Are you expecting a bundle of joy? Well, congratulations! We understand that this journey is filled with all manner of emotions, from uncertainty to pleasure. Your body is also changing rapidly to accommodate the growing human inside of you. As a result, you may experience discomforts here and there and sometimes wonder whether you should just sleep the entire pregnancy period.
Such a welcoming idea, considering how exhausting pregnancy can get sometimes. Even then, staying active will yield better results. Throughout your pregnancy, it’s essential to keep moving, and here is everything you need to know about exercising while pregnant.
Can You Exercise During Pregnancy?
You may have had a rigorous pre-pregnancy workout plan, but since those two lines showed up, you became hesitant about exercising for fear of hurting your precious baby or straining your body.
If you are in perfect health and your pregnancy is without complications, it is okay to continue with your workout or start regular physical activity if you haven’t (6). Just make sure to discuss your exercise plans with your obstetrician and get their go-ahead.
- Keeps your mind and body healthy. Physical activity gives you extra energy and also strengthens your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
- It helps you gain the right amount of weight during your pregnancy (9).
- Physical activity during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension (12).
- Exercise helps you sleep better and also manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress (11).
- It helps prepare and build the stamina needed for birth and delivery and may help shorten labor duration (7).
Pregnancy Workout Plan For First Trimester
During the first trimester, you should aim to establish good exercising habits and gradually ease into it. Also, remember that the amount of exercise you do will depend on how active you were pre-pregnancy and what your doctor advises.
Here are targeted exercise suggestions to do during your first trimester:
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Your pelvic floor muscles are probably the most important muscles to strengthen since it stretches during pregnancy and childbirth. The following exercises are recommended:
Kegel exercise helps strengthen muscles that support abdominal organs such as the vagina, bowel, bladder, and uterus. You need these muscles in top shape to assist during labor and avoid postpartum incontinence (4).
- Empty your bladder, then sit or lie down.
- Tighten your pelvic muscles (which are the same ones you use to stop urine flow), holding tight for 3 to 6 seconds.
- Relax for about 5 seconds.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times, thrice per day.
Tip: Relax when doing this exercise. Ensure you are not tightening your thigh, buttock, or stomach muscles.
Caution: Avoid practicing Kegels while you are urinating, as this may weaken your pelvic muscles over time and cause damage to your bladder.
Squats are a great resistance exercise to help build and maintain strength in the hips, pelvic floor muscles, and glutes. When done correctly, squats can help improve your posture and squatting during delivery may help ease the birthing process (14).
- Find level ground and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold out your arms straight in front of you.
- Slowly lower yourself into a squat position. You can go as low as you are comfortable, so long as you keep your back straight and your weight firmly on your heels.
- Return to a standing position, squeezing your glutes on the way up.
- Repeat this 10 to 20 times, or as many times as your body is comfortable.
Tip: Add more resistance by holding dumbbells in each hand. Don’t worry if you have no weights or bars; your body weight should offer enough resistance.
Caution: Your joints are more fluid and flexible during pregnancy; therefore, don’t squat too low. Just go within your normal range of motion.
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You need to exercise your legs to build strength in your lower body. However, while doing these exercises, avoid movements that may compromise your balance or include a lot of jumping as they put you at risk of falling.
Squat To Reverse Lunge
- Stand with your feet hips-wide apart, with toes facing forward.
- With your chest high and knees behind the toes, slowly bend both knees till your thighs are parallel to the ground. Alternatively, bend as low as you feel comfortable.
- Extend your legs to the back while you squeeze your butt, then slowly come back to a starting position.
- To perform a reverse lunge, take a step back with your left foot and bend both knees to a 90-degree angle.
- Alternate sides and do a rep for 5-10 lunges.
- Go on all fours on the carpet or your exercise mat. Ensure it doesn’t slip. Also, make sure your palms are flat and straight beneath your shoulders.
- Lift your right leg straight up behind you and keep your stomach muscles engaged and your spine straight.
