How to Have a Fit Pregnancy

Fitness for a healthy pregnancy

Keeping active during pregnancy is always a good idea. It is important to check with a doctor or midwife to make sure there aren’t any particular concerns for your pregnancy, but in most cases, a woman can continue normal exercise routines during pregnancy and even add exercises like walking or swimming to have a fit pregnancy.

During pregnancy, exercise is important to help keep the body moving and flexible and to prepare for the intense workout that is labor. Studies show that moms who are active by walking, swimming, and other gentle forms of movement may have easier deliveries, healthier babies, and recover more quickly.

It is also important to support the body with a nutrient dense diet and supplement it with vitamins & minerals recommended by a doctor or midwife during pregnancy, especially if also exercising regularly, as pregnancy is a time of increased nutrient need and the first priority should be nourishing the mom’s body and the growing baby.

Benefits of a Fit Pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy provides tons of great benefits for both mom (shorter labor and faster weight loss!) and the baby (less colic and greater physical resiliency). Not to mention that for a lot of moms exercising makes them happier, less anxious, and feel more in touch with their growing body. So it makes sense for gestating moms to stay as active as possible.

Exercise is proven to help not just your mood but also increases energy levels to help get you through the day. If possible, focus on exercises you enjoy (especially walking, swimming, stretching, pilates, or other gentle movements). For an added boost, try exercising outside when possible, as the exposure to natural light and the Vitamin D will have added benefits. In fact, there are many benefits to spending time outside during pregnancy.

Exercises for Pregnancy

So what, exactly, can pregnant women do to exercise? Olympic marathoners Kara Goucher and Paula Radcliffe clocked in 60-80 miles per week running during their pregnancies. Olympic curler Kristie Moore competed in the Olympics while 5 months pregnant. And Connie Neal made headlines by playing Division 1 basketball up through her 8th month. I don’t mention these examples to make you feel bad that you’re not perfecting your double-axle while growing adorable little earlobes, but rather to show you that women are a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. After checking with a doctor or midwife, many women find that they can maintain most of their previous activities during pregnancy and that it may even be recommended to increase activity slightly.

Some great exercises that are often recommended during pregnancy are:

Walking

Walking is a good exercise since it gives you a good workout at a level you can manage. It also helps increase circulation and aligns the pelvis. My midwife recommended that I walk for at least half an hour a day and I found I actually felt best when I was able to walk for about an hour.

Swimming

Swimming is an another excellent exercise for pregnancy, as it can help ease discomfort of the baby aches. Swimming also strengthens stomach muscles, may help align the pelvis, and is often recommended to make sure baby is in the correct position for delivery. Make sure if you are not a regular swimmer to take things easy at first. Have a gentle warm up before starting. Swimming is also good because it makes you feel weightless, taking the strain of the weight of baby off you for a while.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pelvic floor exercises, also called Kegels, are also recommended to help stretch the muscles between your legs that run from the pubic bone to your back. These are the muscles used to start and stop the flow of urine while using the bathroom. To strengthen the muscles, it is often recommended to try squeezing these muscles 10 to 15 times in a row. These exercises may also improve the sensitivity during sex and incontinence.

Squats and Weights

It is important to get clearance from your doctor or midwife before doing more strenuous exercises, but many women are able to do squats, lunges and lift weights during pregnancy. There is some evidence that these types of exercises may help keep the core strong during pregnancy and improve muscle tone during delivery. There are some women who should not do these exercises (especially those with placenta problems, a history of muscle strains, or other issues) so always check with your Dr/midwife before beginning these types of exercises during pregnancy.

Exercises to Avoid

The only exercises that are recommended to avoid during pregnancy are all contact sports or any activity that involves the possibility of falling. It is also important to avoid anything that will put strain on the joints and hips, difficult yoga positions, or jogging on the road without checking with a doctor first.

Exercise By Trimester

Although most exercises are considered fine for pregnancy, many women find that they are limited by how they feel at different points in pregnancy and so must adapt normal workout routines to accommodate their changing hormones and growing bellies.

