Exercising While Pregnant

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 12:51

First off, if you are reading this because you are pregnant (I hope), congratulations!  How exciting for you and your family.  What a magical time in all of your lives.  Enjoy it!

As for exercise during pregnancy, I am a firm believer in exercising consistently if you can manage it. Exercise is important all through a woman's life and pregnancy is no different.  

Now, I realize you may be / probably are tired and possibly still nauseous.  Exercise might be the absolute last thing on your wish list of activities, but I promise you it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and your little one. 

Studies have shown us that women who exercise during pregnancy gain less weight and put on less body fat, greatly reducing their risk of (or treating their) gestational diabetes. .[i] [ii]  Regular, moderate exercise can significantly reduce typical pregnancy discomforts like constipation, indigestion, headaches, backaches, bloating, varicose veins, insomnia, and fatigue.[iii]  Exercise also eases tension, stress, and anxiety and lowers the risk of a premature birth caused by preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy). Women who exercise have significantly shorter push stages during labor, and their actual delivery and recovery from delivery are easier. Regular exercisers are 75% less likely to need a forceps delivery, 55% less likely to have an episiotomy, and up to four times less likely to have a Cesarean section. [iv]  Their chances of struggling with postpartum depression are also decreased (that alone is reason enough to do it, in my opinion!), and exercise generally improves your mood throughout the entire process (and always).  

And--I am sure you are going to love this one--working out during pregnancy helps women get their “bodies back” 40 percent faster than those who don’t. [v]  If you weren’t exercising before pregnancy, you might even end up with a better body than you had before you got pregnant.

Clearly, the perks you will experience are awesome, but the benefits don’t stop there. Your little one will be better off as well.  Exercise is good for your baby, too.  Exercise during pregnancy has been show to help your body grow a healthier placenta due to improved blood circulation.  The placenta is the vehicle for delivering oxygen and nutrients to your baby, and it also expels waste products, so a healthier placenta = healthier baby.  Fit pregnancies also keep the baby at a healthy weight, which is critical to their long-term health. Babies born with excess fat are significantly more likely to become overweight children, and overweight newborns of moms with gestational diabetes are more prone to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. 

Babies of mothers who exercise throughout pregnancy have about half the risk of fetal stress during labor, with better heart rate patterns and higher APGAR scores (an assessment of a newborn immediately after birth to determine the baby’s health) than the babies of moms who stopped exercising after the first trimester. Indeed, one study found that those moms who continued to exercise until their third trimesters had labors that were an average of two hours shorter—now that’s some serious incentive!

Babies with fit mamas have lower resting heart rates and greater heart rate variability, a marker of cardiac and nervous system health. 

The benefits don’t stop after your baby is born, either. It’s possible that the children of athletic moms may have greater athletic potential. One study found that 20-year-olds who were exposed to exercise in utero performed better at sports than same age peers whose mothers did not exercise during pregnancy.  And, babies born to moms who exercised during pregnancy have more mature brain development after birth, perhaps giving them a head start in the smarts department.

Bottom line, babies who have athletic mommies during maternity are leaner, have more efficient hearts, are better athletes, and are potentially even smarter.  You’d basically be giving birth to a tiny super human.  Okay, I am exaggerating slightly, but the point is that the benefits are tremendous. Who wouldn’t want to give their kiddo every possible advantage?  And exercise does that-- for both of you. 

Are you convinced yet? Great! Let’s start by looking at how to exercise safely.

One of the things that you need to determine before you get started is where you are fitness wise. If you have previously been a couch potato this is not the time to take up most sports. If you have been very active before and are participating in an activity that is safe for pregnancy or can be modified for pregnancy, generally you can continue to participate. However, most women are not able to maintain the same pace that they did before the pregnancy, so keep that in mind.  And if you previously were a couch potato this is not the time to train for your first 5k. 

All this said, lets go over some basic rules for fitness during pregnancy: 


  1. Before embarking on any kind of exercise program, it's always advised to check with your doctor first. This ensures that he is aware of the kinds of activities you intend to do and he can provide guidance and even make suggestions.
  2. Drink lots of water to keep hydrated, and wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  3. I know this may seem obvious, but be sure to wear proper gear to make sure your body is properly supported.  I’m talking shoes to sports bras.  Make sure your attire is quality.  No five finger running shoes at this time please. 
  4. Make sure you can pass the talk test.  Back in the day it used to be recommended that women not exceed a heart rate of over 140 bpm.  Now however, new research shows us that women who are more athletic can safely tolerate greater intensity when pregnant. Here is a simple guideline that ACOG recommends, called the “Talk Test.”  It’s as straightforward as it sounds: If you can manage to carry on a conversation while exercising, you are within a safe level of exercise intensity.


  1. Make sure to avoid heavy weights and bouncing or jerking movements.  Especially during the third trimester.  Hormones during the 3rd trimester make your body more malleable and weight lifting at this time can put too much stress on tendons, ligaments, and bones making you more susceptible to injury.
  2. From about half way through the pregnancy, you should avoid any exercises that require you to lie on your back, to avoid placing any undue stress on your spine.  Many debate the validity of this, but let’s just not do it.  Better safe than sorry!
  3. Do not allow your body temperature to go above 102 degrees Fahrenheit.  Be sure to workout in air-conditioned environments and keep yourself cool while training at all times. 
  4. Avoid contact sports like basketball and any sport where you may be prone to lose your balance.  Remember that your center of gravity is off when pregnant and we don’t want you taking any kind of tumble!
  5. Don’t twist or compress your abdomen, torso or spine.  So, no overhead presses or weighted squats. No crunches.  No twisting yoga poses.  There are plenty of good core exercises you can do without engaging in these types of movements. Check out my Bounce Back Baby workout on the Jillian app for many different examples. 
  6. Don’t exercise more than 5 hours a week.  Your body needs rest so be sure not to overdo it. And if you experience any of the following symptoms stop immediately: Dizziness, Faintness, Headaches, Shortness of Breath, Uterine contractions, Vaginal Bleeding or fluid leaking, Heart Palpitations. 

A final caveat; the third trimester is intensely stressful on your body.  Your baby and YOU are growing in ways you have never grown before.  For example: Your uterus is 100 times its normal size.  You’re carrying around an extra 20-40 lbs. making even the simplest movements a workout.  So, start out by giving yourself a major pat on the back for going through what would make even the toughest gym rat grunt and groan and proceed with zero ego to make sure you and your little one are as safe and healthy as possible!


[i] Exercise During Pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. May 2016. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy
[ii] Symons Downs, D. Physical Activity and Pregnancy: Past and Present Evidence and Future Recommendations. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. December 2012. 83(4): 485-502.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3563105/
[iii] Exercise During Pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. May 2016. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy
[iv] The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy. Arizona OBGYN Affiliates. March 12, 2012. http://www.aoafamily.com/blog/the-benefits-of-exercise-during-pregnancy/
[v] Brin, L. How to Exercise When You're Expecting: For the 9 Months of Pregnancy and the 5 Months It Takes to Get Your Best Body Back. Plume. March 29, 2011.