- Return to the starting position, then do the same for your left leg. Again, do several reps that you are comfortable with.
Tip: To increase the intensity of this exercise, pulse the heel of your extended leg before you switch.
Caution: Avoid doing too many reps as you may strain your stomach muscles.
You need a strong core to help carry your pregnancy comfortably. A weak core puts you at risk of severe lower back pain (13). On the other hand, a strong core will help provide much-needed support for the growing baby.
Core exercises that will help you build strength around your midsection include:
- On your carpet or exercising mat, get into the plank position. Ensure you are forming a straight line from shoulders to ankles and that your wrists are tucked right below your shoulders.
- Make sure your core (ab) muscles are engaged by pushing out your heels. You may feel stretched on your abs.
- Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds or for as long as you can.
- Repeat two more times.
- Sit with your legs extended in front of you.
- With fingers widespread, place your palms behind your hips and slightly outside. You will feel uncomfortable if you put them parallel to your hips.
- Gently lift your hips and torso by pressing into your palm.
- Ensure you form a straight line from your head to ankles
- Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, engaging your core muscles.
- Three sets of 30 seconds each should be enough.
Caution: Stop holding position once your body starts sagging. It’s better to stay in position for a short period than to hold on wrongly.
You can hold your position for a few seconds as you work on building your strength. To minimize neck strain, avoid tilting your head to the back or front. Instead, ensure your head is in line with your torso.
Some cardio exercises you can try include:
Running And Jogging
Jogging is probably the best form of cardio. It is easy to run during your first trimester, especially if you are used to running already. However, you need an okay from your doctor first. If running is too much, walking is a great option as well.
A stationary bike is recommended to reduce the risk of falling and hurting yourself, so go ahead and enroll in that spin class. Nonetheless, ensure you pace yourself to a manageable speed so as not to strain.
Pregnancy Workout Plan For Second Trimester
As you progress onto the second trimester, your pregnancy will become more noticeable. The changes in your body will become more prominent. You may find it hard to do some of the exercises you did in the first trimester. Although the second trimester usually comes with an energy burst, your growing tummy may limit the kind of exercises you can do.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Your growing pregnancy may start pressing on your pelvic muscles.
Here are some exercises to help keep these muscles strong:
Deep Belly Breathing
This is also called diaphragmatic breathing (3).
- Sit on a comfortable chair and place your hands on your tummy.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, feel your lungs fill with air, and your diaphragm moving downwards. Exhale with your mouth closed while still holding your belly.
- Repeat this pattern as many times as you wish, with 30-second intervals between breaths.
Your growing tummy will need strong leg and abdominal support.
Here are some exercises to strengthen your legs:
This squat variation aims to target your inner glutes and thighs and help open up your hips.
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder length apart. Your toes should always point forward and in line with your knees.
- Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, keeping your back straight and all the weight on your heels.
- Your knees should not carve towards each other so keep your legs turned out throughout the process.
- Squeeze your glutes as you return to the starting position
- You can perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
This will help you build strength in your lower body and also improve stability. Before you do this exercise, ensure you get clearance from your doctor.
- Stand with your hands placed on your hips.
- Step your right leg forward and with the left foot in place, bend your left knee towards the floor until the right knee is nearly at a right angle.
- Alternate each side until you have done 20 to 30 reps or until you feel exhausted.
- If you feel slightly off-balance when doing this exercise, hold the back of a strong chair for support.
- Remember to keep your back straight, your stomach pulled, and your shoulders relaxed.
Cardio And Core Exercises
If the doctor gives you the go-ahead, you can engage in the following cardio exercises. Low impact exercises are preferred at this point as too much jumping may feel uncomfortable.
Here are some exercises you can try:
This is a low-impact variation of jumping jacks. Apart from being a great cardio workout, it also helps strengthen the shoulder, glutes, and transverse abdominus muscles.
- Stand with your feet hip wide apart.
- Take a big step to the side while raising your arms above your head.