First Trimester

Known as the undercover trimester, you can hold to your usual workout routine as long as you feel up to it. Your baby is only the size of a lipstick tube by the end of this trimester, so laying on your back, lifting weights, and cardio are all kosher. There’s no physical reason yet to skip that 10k or those stretching inversions. However, just because you can still do it doesn’t mean you’ll want to. I remember with my first pregnancy running laps and stopping to throw up in the gym bathroom. Not fun. You may also have sore breasts, a super sensitive nose, and become insanely tired. Those are your body’s signals to take it easy. Sometimes exercise can help. A brisk walk in the cool air can help with the nausea and give you more energy, but if you’re not feeling good, then skip it and don’t beat yourself up over getting some needed rest.

Second Trimester

You’re finally starting to show and while that makes you adorable in your maternity clothes it also means that your uterus is large enough to start putting pressure on your vena cava when you lie on your back. This doesn’t happen for everyone but if it does happen for you, you’ll know it. As soon as you start feeling dizzy, light-headed and/or nauseated, sit up! And you should skip back work for the remainder of your pregnancy. Another fun thing to look out for is “round ligament pain” that happens usually when you twist to the side but can strike even when you’re standing still. It feels like you’re being zapped with an electric cattle prod.

The upside to the second trimester is that the morning sickness is usually gone and you should have more energy. You can keep lifting weights and doing cardio as long as it still feels good. Just take extra care to maintain good form as the hormone relaxin is pumping through the pregnant body and it will loosen up all your joints making it easier to injure yourself. Keep hitting the iron but this is not the time to go for that back squat record.

Third Trimester

Things are starting to get serious, you have little feet jammed into your lungs, massive heart burn, swollen feet, and the tiredness is back, and while you may feel like clocking out until the baby is born, staying active will help you both mentally and physically, especially as delivery time approaches. This is the time to really watch your step, however. Your balance may be off, you probably can’t see your feet anymore, and it’s easy to misjudge how far out your belly really does extend so take it easy doing things where you have a risk of falling. Also, while those Olympic ladies I mentioned earlier managed to run through their whole pregnancies I’ve never been able to do that through any of mine. Sometime during the third trimester my hip flexors (the part where your leg attaches to your hip) give out and jogging becomes excruciatingly painful. Plus they say walking helps get labor going!

Fourth Trimester

Wait, fourth trimester? Yes, the baby has to come out eventually, but those first three months after the baby is born ought to be considered their own trimester, since your body is still going through massive hormonal, physical and mental changes. If there was ever a time to be gentle with yourself this is it!

Between sleepless nights, sore nipples, and the post-partum blues, workouts are going to be really hard to fit in. And you know what? The research supports rest! Studies have shown that women who exercise intensely right after having a baby not only don’t lose the weight faster but also up their risk of getting sick. So take it easy and use this time to get to know your new little bundle of joy! Another great post-partum tip is to use a belly wrap (I used this one), as it will help your ab muscles knit back together and will also help support and hold you in.

Last Thoughts on Fitness During Pregnancy

The trick with pregnancy is moderation. So exercise! But not too much. Or too little. Most of all just enjoy this time, as much as you can puking your guts out by the seafood counter in the grocery store, because it really is only nine months out of your whole life.

What’s been your experience with exercise for a healthy pregnancy? Any fitness tips for staying fit? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Very good stuff. With my first pregnancy, I was just plain too scared to continue exercising. As a result of that and eating processed foods, I was so swollen and uncomfortable the whole time. With my next baby, I consulted with my new midwive/herbalist about my previous ailments and had virtually none repeating. I was delighted to wear my wedding bands throughout the entire pregnancy! But staying active was a HUGE part of how great I felt, and how quickly I lost the baby weight (just 16 lbs, instead of the 40 from baby #1). For me, it really was all about feeling better this time around, and it worked. Walking, weights, yoga. And I absolutely agree with the belly binder. It helped shrink my abdomen faster, and gave me the much needed support to care for a newborn. It was worth every penny (and I didn’t get one of those pretty and expensive ones!). As I consider going for baby 3 in the next year, I am hopeful to incorporate running during pregnancy. However, my abdominals have never gone back together and by the end of pregnancy #2, my skin was pretty much the only thing holding baby in. I am working on that by using the BeFit-Moms Bounce Back Fast method, but, it makes me a bit nervous because it never healed after my first baby.

