Exercise for pregnancy12 min readReading Time: 8 minutes
When you exercise during pregnancy your overall well being increases, your coping skills for pregnancy discomforts improves, the chance of having a non-complicated birth increases and you’ll heal quicker postpartum. A recommendation for exercise for pregnancy is to aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week at a moderate intensity level.
General advice for pregnancy exercise
When you’re pregnant, change is happening constantly in your body. Therefore it’s important to modify your workout routine, making it appropriate for those changes. Down below are some tips that will help you adjust your workout routine:
- Maintain your fitness, don’t aim to set new personal bests or to improve your fitness. Your ligaments and muscles are getting softer and more relaxed due to the pregnancy hormone “relaxin”. That means your body will become more unstable, hence doing workouts and using weights you are used to is to prefer.
- Listen to yourself rather than listening to others’ recommendations. We are all different due to our own unique set of conditions. Therefore, learn to listen to your body as you exercise. Does it feel good, it probably is good. Does it hurt or feel uncomfortable – reduce the weight, modify the movement or don’t do this specific exercise.
- Don’t try out new sports or new advanced movements. Stick to what you know and are comfortable with.
- Don’t exercise and eat well to get fit or lose weight, do it to stay healthy. Your metabolism will increase, hence it’s important that you’ll get a lot of nutrition, both for your own sake and for the sake of the baby. Read our articles about Safe Pregnancy Diet, Pregnancy Diet and Pregnancy Vitamins for more information!
- In cases you are unsure if something could be harmful to your baby, always be on the safe side.
- However – don’t be afraid to exercise! Exercising during pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby.
What changes are the pregnant body going though?
When you are pregnant your body starts to change and several of the pregnancy adjustments might affect your training in some way.
The amount of blood in the body increases, giving you a faster heart rate and increased breathlessness. You will notice that you are panting with the least effort, which is also a reason to keep the training at a slightly lower intensity level than before.
The pregnancy hormone “relaxin” relaxes the body’s joints making them softer and unstable. Which is why you easily have problems with back pain and pelvic girdle pain. Therefore, it’s good to avoid quick and explosive movements, as well as movements where the pelvis is unevenly loaded, such as for example single leg-press.
When the baby grows the superficial abdominal muscles separate. The split happens more quickly for some than others, but the generall time frame is around the second trimester. It will get important to exercise the inner abdominal muscles for core stability since the abdomen is loosing a lot of stability when the abdomen separates.
The center of gravity shifts forward as the belly grows. This is often compensated for by leaning back, creating a sway back. But avoid this as much as you can. To maintain a good posture during the pregnancy, strengthen the back of your body.
What should I avoid during my pregnancy?
Sports to Avoid
There are certain sports you definitely should not perform as a pregnant woman. All sports that include a high risk of falling or blows to the belly should be avoided. Also sports with a lot of jumping and quick turns or sports that demand great balance should be considered high risk too. Jumping and quick turns will be risky due to the high levels of the hormone relaxin in your body, making your muscles and joints relaxed. Your balance will most likely be affected by the hormone too hence sports demanding a great balance will increase the risk of you falling.
Therefore, all martial arts, extreme sports and ball sports are wise to avoid. Some group workouts or dance workouts may be wise to be careful of too. Diving should also be avoided, due to the changed pressure.
- A lot of jumping
- Super high heart rate levels in the first trimester.
- Extreme stretching. The joints are already soft, lighter stretching and mobility exercises on the other hand are good.
- Heavy load for 1-3 reps. Rather choose a weight adapted for around 10 repetitions.
- Long and heavy workouts.
- Exercise in a very warm climate.
- Exercise at a high altitude.
Lying on your back
As the uterus grows it puts pressure on the blood vessels that pass over the stomach (vein cava) when you are lying on your back. This can cause a drop in blood pressure and reduced blood oxygenation. If you experience a drop in blood pressure when lying on your back you will notice that you become dizzy. Immediately stop exercising on your back and stand up. Also, pay attention if you lie down on your right side as the same blood vessels may be trapped even then.
It’s good to keep the exercise intensity level at a moderate level in your first trimester. There is no certain heart rate limit to adhere to and our personal exercise background will affect how intense we can exercise too. But to be on the safe side, avoid maximum heart rate. A general rule is to aim for an intensity level of a brisk walk.
What should I exercise?
Exercising for pregnancy is about building strength in the muscles needed to carry the weight of the belly and preparing you for childbirth.
Therefore strength training is great when you are pregnant. You should focus extra on strengthening the back of your body as well as the inner abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. Walking, cycling and swimming are also good forms of exercise to improve your stamina. If you have the opportunity to walk in terrain, please do so. Unevenness in the terrain provides very good strength training for the hip and torso.
You can continue running if you are used to it and it feels good. Late in your pregnancy though it might be good to choose bisk walks instead of running. The increasing weight of the baby and the uterus are putting a demanding pressure on the pelvic floor which makes it important to activate your pelvic floor muscles while running. Still, urinary leakage during running is a common problem and this may occur early in pregnancy too.
