Pregnancy is one of the most joyful times in a women's life. It's a special time both emotionally and physically. Many women would agree that pregnancy is a time to live the healthiest life you can. Exercise is a big part of that.
Best Exercises During Pregnancy
Each woman's pregnancy experience will be different, so use your best judgement when it comes to exercise. Listen to your body and partner with your doctor about your exercise routine.
The warm up is an essential part of any workout, but particularly so if you are expecting. You want to give your vascular system time to boot up and get ready to support the increased levels of energy and oxygen needed during pregnancy.
Walk for 10 minutes outdoors or on a treadmill before beginning your workout. You could even dance around your living room for 10 minutes.
Next, target specific muscles and joints you will use during your workout. You should include:
- Neck rolls: Roll the neck slowly side to side four times.
- Shoulder rolls: Stand tall and roll the shoulders back and down your back eight times.
- Ankle rolls: Balance on one foot or use the wall for balance and roll one ankle at a time in a circle. Perform eight times for each ankle.
- Knee lifts: Place your hands on your hips and alternate lifting each knee eight times.
- Arm circles: Hold a wide stance and circle the arms in the shoulder girdle forwards and backwards eight times.
- Squats: Stand tall with your feet wide. Lower as if you are about to sit into a chair. Slowly return to the start position. Repeat eight times.
- Cat cow: Get on your hands and knees. Gently arch your lower back (don't push), then lower your head between your shoulders and raise your upper back toward the ceiling, rounding your spine. Move back and forth slowly. Avoid pushing at either end of the movement. Repeat four times.
Walking is a smart choice for pregnant women. This form of exercise is appropriate for any fitness level. You can also easily modify the intensity of this workout at any point during your pregnancy.
If you haven't exercised regularly before your pregnancy, you may need to ease into it.
- First trimester: During the first trimester, a non-exerciser should start by walking at an easy pace for up to 30 minutes, three times per week. Make sure you include a day of rest between workouts to allow your body time to recover and adjust to the level of activity.
- Second trimester: Progress your routine by quickening your pace and/or adding a few more minutes to your workout. Gradually increase to five times per week.
- Third trimester: Make a goal to power walk for the same length of time you could in your second trimester. Since you are so far along in your pregnancy, avoid hills and inclines. Walking as many times per week as you did in the second trimester would be ideal but don't sweat it if your body cannot. You can always try other low-impact options such as swimming, yoga, or riding a recumbent bike.
At this level, you should have established your walking routine at least a few months prior to your pregnancy and have built up to walking 30-45 minutes three to five times per week.
- First trimester: Keep this up during your first trimester while allowing much-needed rest days. You can challenge yourself by walking for up to an hour, but let your body determine that.
- Second and third trimesters: If all is well, keep moving at this pace and cadence during your second and third trimesters.
The biggest concern for this advanced exerciser is to remember you're working out for two. In fact, the natural intensity level in your workouts will be greater because of that. If you are a die-hard, you likely have been working out regularly for six months or longer prior to pregnancy for at least one hour four to five times per week.
- First trimester: It is safe to continue in this manner. However, be mindful of not overexerting yourself.
- Second trimester: You can choose to press on at the same pace or increase your workouts to five to six times per week. Remember to pull back a bit if you start to feel overworked or uncomfortable.
- Third trimester: Continue your second-trimester routine if your body and baby are agreeable, just be sure to stick to flat terrain. Again, ease up on the frequency or duration of your workouts as needed.
Pool exercise is a hands-down favorite for expecting moms. Healthcare providers, fitness experts, and moms agree that pool exercise is one of the best and safest forms of exercise for pregnant women. It's an ideal total body workout. It also provides cardiovascular conditioning, and the water's buoyancy allows expectant women to feel weightless despite the extra pregnancy pounds. Plus, you can stay in the pool throughout your entire pregnancy and make modifications to your intensity and duration as needed.
Newbies should opt for a shallow-water workout, which is designed for women who did not exercise regularly prior to pregnancy. The Tolerables and Die-Hards may choose to do the shallow water workout on their tired days. The deep-water routine is more challenging and is best reserved for the intermediate to advanced exerciser. The swimming workout is the most advanced part of the program.
Some things to keep in mind before your start:
- Use a pool with a comfortable temperature. Eighty-five to eighty-seven degrees Fahrenheit is perfect; anything less than that is too cold.
