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Exercises To Try — and Avoid During Pregnancy

Posted July 05, 2022 by Diana Mong, M.D., FACOG

Pregnant woman leaning on an exercise ball

When you’re expecting, it’s especially important to keep moving. Exercise is an important part of a healthy pregnancy and offers big benefits for both you and your baby, such as:

  • Boosts energy levels and makes you feel better by releasing endorphins
  • Reduces back pain
  • Eases constipation, bloating and swelling
  • Decreases risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean birth
  • Prevents excess weight gain, which is helpful in regaining your pre-pregnancy body more quickly
  • Improves sleep, while relieving stress and anxiety
  • Promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance, which are all vital in preparing you for labor and delivery

But before you continue your old exercise routine or begin a new one, it’s important to discuss your exercise plans with your healthcare provider early on.

You may need to make a few adjustments to your exercise routine, especially if you’re experiencing complications, such as pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, cervical or placenta problems, early contractions or vaginal bleeding, or if you’re carrying multiples.

Exercises to try while pregnant

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant individuals get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. It’s also a good idea to incorporate strength and flexibility moves to feel your best during pregnancy. 

Your level of exercise will depend, in part, on your level of pre-pregnancy fitness. If you’re new to exercise, start off with as little as 10 minutes a day and gradually increase your activity by 5 minutes each day until you reach 30 minutes. Whether you’re a novice or pro, remember to warm up, stretch and cool down to avoid injury.

A good place to start is brisk walking. Walking enables you to vary the pace, add hills and distance. Plus, it’s a total body workout and is easy on the joints.

Swimming and other water workouts also can be very appealing because it gives you the welcoming feeling of weightlessness, which decreases your risk of injury and muscle strain. Also, water workouts use all of the body’s major muscle groups and places minimal stress on the joints.

Yoga and Pilates also are great exercises during pregnancy, especially those designed with modified poses for pregnant individuals. Yoga reduces stress with focused breathing, improves flexibility and encourages stretching. Pilates increases flexibility, strength and muscle tone with a concentrated focus on the core, which alleviates backaches and can help with labor and delivery.

Just be sure to avoid hot yoga or hot pilates because they may cause you to become overheated.  

Exercises to avoid while pregnant

While pregnant, you’ll want to avoid activities that put you at a higher risk of injury. Hormones released during pregnancy cause the ligaments to relax, which increases your chance of injury. Also, due to the extra weight in front of your body, your center of gravity gets shifted and you can easily lose your balance and fall.

In addition, avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back for an extended period of time. The weight of the growing uterus and baby can press on the main vein that carries blood back to your heart from your lower body region.

For these reasons, most providers recommend pregnant individuals avoid the following:

  • Contact sports, such as soccer, volleyball and basketball
  • Exercises that put you at risk for falling, such as downhill skiing, off-road cycling and gymnastics
  • Activities that force you to bounce heavily, such as horseback riding
  • Scuba diving, which could put your baby at risk of decompression sickness
  • Exercises that put you at higher risk of getting hit in the abdomen, such as kickboxing or ice hockey
  • High-altitude activities

No matter which exercises you and your healthcare provider decide on, remember to drink plenty of water to avoid overheating and dehydration and be sure to listen to your body. Your energy level will vary from day to day, and as baby grows and pushes up on your lungs, it may make it harder to breathe in more air while exercising. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t talk while exercising, you’re doing it too strenuously.

Although you may not always feel like exercising, especially as your pregnancy progresses, stay motivated by keeping the added benefits in mind. Regular exercise can help you cope with the physical changes of pregnancy while building strength and stamina for the challenges ahead.


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