Pregnancy is such an exciting and special time. And if now is your time, congratulations! I have some extra good news for you: you don’t need to be wrapped up in cotton wool for the next nine months – with the right guidance and approvals from your doctor, you can work out while pregnant.
During my second pregnancy, I’ve received many messages on social media from people shocked to see that I’m still exercising and using weights. And over the years so many women have asked me, “Is it safe to exercise while I’m pregnant?”. Of course it’s natural for us, as pregnant women, to have these concerns. Safety should always be your highest priority during pregnancy, and if you have underlying conditions or you are ever uncertain about any element of your health and fitness, I implore you to speak with your doctor.
I’ve worked closely with a Prenatal Exercise Physiotherapist and an Exercise Physiologist to establish safe exercise habits during both of my pregnancies, and a combination of their guidance and my own extensive fitness experience (which includes prenatal exercise training) has placed me in a good position to maintain a really active lifestyle throughout both terms. And now I want to share that knowledge with you!
While pregnancy is not the time to be chasing major body composition goals like getting lean or strong, or taking on a new style of working out, it is not an illness! Putting healthy practices into place will help you maintain your fitness and feel good. Plus, the benefits of exercise while pregnant don’t just apply to your 9 months of carrying bub, but also during delivery and when you have a little human to look after. Your body is about to go through some amazing changes over the coming months, so it’s not quite training as usual. You’ll need to make a few changes to your workouts and modify some exercises, too – because touching your toes with a third-trimester sized bump is near impossible!
So let’s talk through what you can expect during your pregnancy, and how to stay safe while staying active.
Should I check with my doctor first?
Yes! Your safety and that of your baby is your top priority, so checking with your GP or obstetrician and getting the all-clear before starting any pregnancy exercise program is definitely a must. If you’re not sure, discuss your exercise options with your doctor and have them approve a safe pregnancy workout option.
It’s important to listen to your body throughout each trimester – even if this is not your first baby, every pregnancy is different and things change with every stage of pregnancy. If you ever feel dizzy, in pain, lightheaded, nauseous, out of breath or unwell when you’re exercising, stop straight away and consult your doctor.
What body changes can I expect and how will this impact exercise?
Once you know what changes to expect throughout pregnancy, you can navigate your way through exercise in a safe and effective way.
Pregnancy hormones will be at play from trimester one, which means you might find your coordination during exercise becomes a bit clumsy.
There are cheeky hormones that relax your ligaments that stabilise your joints throughout your pregnancy – meaning resistance exercises become more challenging and your previous strength gains will naturally plateau.
An increase in progesterone and estrogen helps your baby to develop and grow, and in turn brings about weight gain throughout pregnancy – so if you notice that bodyweight exercises have become harder, remember that you are carrying more weight now than your pre-pregnancy body.
On top of that, you will experience an increase in blood volume during pregnancy which makes your heart rate rise quicker during exercise and requires increased oxygen intake, making you feel a little more out of breath than usual.
You can allow for these changes during exercise by making a few simple modifications:
Take your time to set up an exercise correctly.
Slow down, maintain good form and don’t rush through your workouts.
Lower your weights or opt for bodyweight exercises when you need to.
Warm up for a little longer to look after your joints and ligaments.
Take longer rest breaks between exercises to catch your breath.
Take a little extra time to cool down after exercise.
What happens in trimester two and three?
As your pregnancy moves on, there will be new practicalities around staying active with a growing bump! You might need to sit down to complete an exercise, take a wider stance for lower-body movements, take your hands wider for some upper-body exercises, or reduce the range of movement. You can also prop your upper-body slightly upright with pillows when you’re doing any exercises lying on your back – we don’t want the weight of your growing bump to restrict blood flow. Any ‘bent over’ exercises will probably become more of a ‘lean forward’, too.
If you’re laying down on your back for floor work, prop your upper-body slightly upright with pillows – we don’t want the weight of your growing bump to restrict blood flow. And doing isolated core work while lying on your back is a no-no during your later trimesters. Read on to find out why.
What about core exercises during pregnancy?
While maintaining your overall fitness is beneficial during your pregnancy, a strong core is particularly valuable – reducing the risk of back pain and potentially contributing to a faster postnatal recovery.
However, after the end of your first trimester, you'll need to avoid traditional crunch-style exercises or core work lying on your back. Why? By not doing these moves, you prevent two things from happening: your enlarged uterus can compress the inferior vena cava (the vein that carries blood to your heart) and restrict circulation to you and your baby, while any advanced abdominal moves can cause muscle separation in your front abdomen or diastasis recti.
So, can you work out while pregnant? Yes, with approval from your doctor, plus modifications for safety and practicality in your workouts, there is no reason you can’t continue to exercise while pregnant – whether you do it at home, at the gym, using weights, or bodyweight.
Don’t forget, in any pregnancy workout safety is your top priority. If you feel any pain, dizziness, nausea or discomfort when exercising, please stop straight away and consult your doctor or obstetrician as soon as you can.
Emily Skye is a strength training expert and the face of FIT, the digital fitness app that helps women worldwide build strength and confidence, stay active through pregnancy and rebuild post-pregnancy. Emily holds a Certificate IV in Fitness and Master Trainer qualification from the Australian Institute of Fitness. She is also co-founder of James Cosmetics and a mother of two.
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