- Warm up with at least five minutes of shallow-water walking. Mimic some of the aforementioned warm up exercises, such as shoulder rolls, ankle circles, neck rolls, arm circles, and knee lifts. You can even tread water in the deep end or hold on to the edge of the pool and kick.
- Wear water shoes or aqua socks to keep from slipping on the bottom of the pool.
- Remember to drink water. The cooling effect of the water in the pool can often be deceiving.
Shallow Water Routine
This is the ideal workout for those new to water exercise. Once you get the hang of it, feel free to progress to deep water exercise or even combine the two routines.
- Perform shallow-water walking or running with a normal stride as you walk or run forward and/or backwards across the pool. To change the pace and recruit more muscles, walk on your heels or toes, do grapevine steps, or step sideways. Keep moving for five minutes.
- To perform jumping jacks, stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and your arms extended sideways to shoulder height. Jump and bring the soles of feet together while pressing your arms downward. Separate your feet to the starting position, moving your arms back to shoulder height. Repeat the jacks for one minute (about 40-50 reps).
- To do a rocking horse, take a wide stance with one leg in front of the other. Your front leg will be slightly bent. Lean forward, allowing your arms to cross over your chest. At the same time, your back leg should bend as though you were about to kick your tailbone. Now, reverse the movement and lean back. The arms open, the front legs bends so your knee comes in towards your torso, and you're putting your weight on your hind leg. Once you have the mechanics of the movement, pick up your pace.
- To perform an elbow to knee, stand with your feet forward, hip-width apart. Bring your right knee up to hip height and cross your left elbow down just past outside of knee. It's okay if you cannot touch your knee. Return to the starting position and repeat with your left knee and right elbow. Do 30 repetitions. As your belly grows, bring your same-side elbow down to the knee lift, adding a slight side bend.
- To do side shuffles, move laterally across the pool to tone your inner and outer thighs while performing a side shuffle. Start with your legs shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips. Step to the side with one leg, then pull your other leg to meet it. Make your way across the pool in both directions then rest and repeat four times.
Deep Water Routine
Think of this as the intermediate level pool workout. Since your feet will not touch the pool surface, you should use an AquaJogger to help you remain upright, and give you more support in the water. Position the belt comfortably around your tummy and make your way to deep end.
- Cross-country skiing: Balance yourself in upright position with your legs hanging straight down, and your arms at sides with your palms facing your body. Keeping your arms and legs straight, your torso erect and centered, and the shoulders over the hips, scissor kick your legs as your arms do the same movement in opposition. Flex your foot up as you stride forward, and point your foot as your leg extends back and behind you. Repeat 30 times.
- Froggy jumps: Balance yourself so your legs hang straight down and together. Kick your legs out to the side while pressing both arms down at the center line of the body. Bring your legs and arms back to the start. Repeat this explosive move eight times.
- Run/jog in a circle: Run in a circle for 30 seconds then reverse and run for 30 seconds in the opposite direction. Keep your knees up, the arms moving in opposition to the legs. This should be a challenge as you try to run against the current you create by running in the opposite direction. Continue for five to eight minutes.
- Scissors kicks: Float easily in the water. Your legs should be straight and your arms by your sides. Scull through the water with your hands for balance. With your toes pointed, kick your legs like a scissor. Alternate your kicks eight times, then rest. Repeat three times.
Don't shy away from weight training during your pregnancy. It can actually help with many of the aches and pains associated with pregnancy. Aim for lighter weights and more repetitions. You may even use resistance bands, if that makes you more comfortable. Each of the following exercises can be modified with less weight or no weight at all.
Squats With Triceps Extension
- Start by holding a pair of 5- to 8-pound dumbbells with your arms at your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower into a squat, keeping your weight centered over your heels. Simultaneously perform triceps extensions with both arms. If you feel unstable, use a chair for support.
- Do 10 reps.
Lunges With Bicep Curls
- Start with the right leg in front and the left leg back, balancing on the ball of your left foot with your hips facing forward.
- Let your arms extend naturally at your side while holding dumbbells.
- Tilt your body forward slightly at the hips.
- Bend both knees into a lunge and curl the arms at the same time.
- Do 10 to 15 reps; then switch legs and repeat.
Plies With Front Raise
- Begin with your legs turned out at the hips, your feet pointing away from each other.