Keep a slower pace than you are used to and take the time to evaluate how it feels. Changes in the body can happen fast and what felt good the previous day might not feel good today.
Are handstands ok?
The baby moves plenty during the first weeks and it does not know what is up or down. Hence standing on your hands won’t confuse the baby. Anatomically there is also no danger standing on your hands.
At the end of the pregnancy your core will get increasingly unstable and a handstand is very demanding of core stability. If you want to keep doing handstands, make sure to use a wall if you don’t feel 100 percent sure that you’ll manage a handstand.
Exercise for pregnancy – trimester by trimester
Exercise in the first trimester: Week 1-14
Most people are very tired and suffer from nausea during this period, hence exercise might not be a priority. Exercising might help the nausea and tiredness though, but rest a lot and exercise when you feel it’s possible.
Will something feel different? You will most likely reach a high heart rate really quickly and breathe a lot heavier than normally. This is due to the increased blood volume in your body. It’s not dangerous but it will feel different hence it might be good to know about.
Keep the intensity level at a moderate level and get to know your new body. The hormone “relaxin” is peaking for the first time in this trimester, making your muscles and joints soft. Otherwise you can keep exercising as you are used to, just be mindful that the body might have new limitations.
Exercise in the second trimester: Week 15-28
Usually your belly starts to show in this trimester. The nausea may have subsided and you have more energy compared to the previous trimester. But on the other hand you may encounter other pregnancy discomforts such as pelvic girdle pain or back pain. From this trimester and forward it’s good to avoid jumping, quick movements or exercises that strain the pelvis unevenly, eg. single leg-press. Also set aside abdominal exercises for the straight abdominal muscles like sit-ups (some can do planks still, depends on how well you are able to activate your inner abdominals). Focus extra on strengthening the inner abdominal muscles, pelvic floor muscles, hamstrings, gluteus and back muscles.
Exercise in the third trimester: Week 29-40
Now the belly is starting to get really big and in the way! A good adaptation for this trimester is to replace complex exercises with machine exercises instead. Sitting down instead of standing up while doing various exercises is also a good idea since it doesn’t demand as much core stability (the core is getting increasingly unstable the bigger the belly gets).
Continue with strength training, walking and swimming to the extent that feels good. All pregnancies are different so it’s important that you feel what works for you.
What signs tell me to stop exercising?
Stop exercising and consult a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Symptoms of pregnancy poisoning
- Severe headache
Strength training exercises for pregnancy
Here is a list of strength exercises you may do when you are pregnant:
Warm up or stamina exercise
Crosstrainer – Perfect way to warm up. A good substitute for running to!
Rowing machine – Great stamina training. Plus you strengthen the back of the body and improve your posture, which is extra important during pregnancy.
Spinning bike – Great stamina training and leg exercise.
Mobility Exercises – Light mobility exercises are good to include in your workout routine. Make sure to not overdo the stretching do since your body’s muscles and joints are much softer due to the hormone “relaxin”.
Cat and cow – This is a yoga exercise great for your inner abdominals.
Squats – Works well for most people, but don’t go too deep and reduce weights. Squats with dumbbells or kettlebells may be kinder to your back than a barbell if you have back problems. You can scale the exercise “squats” by squatting while you are holding onto rings or squat with a pilates ball against the wall.
Deadlifts – A great exercise for pregnant women – if (!) you have done it before. However, this exercise puts high demand on the back. If you have pelvic girdle pain this exercise might not be for you. Otherwise, keep doing this exercise as long as it feels good, but use lighter weights than normal.
Hip thrust – This exercise is a favorite! It’s gentle on your body while it’s strengthening your hamstrings, gluteus, lower back muscles and inner abdominals. For extra resistance: Add a rubber band over your hips and under your feet.
The greeting dog – Stand on all fours and extend the opposite arm and leg while keeping your core activated (no sway back).
Air squats – Squats with bodyweight only. Exercising big muscle groups is an effective way to increase the intensity in your workout.
Lat pulldown – Back strength is important for your posture.
Row – Brings your shoulders back, improves your posture.
Standing rowing eg. in rings – Good exercise that requires core stability as well as back strength.
Thrusters / Wall balls – Great for stamina and strength.
Kettlebell swings – Fantastic exercise for overall strength.
Standing ring push-ups – This exercise may be challenging. Stand as upright as you have to, to be able to keep your back straight when doing the ring push-ups.
Walk with a weight above your head – Place a weight in one hand and extend that arm straight up above your head, and walk. Great exercise for inner abdominals. Choose a weight you don’t risk dropping.
Farmers walk with a weight – Place a weight in one hand and walk. Don’t compensate by leaning in any direction, keep your hip still. This is also a good exercise for inner abdominal muscles.
Dumbbell side lifts with a forward tilt – Keep your feet in a wide stance giving space for your belly. Either stand or sit down.
Crab walk – Stand on all fours but with the belly pointing up against the roof. Do a complete hip thrust, back parallel with the floor.
Always consult with your doctor or midwife to get an all clear before starting a new workout routine.
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