You may be a woman who loves to keep fit and has a regular exercise regimen. But now that you have gotten pregnant, can you continue doing the same workouts? Are there things you should avoid. Read on to learn what you can and can’t do safely while pregnant.
Regarding the safety of exercise during pregnancy, several studies have pointed to it as being totally safe. Provided that certain aspects are kept in mind, prenatal workouts should be encouraged as part of every normal and healthy pregnancy.
The first trimester is preparatory for the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal changes to come, and most activities are safe. If you suffer from nausea and vomiting, stretching and gentle walking may be a welcome alternative.
In the second trimester, the aim is to improve posture and reduce aches and pains, encouraging gradual growth of the uterus, without any sudden load on the spine and joints. This is the time when you could consider ramping up the intensity or building stamina and endurance. Also, you may start to feel the aches and pains of pregnancy, and regular stretching has proved effective in preventing them.
The third trimester is the time to relax and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, as well as take care of the excessive lumbar spine curvature. You may feel rotund and experience breathing difficulties, so any movement could feel like too much. This is also a period when your aches and pains may flare up.
You can continue with the forms of exercise you were previously doing, but incorporate pelvic floor exercises. Your new routine can also feature birthing ball exercises or gentle pilates or yoga to relax the pelvic floor for the upcoming delivery. It’s best to do these under supervision because you can easily lose balance with a birthing ball if you don’t do the exercises correctly.
What is a safe prenatal exercise regimen?
Here are the basic characteristics of a safe exercise routine during pregnancy.
- Approximately 30-60 minutes in duration
- 3-4 times per week
- Less than 60%-80% of age-predicted maximum heart rate (usually below 140 bpm)
- An environment that’s neither too hot nor too cold
- An exercise that feels moderate in intensity for you
- Preferably supervised
If you follow these guidelines, you can safely continue to exercise until delivery.
Finding a pregnancy workout routine that’s right for you
When it comes to the perfect workout, consider any exercise you actually enjoy. You’ll probably do it regularly, which will make you feel good while also improving your shape. Here is some advice:
- Choose a form of fitness that genuinely appeals to you. You’ll be more likely to stick with the program.
- Pick a time when your energy levels are normally higher. If you’re a night owl, aiming for a 6 am workout is unrealistic.
- Strike a weekly balance between cardio and strength training. Ideally, include 2-3 cardio sessions of about 30-40 minutes and 2-3 strength training sessions of 30-40 minutes a week. If you don’t like separating the two, you can do about 10-15 minutes of cardio followed by 15-20 minutes of strength training.
- Options for cardio: Dance, aerobics, swimming, cycling, running, walking, skipping, jumping
- Options for strength training: Either use bodyweight only or light- to medium-weight dumbbells and resistance bands. Heavier weights would be okay only if you’re accustomed to lifting heavy weights.
Rules to remember for your pregnancy workout plan
Here are are some basic rules to follow for each trimester of your pregnancy.
The framework for any exercise regimen should address the following questions:
- Is it comfortable and not overly strenuous?
- Does the difficulty level suit what you’re unprepared for or unaccustomed to?
- Do you experience any sudden pain, difficulty breathing, or palpitations during the workout?
How to work out safely during pregnancy
The latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week, preferably moderate in intensity during pregnancy and post-delivery. Ideally, aerobic activity should be spaced over the week. Women who previously engaged in vigorous physical exercise can safely continue to do so in pregnancy and after birth.
If you sign up for a class while pregnant, keep in mind that you may not be able to commit to activities the way you did before. If various reasons prevent you from attending your classes regularly, remember that you still have options for keeping active.
- Daily walks-You can start with 20-30 minutes of brisk walking and gradually increase that to up to an hour a day. Walking has also been found to improve glycemic control in diabetic pregnancies, and you may be advised to walk for 15 minutes after each meal.
- Stationary cycling-You can either do this as purely cardio (going at a faster pace) or add strength training to it. Strength training improves glycemic control due to its effect on muscle glucose metabolism, and the thigh muscles are the largest group of muscles in the body.
