mumma.

The nine months of pregnancy is such a special time. Regardless of whether you are a pregnancy angel seemingly floating through the air without a hitch, or are plagued by nausea and back pain the entire time, the end result is always worth it.  While everybody is different, and it is essential to listen to your healthcare provider's recommendations, we can promise you that movement, whether high intensity or a gentle stroll, can do your body, emotions, and mood the world of good. Just try not to put too much pressure on yourself – you are creating a brand new life after all! 

References & Research:

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/pregnancy-and-exercise

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430821/

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321983#summary

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323742#12

https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/exercise-safety

https://raisingchildren.net.au/pregnancy/health-wellbeing/healthy-lifestyle/exercise-in-pregnancy-for-women

https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/second-trimester-exercise-fitness#swimming

https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/pregnancy-workouts#takeaway

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy

https://www.tricitymed.org/2018/09/7-great-exercises-for-your-first-trimester-of-pregnancy/

https://www.thebump.com/a/pregnancy-workouts-by-trimester

https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/safe-exercise-third-trimester

https://www.shape.com/fitness/tips/best-and-worst-third-trimester-pregnancy-exercises

https://www.pampers.com/en-us/pregnancy/pregnancy-calendar/third-trimester



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