When I was pregnant with Benji I often felt overwhelmed with the “what to do / what not to do” when it came to exercise. Google can be overwhelming sometimes, especially when it comes to recommendations for pregnancy.
There were days I felt amazing, and other days I took it easy, laid low, and ate cereal and milk from the comfort of my couch (biggest craving in my second trimester). I wanted so badly to continue with my high intensity workouts, yet also knew I needed to “listen to my body” (confusing in itself).
One of the biggest questions I’ve found when researching pregnancy fitness is – is it safe to continue movement through all three trimesters?
Exercise during Pregnancy
Generally speaking, exercise during pregnancy offers tons of benefits. In addition to making your body stronger and improving your mood, regular movement helps you manage the physical changes occurring in your body, and prepares you for labor and recovery.
Some benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy:
- Improves posture and alignment
- Reduces discomfort of pregnancy weight gain
- Helps maintain baby in a good position
- Eases labor, delivery, and recovery
- Improves stability, strength, and movement
- Disperses body stress throughout the body and minimizes strain on lower back
- Preparation for the demands of motherhood (activities of daily living)
Do What You’ve Always Done
You may have heard, “Just keep doing what you’ve always done, but don’t start anything new.” I can’t say I entirely agree with this. Yes, if you were serious about working out prior to pregnancy you may be able to continue (assuming no contraindications) with your current level of intensity. However, there will be adjustments you need to make along the way, especially as belly grows. I like to remind myself and clients that just because we CAN doesn’t always mean we SHOULD. Staying in tune to any pain, pressure, peeing (leaking), and peaking (coning/doming) is important. Athlete brain is a thing, and we can be tempted to push through it.
On the other hand, pregnancy is also a great time to begin an exercise regime. I always encourage mamas to first review a new exercise program with a healthcare provider to get the go-ahead. Once you get the thumbs up, focus on movement for 10-15 minutes, and start adding a bit more over time. A reasonable goal is to work up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most or all days of the week, as recommended by ACOG.
Take It Easy
I’ve often heard women encouraged to simply walk and do yoga throughout their pregnancy. While I think prenatal yoga and walking is great as part of your prenatal exercise routine, adding strength training and cardiovascular training comes with many benefits, including those mentioned above.
The “Best Exercises” for Pregnancy
What are “the best” exercises? Well, that really depends on your goal.
- Improving, or maintaining cardiovascular fitness?
- Managing weight gain?
- Pelvic floor and core function?
- Strength to support the demands of motherhood and a changing body?
You have to choose the right training plan to help you reach these goals. For example, pelvic floor and core strengthening are important throughout pregnancy for every mama-to-be, but these exercises will not improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Top 10 Exercises During Pregnancy
Below are a few of my favorite exercises for pregnant women. Exercises are bucketed into four categories: Breath, Glutes, Upper Back, and Core. As our center of gravity shifts and belly is pulled forward, it becomes even more important to integrate breath with movement and work the posterior side of the body.
- Connection Breath
- Supine Glute Bridge
- Supine Elevated Glute Bridge
- Hip Thrust
- Band Pull Apart
- Band Single Arm Row
- Single Arm Elevated Dumbbell Row
- Half Kneeling Pallof Press
- Side Plank
Connection Breath: The connection breath is recommended for all trimesters in pregnancy. Proper breath will help keep your core and pelvic floor healthy during pregnancy, and set us up for labor and recovery postpartum. I recommended practicing this breath seated during pregnancy, in a spot where you can feel your sit bones rooted in the seat below. Note that in the third trimester we minimize the pelvic floor contractions/kegels during the connection breath. At this stage we are training the pelvic floor how to relax and release.
Strong glutes throughout pregnancy will keep the pelvis and low back nice and supported as pressure and growth of the baby increases.
Supine Glute Bridge
Elevated Glute Bridge
*Note that feet can be straight or slightly turned out to make room for belly 🙂
There are a ton of upper body exercises to choose from, but during the pregnancy I like to stick to the basics – they work! Training the back muscles and the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades are essential for supporting posture during pregnancy.
Band Pull Apart
Split Stance Single Arm Band Row
Elevated Single Arm Dumbbell Row
*I recommend adding a bit of elevation with an incline bench starting in the second trimester.
Lat Pulldowns / Pull-Ups
*Note: I recommend swapping out pull-ups for lat pulldowns in the second trimester.
Core training can be tricky to navigate throughout pregnancy. And while there are specific exercises I recommend for different trimesters, below are two exercises you can complete throughout your pregnancy.
**Assuming these exercises feel good in your core/pelvis and you do not experience any of the Four P’s: Peaking, Pressure, Pain, Peeing.
Half Kneeling Pallof Press
No matter what exercises you choose during pregnancy, it is important to be consistent, listen to your body, and adjust as pregnancy progresses. Number one is keeping you and baby safe.
As always, feel good mama <3
Disclaimer: Information presented in this article is meant to educate and inform. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your doctor or other qualified health professional before implementing any new exercise program.