- Aerobics-It’s important to stick to your comfort level and only gradually progress through the difficulty levels.
- Dancing-If you’re already a dancer, any form of dance that appeals to you is safe to continue practicing during pregnancy. If you’re new to it, slower-paced dance forms are best to begin with as balance may be altered in pregnancy.
- Resistance exercises with stretch bands or weights-Recommendations are for 2-3 sessions of strength training a week, targeting particular muscle groups (arms, back, thighs, abdominals, glutes, upper chest) on a given day. With dumbbell exercises, you could increase the weight or repetitions as you build strength. It’s best to have supervision when doing barbell exercises, especially when using heavier weights (20 lb and upwards). Even if you were a Crossfitter before your pregnancy, I would still advise lifting heavy under supervision as the risks of injury and falls are high.
- Push-ups-When doing push-ups, remember not to put too much pressure on your core abdominal muscles. You can try doing knee or wall pushups.
Prenatal yoga modifications
It’s preferable to sign up for a yoga class with an instructor qualified in prenatal yoga or pilates. Such instructors typically incorporate modifications from the first trimester to build muscle memory of the modification and prevent any mishaps in later trimesters.
- Spinal balance-“Belly-up” core exercises should be avoided, with preference given to back and side strengthening work.
- Twists-Deep twists should be traded for open twists to avoid any compression on the growing uterus.
- Chaturanga-Planks should be done with knees on the ground for support as that exerts less pressure on the already stressed abdominal muscles.
- Wider-stance tadasana-It helps distribute your weight and makes allowances for the shift in center of gravity.
- Side-lying shavasana-Lying on the back may result in supine hypotension, so the shavasana is done lying sideways.
- No over-stretching-Although it may seem easier to stretch during each posture, you should be cautious not to over-stretch for you may end up with a torn ligament. Due to ligament laxity, you can generally get a lot deeper in a particular stretch, but this doesn’t mean you have to push your limits during pregnancy.
Best prenatal workout videos
Here are some of my picks from the collection of YouTube exercise videos.
A yoga ball is a great tool for pregnancy exercise routines, and you and your kids may find yourselves using the ball in the years to come.
Into pilates? Check out this video:
Choosing the right prenatal workout clothes and footwear
You may be wondering what clothing is appropriate when you work out during your pregnancy.
You may not feel like wearing your old shape-hugging gym outfit. You may feel self-conscious because of your swelling belly. Or you may not want to draw attention or feel you’ve changed sizes too quickly. Or maybe you still want to look fashionable through the change.
Generally, it’s best to go for loose-fitting, breathable clothes.
You should definitely wear a sports bra during a medium- to high-intensity workout as the larger size and fluid retention of breasts could lead to tenderness after the exercise session. Sports bras with front opening options can double up as nursing bras later on.
Compression leggings or performance-enhancing leggings should be avoided unless prescribed by your healthcare provider. If you want to wear your pre-pregnancy gym clothes and can fit into them, make sure you only do it if they are not too tight across your abdomen or hips.
Special maternity active wear leggings are now readily available, with extra stretch around the belly and a band you can wear up over your belly or down at your waist.
For gym/indoor workouts, cross-training, walking, or dancing, consider wearing sports shoes with about 1/2 inch allowance for your toes to accommodate swollen feet without compromising your stability.
Also, you could look for skid-proof shoes or grip shoes to help with balance. You’ll also want a lightweight pair as your feet are already carrying a lot. It’s a good idea to buy shoes for flat feet because there is a tendency towards this in pregnancy. Any excessive artificial arching may alter balance and lead to falls.
As for yoga, exercising barefoot is totally safe.
When you’re pregnant, the idea is to be active in general, without obsessing over fitness routine, duration, or timing. See what works for you and, if necessary, switch things up as you progress.
In addition to physical exercises, I suggest including at least a 10-minute mindfulness session, which could focus on breathing.
How active are you keeping during your pregnancy? Do you have any questions on how to perform the prenatal exercises we’ve listed? Let us know in the comments below.