Sports and Exercise in Pregnancy: Everything You Need To Know

Are you pregnant and healthy? Regular exercise is safe. You don’t have to worry about putting your baby in harm’s way. Moderate exercise will not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery. It can confer many benefits if done correctly. Get the take from an expert trainer on exercise in pregnancy and how to make it work best for your body and your baby.

Key takeaways:

Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?

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Yes. If you are healthy and do not have any conditions limiting exercise, getting regular physical activity during pregnancy is safe. Experts recommend that healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly.

We spoke with Ashley Keller, Personal Trainer and Prenatal & Postnatal Exercise Specialist, of Glowbody PT, for tips and recommendations on incorporating exercise into your pregnancy journey.

“Good news: If you have a regular, uncomplicated pregnancy you can do most exercises safely, with some modifications,” Keller said.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

There are seemingly countless benefits that you can get from regular exercise during pregnancy. A prenatal exercise routine can:

  • Decrease pain. Exercise can decrease the aches and pains your body goes through, including lower back pain.
  • Reduce constipation. Constipation is a common pregnancy struggle.
  • Help with healthy weight gain. Exercise can help you avoid adding on weight beyond what is needed for a safe pregnancy.
  • Reduce risks. You can lower your risk of certain complications, including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
  • Aid with recovery. Exercising during pregnancy can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight after delivery more quickly.
  • Improve well-being. Exercise can help your fitness, strength, and overall health to prepare for the challenges of motherhood.

Best kinds of exercise in pregnancy

Experts recommend that pregnant women get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly. If you are new to exercise, start slowly with as little as 5 minutes daily and gradually increase your activity levels. If you exercised before pregnancy, you can continue doing the same exercises with your doctor’s approval as long as you feel good. You can also do lightweight resistance training with some safety considerations.

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Aerobic exercise

Moderate-intensity aerobic activities mean your heart beats faster, but you are not out of breath. You can split up your activity through the week: for example, 30-minute sessions on five days or 10 minutes each day.

Some examples:

  • Walking. Brisk walking is a good form of exercise as it is gentle on the joints and muscles.
  • Swimming. Swimming and water workouts also work many of the body’s muscles while supporting your weight.
  • Stationary biking. The stationary bike is better than a standard bike due to the balance issues that come with pregnancy.
  • Yoga or pilates. Modified yoga and pilates classes offer poses that accommodate your shifting balance during pregnancy.

Running

“If you were a runner pre-pregnancy, keep going as long as your body feels up to it!” Keller said. Here are her top 3 tips:

  • Avoid running in the heat. "Your body has a reduced capacity to cool itself down, and your body overheating can put your baby at risk."
  • Take it slow. “Surging progesterone hormone will make you feel short of breath as early as the first trimester. Ease into walk-run intervals such as 4-minute jogging/1-minute walking pattern. Over time, you will walk more and run less.”
  • Listen to your body. “When your pelvis or low abdomen feels especially heavy or painful, don’t just put a belly band on and hide the real issue, and push on in your running regimen. Your body will give you signals to stop before the pressure turns into a long-term complication that forces you out of running, such as pelvic organ prolapse.”

It is time to stop if you get uncomfortable during running or start having contractions or bleeding. Many women find that the bouncing motion of jogging is uncomfortable during pregnancy. The most important thing is to pay attention to your changing body.

Pregnancy-safe resistance training

For mothers who want to use their pregnancy workouts to get toned, it can be hard to see progress with body weight exercise alone. You may want to try pregnancy-safe resistance training with light dumbbells or resistance bands.

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“Bodyweight training is okay…especially for the last weeks of pregnancy, but the FASTEST way to solicit visibly toned calves, thighs, and arms during pregnancy is by resistance training," Keller said. Toning your muscles will boost your self-confidence, and make you stronger to prepare for labor and motherhood. You can also set yourself up for an easier time with postpartum weight loss.

"Building lean muscle means you will have a more fiery resting metabolism in those early weeks postpartum when you can’t exercise at all," Keller said.

In the last weeks of pregnancy focus on walking or kickboard kicking/laps swimming in a pool. Using gravity to your advantage will help support getting baby (or keeping baby) in the ideal back-against-your-belly position for vaginal delivery.

Ashley Keller

Exercises to avoid

Exercise can help with the discomforts of pregnancy. Still, there are safety considerations to keep in mind and modifications that are necessary to avoid strain on specific areas of your body.

It is essential to protect your abdomen from injury during pregnancy. An impact can cause bleeding under the placenta, preterm labor, and other complications. Because of this, you should avoid activities like contact sports, skydiving, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Do not lie flat on your back during the second and third trimesters. Lying flat on your back can cause compression of the large blood vessels supplying the baby with oxygen and can make your blood pressure drop.

Experts also recommend avoiding exercise that could make you dehydrated or decrease the oxygen to your baby, including hot yoga, scuba diving, and high-altitude activities if you do not already live at a high altitude.

Avoiding diastasis rectus

Diastasis rectus abdominus — or diastasis recti — is a separation that forms between your abdominal muscles in pregnancy due to the pressure of your growing uterus.

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Abdomen muscles

“Many well-intentioned women make the gap worse. “Do not do anything that adds pressure to your abdomen or pelvis," Keller said.

Increasing pressure inside your abdominal wall can force the rectus muscles apart and make it more challenging to close the gap later. According to Keller, to minimize the pressure on the inner abdominal muscles, avoid the following exercises, especially after 16 weeks:

  • Crunches
  • Sit-ups
  • Bicycle abs
  • V-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Front plank
  • Russian twist
  • Lateral pull-down machine
  • Row machine
  • Spin bike training with your weight on your forearms
  • Chin-ups
  • Jacobs ladder machine
  • Heavy overhead lifts

Tips for safe exercise in a healthy pregnancy

For safety during prenatal exercise, always pay attention to your:

  • Joints. Pregnancy hormones relax your ligaments and increase your risk of injury. Avoid jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions.
  • Nutrition. Eat nutrient-dense foods, including plenty of fresh vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. Avoid fried and processed foods.
  • Balance. The weight of your growing belly shifts your center of gravity during pregnancy. Keep in mind that you may be more likely to lose your balance.
  • Breathing. Don’t exercise hard enough to be out of breath. Keep a good oxygen supply to your muscles and your baby.
  • Hydration. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration.
  • Support. Wear a supportive sports bra to protect your breasts.
  • Temperature. Exercise in a temperature-controlled room and avoid exercising outside when it is hot or humid.

Who should not exercise during pregnancy?

There are a few conditions where you should avoid exercise or treat it more cautiously. Before starting an exercise routine, talk to your OB/GYN about your situation to see if these or any other conditions apply to you:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Cervical cerclage
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks
  • Multi gestation
  • Anemia
  • Preterm labor

When you exercise during pregnancy, choose activities you enjoy, and always listen to your body. If you ever doubt whether an activity suits you and your pregnancy, check in with your OB/GYN. With some modifications and safety considerations, your pregnancy journey can be a fitness journey too!

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