Exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle, but it becomes even more significant when you are pregnant. It keeps your body in shape and strengthens your muscles to prepare for labor. You also need to be careful about what type of exercise you do during pregnancy because there are some limitations to consider.
The best way to know if a treadmill workout is safe for you during pregnancy is by consulting with your doctor first. That said, when you get the go ahead – here’s some information that may come in handy for crafting the best treadmill workout for pregnancy.
Is It Safe To Exercise During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (10). Treadmill exercise routines may be a useful and safe alternative to stay in shape while pregnant. You can keep doing the same exercises you were doing before you got pregnant.
Some of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy include:
Reduced Risk Of Pregnancy Complications
Cardio exercise performed regularly during pregnancy reduces the risk of gestational hypertension, excessive amniotic fluid and preeclampsia (7). Exercise also reduces the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus (5)
Reduced Risk Of Delivery Complications
Having a heavy baby can lead to complications for both mother and child during delivery. Exercise during pregnancy makes you gain less weight and may also influence your baby’s birth weight. In turn, this can lower the risk of complications during childbirth (2).
This is due to an increase in your blood volume (the more you exercise, the better your cardiovascular system gets). You also release endorphins that make you feel happier and provide you with energy (3).
Increased Bone Density
Weight Gain Is Controllable
This is because muscle tissue weighs more than fat. The more muscle your body has, the faster it burns calories (8).
Improved Sleep Quality
Strenuous workouts may keep you up at night, but moderate exercise is very relaxing and can help your body recover from a long day (15). Provided you don’t exercise too close to your bedtime, you’re more likely to sleep better and wake up more rested.
Exercise Considerations During Pregnancy
Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy. Your treadmill workout should take these changes into account:
Increased Resting Heart Rate
The growing baby inside your uterus starts to take up space and squeezes on your lungs. The cardiac output during pregnancy increases by about 30 to 50 %, which increases your resting heart rate (11). You may notice that you feel short of breath more easily than before and that you bounce when you walk.
Increased Balance Requirements
Your changing center of gravity can make you feel off balance until your body adjusts. Also, the increased levels of relaxin (a hormone that loosens ligaments and joints for easier delivery) can make you more prone to injury like a pulled or strained muscle as well as arthritis in the future (16).
You may be tired during your first trimester because of morning sickness or from not getting enough sleep at night from waking up to go to the bathroom so many times (18). The fatigue lightens up in the second trimester, but you may have more trouble staying focused. You also tire more easily from standing or walking for too long.
Increased Dizziness And Light-Headedness
The extra blood flow into your pelvic area may make you feel dizzy or lightheaded when getting up quickly after lying down. Make sure to slowly get up from a reclined position, like an armchair or bed, and wait a minute or two before standing.
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Increased Swelling and Soreness In Feet, Legs, And Ankles
The extra weight of the baby puts pressure on your feet and legs, which may cause swelling and discomfort (14). During pregnancy, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. This reduces discomforts, like swollen feet and ankles.
When To Avoid A Treadmill Workout
This occurs when your amniotic sac breaks or has a slow leak (1). You may notice fluid leakage from your vagina or feel a little wet on your clothes. You should call your doctor if you notice this.
Severe, sudden abdominal pains that come from contractions in the uterus can indicate preterm labor.
Shortness Of Breath
Shortness of breath during exercise could indicate a serious condition like preeclampsia, where the mother’s blood pressure rises to an unhealthy level, or gestational diabetes.
Severe chest pain during exercise could mean you’re having a heart attack and should seek immediate medical attention. It may also indicate a condition like peripartum cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle is weakened and causes left ventricular dysfunction (9).
30-Minute Sample Treadmill Workout For Pregnancy
The focus of this workout is on overall health. The most important element is a slow start and moderate progress. It also includes a warm-up and cool-down session. Remember to adjust the workout to suit your fitness level, and also to pay attention to how you’re feeling at each stage.
- Warm up: 2.5-3mph and 0-3% incline for 3 minutes.
- Workout: 3.5-4.5mph and 5-15% incline for 25 minutes.
- Cool down: 2.5mph and 0-3% incline for 2 minutes.
Treadmill Workout Tips When Pregnant
The treadmill is not off limits while you’re pregnant. Follow these guidelines for staying safe while enjoying your prenatal cardio workouts:
Start At A Lower Intensity
Reduce your speed and incline to avoid high-intensity workouts. If you didn’t exercise before getting pregnant, start at a lower intensity than you think is necessary to keep your workout safe. At first, just walk on the treadmill for 10 to 30 minutes three days per week (4). As time goes on, you can slowly increase the intensity or time you spend on the treadmill.
Use The Talk Test
The talk test is a good way to check intensity levels when on a treadmill. If you can speak comfortably while exercising, your intensity isn’t high enough for cardio and it’s time to pick it up a bit. If you can’t get out one or two words without taking a breath, your intensity is good.