    • My stomach muscles are still seperated after my youngest was born, almost 3 years ago. I would love more children, and it concerns me what more pregnancies can do to my belly, since as soon as I began to show with my second pregnancy I had awful pain as the muscles seperated futher. I have recently started doing the exercises outlined in the Tupler Technique (haven’t bought the splint yet, or the book/DVD….I just figured it out from googling) and I have already seen positive effects in the 1 1/2 weeks that I have been doing them! I know the creator of that program says that it doesn’t matter how long ago you had your last baby, you can fix diastasis recti. (just learned that term!) I would really encourage you to check it out. It has been an answer to prayer!

  2. Are kettlebells safe to use during pregnancy?

    • I use them throughout… Great for core strength

  3. Im 5 months pregnant and i had been doing kettlebells regularly before i got pregnant, but then after i starting getting morning sickness i slowed down a bit and eventually reduced the weight of my kb, and i havent been as regular with them as i should but i do try to stay active even if its just walking, well here lately my blood pressure has been running a little high, which worries me some, my diet is very clean and mostly paleo, i still include grains occasinally but try to avoid wheat like the plague. But my doctor told me to try not to do anything too strenuous because of my blood pressure.. do you think its safe to continue to do my kbs? I’ve reduced the weight to 15lbs and i try to do only about 30 to 50 swings 3 or 4 times a week…?

    • I’d listen to your body and track your heart rate if you can to make sure you aren’t getting it too high. How much protein are you eating?

      • I get plenty of protein daily, and i really dont have a way of tracking it at home, but the way i feel doesnt really make a difference because i could be feeling amazing and perfectly fine, and y doctor tell me my blood pressure is high, and apparently its been running high at every visit, and they failed to tell me this until yesterday, so i’ve been clueless, because i dont ever feel any different

  4. Great article! I agree, exercise brings so much benefits with a pregnant woman. Very effective that even supplements can’t be a substitute.

  5. This is my first pregnancy, and I’ve always been an avid runner clocking about 20-30mpw, and big into weight training. As soon as I found out I was pregnant (about4 weeks) I was so tired and sick that I maybe ran or used the oliptical 3 times a week. And for the past four weeks (I’m now 11) Ive maybe ran a total of three times for half a mile (Im SO out of breath and tired!) I finally stopped feeling sick and I want to start excersising and running again. I may skip out on weights but I definitely wanna do cardio…I’m worried I took too much time off though? I know my midwife said I could continue anything during my first tri but since I basically stopped all together because I was too sick and tires idk if its safe to start back up? I’m gonna ask at my next appt. But I just wondered if you or anyone ever went through something like that with your excercise regimen? I feel so lazy, my cousin is 20wks and ran a half marathon at 16…I can barely even run a mile now! ….as for silly things people have said…I just start a new job and the first thing the lady who trained me said when she found out I was pregnant was “I can’t believe they would hire a pregnant person” I. Kindve a snotty tone….keep in mind the work I do isn’t physically demanding. I’m working as a caretaker for a families elderly mother who doesn’t even need help getting up. And I literally nap the first two hours of worm because she is still sleeping. Just cause I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m crippled! Lol

  6. i m 18 weeks pregnant. this is my first pregnancy before it i had two miscarriages. doctr has adviced me to do complete rest. but still sometime when i twist my belly it suddenly hurts like a current passing into it. i am very much scared will it harm my baby…

  7. I am now 25 weeks. Before I got pregnant I was training for a fitness comp .. Doing HITT a couple times/wk .. Walking my dog every day. The first 3 1/2 months of pregnancy were horrid. I didn’t exercise at all due to nausea and vomiting all day. I lost weight including muscle and it shows. I get out of breath doing a slow walk now. My body is incredibly weak. Ive been trying to do light weights and bodyweight stuff. I can do squats again 😀 I walk with my dog most days now but im soo slow.
    My husband is the comment maker. He doesn’t want me exercising at all Lol he’d prefer me to lay in a glass bubble until the baby comes.

