Exercising safely while pregnant

Being physically active throughout pregnancy is beneficial and an exercise regimen can be started during pregnancy even if you were never active before. Working out while pregnant not only improves your overall fitness, but it also can indirectly help the baby. Consult with your ob/gyn during an early prenatal visit to make sure you are clear for exercising.

“There are certain types of pregnancy conditions that could make it unsafe for you to exercise during pregnancy, such as chronic heart or lung disease; if you have a cerclage in place for cervical insufficiency; if you’re pregnant with twins, triplets or more; or if you have other high-risk pregnancy complications,” said Dr. Utsavi Shah, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

A pregnant person with a large, exposed stomach stands in a yoga pose - hands clasped at shoulder height, one leg tucked into the other.Always listen to your body while working out. When you’re pregnant, your resting heart rate increases and you will have increased oxygen demands. These changes might affect your ability to do strenuous exercise. During moderate-intensity exercise, you increase your heart rate and start sweating, but you should be able to talk normally. Avoid exercising too vigorously to a point where you can hardly breathe or speak. You should stop exercising if you start to feel dizzy, short of breath, have chest pain, muscle weakness, vaginal bleeding, contractions or leakage of fluid.


The current recommendation for pregnant women is to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. They can break that down to 30 minutes of exercise each day or they can break it up into even smaller intervals. Walking is one of the best activities during pregnancy because it is safe, low impact, easy on the joints and muscles and helps give you a full-body workout with ease.

Swimming and other water workouts are beneficial because they support increased pregnancy weight and help avoid muscle strain and injury. Shah also recommends stationary bicycling and modified yoga or Pilates. Most yoga and Pilates instructors will demonstrate modifications for pregnant women.

Strength training

Strength training and strength-related exercises, such as weightlifting, are very important to the regimen. Pregnant women should focus on strength about two days per week, doing more repetitions of lower weights rather than heavy weights. Avoid lifting weights while lying on your back or belly. Make sure you have good balance because pregnancy shifts your center of gravity and practice movements that can be done safely.

“If you are lifting weights, you might experience some ligament, back and joint pain because of some of the physiological changes that happen during pregnancy, so wearing a support belt like a maternity belt can really help you during weightlifting,” she said.


The main exercises to avoid during pregnancy are activities that put you at risk for injury. Do not play contact sports where you might get hit in the abdomen, such as boxing, kickboxing, karate, hockey, soccer or basketball.

Avoid any activity where you are at risk for falling: skydiving, scuba diving, skiing, water-skiing, off-road cycling, horseback riding or gymnastics.

Do not participate in activities that might get you overheated (such as hot yoga or hot Pilates), especially in the first trimester. Make sure to stay well hydrated.

Because of some of the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy, you should avoid exercising at very high altitudes unless you live in an area at high altitude and are used to it.


Being active will allow you to maintain a healthier pregnancy and feel better overall. The benefits of physical activity throughout pregnancy include:

  • Boosts energy
  • Reduces back pain and constipation
  • Helps you sleep better at night
  • Can make your labor shorter and decrease your risk of cesarean delivery
  • Can make recovery from birth easier
  • Helps lower the risk of diabetes with pregnancy and preeclampsia
  • Promotes healthy weight gain
  • Helps lose the baby weight after you deliver
  • Helps improve your overall fitness

Even starting off very slow with a 5-minute daily walk and increasing your activity will make a large impact in your pregnancy. While many patients fear that exercise would hurt their baby if they never regularly worked out before, it is safe to start exercising during pregnancy.

“During pregnancy, you’re often in survival mode. You feel exhausted, and you might feel nauseous and not up for anything, so getting active can be really challenging, but once you get started, you will feel better and have a healthier pregnancy,” Shah said.

By Homa Shalchi

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