Regular exercise is important for staying healthy, but when you’re pregnant, working out can seem easier said than done. Who has the energy to exercise when they’re carrying an extra 15-25 pounds and a kicking, wiggling fetus? And how can you be sure you’re exercising safely for both you and your baby?
Luckily, exercising during pregnancy isn’t complicated. There are a few things you should avoid for safety reasons, but you can still do most of your regular workouts with just one or two modifications. Not used to working out, but want to get active while pregnant? No problem. We talked with Dr. Oluwatosin Goje, an OB-GYN at Cleveland Clinic, about the best prenatal exercises to help you have a safe and active pregnancy, no matter your fitness level.
Keep in mind: Every person is different, and every pregnancy is different. Always consult with your provider if you have any medical conditions that inhibit or prevent exercise, or if you have any concerns about exercising while pregnant.
What makes an exercise safe for pregnancy?
“In general, exercise is safe in pregnancy,” Dr. Goje says, “and a ‘talk test’ can be applied to measure exertion.” As long as you can carry on a conversation while exercising, you’re not likely over-exerting yourself. But if you find yourself huffing and puffing or can only say a few words at a time before needing more air, take a break and take your workout down a few notches.
What makes certain exercises unsafe during pregnancy?
Dr. Goje says to avoid contact sports or activities, because anything “that involves hitting the abdomen may cause trauma.” Football? Out. Kickboxing? No way.
But contact sports aren’t all you should avoid. Scuba diving should be avoided, too, “because of the inability of the fetal pulmonary circulation to filter bubble formation.” Ever heard of getting “the bends”? As the pressure changes when you come from a deep dive up to the surface, nitrogen bubbles can form in your blood and tissue. But developing fetuses aren’t protected from the nitrogen bubbles, and exposure can lead to neurological damage in both the fetus and the pregnant person.
Doctor-Recommended Pregnancy Exercises
As Dr. Goje said before, exercise in general is safe (and recommended) during pregnancy. Her favorite workouts to recommend to pregnant people:
Elastic bands and resistance training
Doctors recommend these exercises because “they can be performed indoors and outdoors, and each person can start at their own pace and comfort level.” Dr. Goje especially recommends water aerobics and hydrotherapy for pregnant people who are obese, since “[those workouts] involve less impact and destruction of knee and ankle joints.”
What if someone never really exercised before getting pregnant? Can they start getting active while they’re pregnant?
It’s a resounding “YES” from Dr. Goje. Whether it’s been a few months or a few years since you’ve exercised, or if you’ve never exercised before in your life, you can start walking, dancing or cycling while pregnant, and you can do it at your own pace. “Start at 10 minutes a day,” Dr. Goje advises, “and slowly increase to 100-150 minutes a week if you can tolerate it. It could be slow walking, brisk or moderate walking, or dance movements.”
If you’re going to embark on your workout journey while pregnant, there are a few other things you can do to make it as comfortable as possible. Dr. Goje says to “stay hydrated, keep the room cool, and not get overheated, especially if morbidly obese. Wear loose clothes and good sports shoes.”
Whatever exercises you decide to start with, “make it fun,” Dr Goje says. Incorporate your family into your walk through your neighborhood, or make them dance with you in your living room (if you have other children, they’ll certainly be willing to join in!).
On the other hand, what if someone was really active before getting pregnant (e.g. marathon runner, weight lifter, triathlete, etc.)? What do you recommend their workouts look like while pregnant?
“Exercise may need to be modified to accommodate anatomic and physiologic changes and fetal requirements,” says Dr. Goje. “Pregnant people [can] experience back pain due to progressive Lordosis [an increased inward curve of the lumbar spine due to a change in center of gravity], and this would make them adjust how they stand so they don’t lose their balance.”
If you’re used to positioning your body a certain way as an athlete, having extra weight, a growing pregnant belly and an altered center of gravity can throw you off your game. Make adjustments to accommodate your new body, and “when in doubt, consult with your obstetric provider about how much exercise is too much.”
Online Prenatal Workouts
If you’re the type of person who prefers workout videos over going it solo, you’re in luck. All of the workouts Dr. Goje recommends and more are available online (some for free!) with an instructor to guide you through. Here are some of our favorites:
Peloton’s prenatal workouts 4 feature head instructor Robin Arzón during her pregnancy as she leads you through modified exercises that are low-impact and pregnancy-safe. A membership with Peloton equipment is $39/month, or you can have a digital-only membership (no equipment required; just use your cellphone, tablet, or TV) for $13/month.
Anna Renderer’s Sexy Confident Mama 1 series offers seven 20- to 40-minute workout videos led by the former Popsugar Fitness host herself. It also includes access to meal plans, postpartum workouts, and live chats with Anna for $27/month. Not sure you want to commit? You can give the workouts a trial run for free 2
Glo, the well-loved online yoga and pilates studio, features prenatal yoga instruction that incorporates stretching, resistance training, and more exercises that are perfect for getting active during pregnancy. Just select “prenatal” on the quiz and tailor your workouts for your needs. It costs $18/month, but you can try it free for 15 days.
obé is known for being a high-energy hub for all types of workouts, but did you know they offer pregnancy exercises, too? You can get access to all 24 of their fun, vibrant, pregnancy-safe workouts for $27/month (or less if you pay annually), and they offer a seven-day free trial3 .