  8. Okay, so I’m a man, and as such, I have no attendant lady bits, but I have to say, this was a fun read! My wife and I are both into fitness, though neither of us would be considered “hardcore” by any means. Even so, I can (at least indirectly) relate to the strange looks and sometimes strange comments we’ve gotten while “exercising while pregnant.” You’re right…women are MUCH more resilient than men! I’ve told my wife more than once that if men had to carry and give birth to the babies, we’d have gone extinct as a species a couple million years ago!

    Fantastic, entertaining article, and if/when we get pregnant again, I’m gonna read it to my wife while she’s doing inverted exercises in the first trimester. Much appreciated!

  9. Any recommendations for which belly binders to use? I’ve heard mixed reviews about them in general. I’m due with my first in a few weeks and I feel like I’ll never see my feet again! Any suggestions would be great. Thanks!

    • I bought a cheap one on Amazon with a high spandex content. It’s plenty good enough for support and reshaping.

    • I bought a squeem and will be using it any day now 🙂 My friend also used a squeem after her C-section and although she has the scar, she doesn’t have a flap. Her stomach is flat.

  10. Do all of you who exercise during pregnancy always stick to a heart rate of 140 or under? I’m 20 weeks along and have been continuing to do cardio, but my heart rate gets to 140 so quickly now that I feel like I can barely get a decent jog in. I don’t feel exhausted or uncomfortable yet while running, but I stop and walk because that is what I’ve been told. I’ve done a little research and always find that doctors still recommend keeping your heart rate under 140 so I will continue to do that, but I just wanted to see if anyone else has other info or thoughts on this topic.

    • I have a degree in Exercise Science with specialization in pre and post natal exercise. You don’t need to stay under 140 if you previously exercised at higher than that level. If you feel physically okay above 140, listen to you body, not the number on a heart monitor 🙂

  11. I usually agree with 100% of what you talk about in your blood posts but this one I have to disagree with not advising women to run. After endless hours of research I found that if you were already a runner there isn’t anything wrong with continuing with it. Obviously it’s not good to push yourself too hard but running is more than acceptable while nursing 🙂

  12. Doing Kegels during pregnancy is no longer recommended by many midwives. I have been a home birth midwife for 33 years and I do recommend Kegels during early postpartum when women feel like everything is “falling out down there!” During pregnancy I agree that walking is great exercise along with swimming. The reason to not recommend Kegels during pregnancy is because you don’t want to pull your sacrum toward your symphysis pubis thus making the birth canal smaller. I like swimming as exercise because it is a forward leaning posture which is good for helping babies to keep their back toward the Mother’s stomach. Throughout the day it is good for mothers-to-be to incorporate forward leaning postures by crawling around on the floor, perhaps while playing with the kids, or leaning forward onto the kitchen counter, or scrubbing the kitchen floor on hand and knees! Also it is good to go to the chiropractor and get adjustments during your pregnancy. We sit too much and drive cars and cross our legs. All of these things can make your pelvis be tight on one side and loose on the other. This can make it hard for the baby to get in a good position for birth or cause the head to be asynclitic, making childbirth longer and more painful. Other types of body work can be helpful too, like acupuncture, massage, myofascial release, cranial sacral therapy, etc. Walking is great because your pelvis rocks side-to-side and walking up hills and on uneven surfaces can be helpful too by stretching muscles and ligaments in the pelvis. It really does matter what you do during your pregnancy, you have a lot of power and control! Consume healthy clean food and water and get some exercise!

  13. Can anyone recommend pregnancy workout videos that specialize in muscle groups needed for an easier delivery, ie squats, lunges? I’d prefer something that is 10-20 minutes a day because I like to walk 1 hour but need additional strength exercises.

    Thank you!