- Bring your foot back to position, lower your hands and repeat using the other foot.
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This is a modified full-body burpee tailored to accommodate your growing tummy. This workout raises your heart rate and provides a foundation for you to do the full traditional burpee you would include in your post-pregnancy workout plan.
Here is how to do it:
- Lie on your mat, then pull yourself up to a crouching position. Your legs should be slightly spread apart to create room for your belly.
- Extend your legs back into a plank position. You may feel uncomfortable at this point since you’re basically doing a plank. If the discomfort is too much, you can stop the exercise or switch to another position.
- Step your legs back to your hands while keeping them apart to make space for your tummy.
- Slowly pull yourself up to a standing position.
- Repeat the exercise 7 to 10 times.
Pregnancy Workout Plan For Third Trimester
The third trimester is usually characterized by a protruding belly, reduced energy levels, and general body fatigue. You need to take extra caution when exercising during this home-stretch trimester.
The body changes associated with pregnancy may limit you when it comes to exercise. Your body is pushed to its limit at this point, and activities such as sleeping and walking become challenging. You are constantly exhausted, the trips you make to the loo are countless, and labor and delivery seem like Christmas.
Despite all this, exercise is still an essential part of your routine. In addition, physical activity may help alleviate some of the nasty symptoms you face.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Kegels are still the number one recommended exercise for your pelvic muscles. You can do them standing or sitting down. Avoid lying down on your back. When lying on your back, your entire weight, plus that of your baby, rests on your intestines and vena cava, the main artery that carries blood from your lower body back to the heart. You risk compressing this blood vessel (1).
Modified Yoga And Pilates
These exercises are gentle yet work well to strengthen your pelvic muscles. They are also great for your core. Furthermore, yoga will help you sleep better and lessen any stress and anxiety you may feel (5).
Check into a yoga and pilates class that accepts or is geared toward pregnant women. Once there, pace yourself and only do the simple positions to minimize straining. Remember to avoid positions that keep you lying on your back for too long.
All exercises you do in your third trimester should be low impact.
Here are some examples of safe leg exercises to do in this trimester:
- Use the back of a chair to help with balance.
- This exercise is best done on a platform where your heels are lower than your toes. Even then, you can still raise your heels off the ground and hold this position for about 2 seconds.
- Bring your heels back to the ground and repeat the exercise as many times as you feel comfortable.
It may be challenging to exercise your core with a huge belly, but it’s not impossible.
This is one of the easiest core exercises you can do. Simply get down on all fours, engage your abs, then crawl. As you crawl, your core muscles contract and relax to give you the correct movement pattern. It is a simple, low-impact exercise that you will enjoy doing.
Kneeling Side Plank Lift
- Lie down on your side with your forearm against the floor. Prop yourself up so that your shoulder is directly over your supporting elbow.
- Bend your knees and make sure your feet are behind you and in line with your hips.
- Inhale deeply.
- Exhale while pushing your hips up and forward. Ensure you create a straight line from your shoulders to hips to the knees.
- Inhale again as you lower your hips.
- Repeat this set on either side, holding the position for between 20 to 30 seconds.
Your heart still needs you to exercise its muscles.
Recommended cardio exercises during the third trimester include:
Swimming is a gentle activity guaranteed to build your aerobic capacity and also exercise heart muscles. This is one of the safest forms of exercise during pregnancy. It is low impact and tones the entire body. A 20-minute swim is enough to get your heart rate up.
Staying fit during pregnancy is necessary not just for you but also for your baby’s overall well-being. Prenatal exercises help ensure that your baby is born at an appropriate size (10). Having a workout plan for pregnancy makes it easier to stay committed to your fitness journey. A fit mum results in a fit, happy baby, so start exercising.
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!
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- Effect of Kegel exercises to prevent urinary and fecal incontinence in antenatal and post-natal women: systematic review (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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- The effects of squatting while pregnant on pelvic dimensions: A computational simulation to understand childbirth (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)