All pregnant women need to know about safe exercise in pregnancy − safe exercise types, prescription, intensity & what exercise is not safe. I see too many pregnant women who either avoid exercise as they don’t know what is safe or the other extreme who carry on doing what they did pre-pregnancy. I want to make sure this isn’t you by educating & empowering you to do exercise that is safe for you & your unborn baby.
Before starting any exercise in pregnancy you need to obtain clearance from the medical professional in charge of your care. This is to ensure there is no medical reason why you should avoid exercise.
The below information & advice is based on an uncomplicated pregnancy, current guidelines, available evidence & my Masters training on safe exercise in pregnancy.
Safe types of exercise in pregnancy:
1. Swimming- avoid breaststroke if you have pelvic pain
2. Aqua aerobics
4. Stationary bike
5. Elliptical machines- avoid if you have pelvic pain
6. Pregnancy Pilates- modify if generic class
7. Pregnancy Yoga- modify if generic class
8. Low impact aerobics or gym class- modify if generic class
9. Strength training- machine weights, dumbbells, resistance bands or body weight
- Use lighter weights & increase repetitions.
- Aim for 3 strength sessions per week (this includes Pilates & Yoga).
- Do 1 set of 12-15 reps of up to 8-10 exercises.
- Work all large muscle groups.
- Make sure you don’t feel excessive strain anywhere in your body.
- Focus on technique, posture, core activation & maintaining breath.
- Valsalva maneuver is a big no-no (holding breath whilst bearing down).
10. Combination of above:
- I recommend doing a combination of low impact cardiovascular exercise, strength training, core exercise and stretching in your pregnancy.
Safe exercise prescription in pregnancy:
- The most recent guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend 30 mins per day (or most days) of moderate intensity.
- Sports Medicine Australia recommends closer to 60 mins of exercise most days, as it reduces your risk of gestational diabetes.
- If you choose to exercise >30 mins, you must be in thermoneutral or controlled environment (i.e. air conditioned).
- Don’t exceed 60 mins to avoid risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- If you haven’t exercised prior to pregnancy, then it is best to gradually increase over time.
Safe intensity of exercise in pregnancy:
- Moderate-intensity so your heart race increases and you sweat.
- Measure with the “Talk Test” − you can still have a conversation during exercise.
- If you are too out of breath to talk then you have pushed yourself too much & need to slow down.
When is it safe to start exercise in pregnancy?
- As soon as you can! It was found that starting regular exercise in the first trimester was beneficial in increasing placental growth.
Make it enjoyable!
- Choose safe exercise in pregnancy that you enjoy! Try different types to see what feels good for your body.
- If exercise doesn’t come naturally, make it more appealing by listening to a podcast or meeting up with a girlfriend.
- If you need extra inspiration be sure to check out my last blog- Why Is Exercise In Pregnancy So Important?
Exercise that is NOT safe in pregnancy:
1. Contact sport- your risk of injury is higher due to having increased laxity in your ligaments.
2. Any exercise with risk of abdominal or breast trauma e.g. contact sport, ball sports (e.g. hockey, soccer, tennis), boxing, fencing.
3. Any exercise with a risk of falling e.g. road cycling, horse riding, water/snow skiing.
4. High impact exercise/sport- anything involving jumping, running, skipping, sudden stop/starts or change of direction.
5. Heavy weights of any kind including cross fit.
6. Any exercise involving motionless prolonged standing.
7. Any exercise lying FLAT on your back for LONG periods of time >16 weeks gestation. This is to avoid compression of the main vein in your trunk. If you feel comfortable lying on your back past 16 weeks, you can still do some exercises/stretches in this position, but don’t stay here for prolonged time & be sure to move if you feel unwell, dizzy or short of breath. You can also place a pillow under your right buttock to alleviate pressure off the vein.
Note: Sports Medicine Australia advises to avoid prolonged exercise on your back from 28 weeks gestation. Be guided by how your body feels.
8. Any exercise in hot/humid conditions- e.g. Hot or bikram yoga, spas, saunas, or in hot/humid climates.
9. No scuba diving.
10. No exercise at high altitudes >2500m.
Stop exercise if you feel any of the following:
- Shortness of breath prior to exercise
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Vaginal bleeding
- Preterm labour
- Amniotic fluid leakage
- Decreased foetal movement
- Bladder leakage
- Vaginal heaviness
- Back or pelvic pain
Other safe exercise tips:
- Start with a 10-15min warm up at a lower intensity.
- Finish with a 5-10min cool down.
- Remain hydrated throughout.
- Maintain adequate nutrition.
- Avoid overstretching- only stretch to a point where you can feel the stretch & avoid pushing past your comfort zone.
- Listen to your body- if an exercise doesn’t feel right in your body then stop.
After reading this post, I hope you have the knowledge & confidence to exercise in your pregnancy. I’d love to hear in the comments below what safe exercise in pregnancy do you enjoy?
P.S Do you want to avoid pelvic and back pain in your pregnancy? I think that’s a big fat “YES”!! Click here to find out how.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2015) Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Committee Opinion No. 650. Obstet Gynecol 125: 135-142.
Downs et al (2012) Physical activity and pregnancy: past present evidence and future recommendations. Res Q Exerc Sport 83: 485-502.
Evenson et al (2014) Guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy: comparisons from around the world. Am J Lifestyle Med 8: 102-121.
Kehler A, Heinrich K (2015) A selective review of prenatal exercise guidelines since the 1950s until present: written for women, health care professionals, and female athletes. Women Birth 28: 93–98
Persinger R et al (2004) Consistency of the talk test for exercise prescription. Med Sci Sports Exerc 36: 1632-6.
Sports Medicine of Australia (2016) Exercise in pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Stefani L, Mascherini G, Galanti G (2017) Indications to promote physical activity in pregnancy. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology 2: 1-7.
Wolfe L, Mottola M (2002) Physical Activity Readiness Medical Examination for Pregnancy: PARmed-X for Pregnancy; Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology & Health Canada: Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Wolfe L, Weissgerber T (2003) Clinical physiology of exercise in pregnancy: a literature review. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada 25: 473-483.