- Keep a slight bend at your elbows while holding dumbbells in front of your body.
- Press your hips forward just slightly, with your back straight, drawing in your abs.
- Bend both knees into a plie and raise your arms to shoulder level with the palms facing downwards.
- Stand to extend the legs and lower your arms back to start position. Do 10 to 15 reps.
- Follow these instructions for performing planks.
- Hold the position for one to two breaths, progressing to five beaths.
Prenatal or Hatha Yoga Stretching
Yoga combines breathing and relaxation techniques with stretching, strengthening, and balancing exercises. All of these are essential to a healthy childbirth. You will also experience psychological benefits, helping you to remain centered and calm despite the many changes your body experiences during pregnancy.
Hatha yoga is a gentle form of yoga that is an excellent choice during pregnancy. Many of the poses not only soothe and relax mom, but they also provide a gentle massage to the baby. The Mayo Clinic provides guidelines for poses to avoid, such as inversions, twisting, lying on your back or stomach, and deep bending.
- Kneel on the floor.
- Bring your big toes together and sit on your heels, then spread your knees as wide as you comfortably can.
- Lower your torso to lie between your thighs. The tailbone should be lengthened away from the back of the pelvis. You may choose to add a pillow underneath your hips if you suffer from tight hip flexors, or if it feels more useful. You might prefer to rest your forehead on the floor while bringing your arms to the side to rest your shoulders. Another alternative is to stack your arms placing one forearm over the other. This choice is particularly comfortable if you are using a pillow underneath your hips.
- Relax into this pose for 30 seconds to a few minutes.
Downward Facing Dog
- Start on all fours with your fingers spread wide.
- Tuck your toes and prepare to lift your hips towards the ceiling.
- Press through your fingertips, pulling your chest to your thighs.
- Draw the thighs back. As you do so, let the heels relax towards the floor.
- Relax your neck and let your head hang.
Note: This is technically an inversion, though not as difficult as a head stand, so this pose should only be done for short periods (no more than 30 seconds at a time) while pregnant.
Follow these instructions to perform a tree pose.
If you're expecting, you should also expect to get a prescription for exercise. Nowadays, most doctors agree that movement during pregnancy is ideal.
Dr. Thembi Conner-Garcia, a physician and clinic preceptor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, IL admits, "We didn't encourage as much physical activity during pregnancy (10-20 years ago) as we do now."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says expecting moms should aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day on most, if not all, days of the week.
"Exercise generally benefits the mother directly and indirectly benefits the baby," explains Dr. Conner-Garcia.
Fit moms-to-be reap the following rewards for staying active during their pregnancy:
- Better weight control
- Better regulation of hypertension and blood sugar/diabetes
- Mood and energy boost
For some moms, exercise even alleviates some of the uncomfortable symptoms like body aches, swelling, bloating, and gas. Dr. Conner -Garcia adds, "Exercise done the right way during pregnancy is good for the health of the mom, and a healthy mom is more likely to deliver a healthy baby."
Exercise Rules for Expecting Moms
Almost any exercise is safe, as long as you do not overexert yourself, even running or CrossFit. Whatever exercise you were accustomed to doing prior to your pregnancy is fair game during pregnancy. Stay away from activities like scuba diving, contact sports, and lying on your back, as these are hard and fast don'ts for pregnant women.
Dr. Conner-Garcia offers the following guidelines:
- As the stomach grows during the pregnancy, the center of gravity for a woman changes. Be aware of this to reduce your risk for a fall.
- Sometimes, the joints are more lax during pregnancy, which can also increase the risk for a fall.
- Stay well-hydrated.
- Make sure that your heart rate does not get too high, and that you are not doing a lot of anaerobic exercise. This can decrease the oxygen supply to you and your baby.
Realistically, you probably won't be able to exercise at the same level as you did pre-pregnancy. This is especially true as your pregnancy progresses, but that's okay. Your goal should be to do what you can as often as you can.
Let Your Body Be Your Guide
You will likely have an easier pregnancy and a healthy baby with regular exercise. Cross train with these exercise routines to stay engaged and give your body a break as needed. Don't feel obligated to keep pushing yourself to perform at the same intensity level you did prior to your pregnancy. Just be smart about it and sandwich plenty of rest into your weekly exercise routine. Nothing can take the place of rest while you are pregnant.