Hold Onto Railings For Balance
The combination of the frontloading baby weight and the incline could lead to imbalances while walking or running. Combined with your unstable joints, you could easily fall. Holding onto the rails when exercising on a treadmill helps you maintain balance and stability in your core muscles. If you find yourself hanging on to the rails, you should lower the incline and speed to a more comfortable level.
Make sure to stay hydrated while exercising on a treadmill. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day before, during, and after your workout. Avoid caffeine and alcohol during pregnancy, both of which can act as diuretics that dehydrate you more quickly (13).
Warm Up And Cool Down
Take the time to warm up and cool down before and after your treadmill workout. This reduces the risk of injury, especially if you haven’t been exercising for a while. Avoid doing intense stretches beforehand as they can cause cramping or discomfort in a pregnant woman’s body. To cool down, walk on the treadmill at a low speed for five to 10 minutes before stepping off.
Watch for signs of overheating like excessive sweating, faintness, nausea, dizziness or muscle cramps. If you experience these symptoms during exercise, stop and rest immediately in a cooler environment like an air-conditioned room with a fan blowing on you. Let someone know and drink some cold water and sports drinks that contain electrolytes (like Gatorade) to prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke if the workout has been intense or lengthy.
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Other Pregnancy-Safe Exercises
The treadmill is not your only option if you’re interested in pregnancy exercises. Here are some of the safest workouts recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG (4):
Swimming And Water Workouts
The extra weight you’re carrying shouldn’t be an obstacle for swimming workouts. In fact, water workouts are a great way to ease into more demanding workouts as it lessens the stress on your joints and soft tissues.
If heavy impact is a concern, stationary bicycling offers a safe alternative cardiovascular workout during pregnancy. Since you can control your intensity with gears and resistance levels, you can start at a low level, increase over time as you feel comfortable, and stop when necessary.
Yoga poses should be modified or avoided entirely if they cause cramping, dizziness or nausea throughout your pregnancy. The best yoga poses for pregnant women avoid pressure on the abdomen as well as any twisting or bending that can feel uncomfortable.
Pilates is another alternative for pregnancy workouts with modifications to keep it safe and comfortable. Modifications include avoiding sitting on the mat during abdominal work, using a smaller range of motion for leg exercises like crunches or hip lifts, and avoiding balancing poses (like handstands) altogether. Talk to your doctor about which exercises are best for you during your pregnancy, as an individualized approach ensures you’re getting the best workout possible while staying healthy and safe.
Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy
ACOG recommends that you avoid activities that put you at increased risk of injury, such as these (4):
High-contact sports like boxing, football, ice hockey and soccer pose a risk for injury. ACOG also recommends avoiding activities that may result in a fall such as skiing or horseback riding.
Hot Yoga Or Hot Pilates
Exercise in hot temperatures can lead to dehydration and overheating. Avoid hot yoga or pilates during pregnancy as they increase the risk of injury from fatigue and decreased hydration levels from sweating profusely under increased heat conditions.
Aerobics Classes With High-Impact Movements
Avoid high impact aerobic classes during pregnancy as your joints are more prone to injury while swollen and lubricated with extra synovial fluid (the liquid found between your joints). Kickboxing, step aerobics and other high-impact exercises should be avoided as they put more pressure on your joints.
The Bottom Line
Treadmills are not off-limits during pregnancy, though they should be used with caution. Make sure you’re following your doctor’s guidelines and exercising at the right intensity, keeping yourself well-hydrated throughout your entire workout. Start slowly until you become accustomed to this activity during your pregnancy.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- [Amniotic fluid leakage and premature rupture of membranes after amniocentesis. A review of the literature] (2000, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A randomized clinical trial of exercise during pregnancy to prevent gestational diabetes mellitus and improve pregnancy outcome in overweight and obese pregnant women (2017, ajog.org)
- Effects of physical activity on maternal plasma beta-endorphin levels and perception of labor pain (1989, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise During Pregnancy (2019, acog.org)
- Exercise during pregnancy and risk of preterm birth in overweight and obese women: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials – Magro‐Malosso – 2017 – Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica – Wiley Online Library (2016, obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period (2003, sciencedirect.com)
- Hypertension in Pregnancy: Executive Summary : Obstetrics & Gynecology (2013, journals.lww.com)
- Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Peripartum Cardiomyopathy | Circulation (2016, ahajournals.org)
- Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period (2015, acog.org)
- Physical Changes During Pregnancy – Women’s Health Issues – MSD Manual Consumer Version (2021, msdmanuals.com)
- Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let’s move! (2021, mayoclinic.org)
- Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration During Pregnancy (n.d., americanpregnancy.org)
- Swollen ankles, feet and fingers in pregnancy (2021, nhs.uk)
- The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effect of relaxin on the musculoskeletal system (2013, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- The Effects of Treadmill Exercise Training on Hip Bone Density and Tibial Bone Geometry in Stroke Survivors: A Pilot Study (2021, journals.sagepub.com)
- Tiredness and sleep problems – Pregnancy (2021, nhs.uk)