This post was created in collaboration with Sari Diskin.
There is a lot of confusing and contradictory information out there on exercising during pregnancy. In this post, I’m going to spell out for you the “do’s” and “don’ts” of prenatal exercise.
Is It Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?
Yes! Research shows that being physically active is a key piece of a healthy pregnancy for most moms-to-be. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada states that women with uncomplicated pregnancies can begin an exercise routine in any trimester. However, certain contraindications do exist for pregnant women. Always check with your primary healthcare provider prior to engaging in an exercise program.
What if I Have Never Exercised Before? Can I Still Exercise During my Pregnancy?
As long as you have been given the “all-clear” by your doctor, it is recommended that all women begin an exercise program during pregnancy, even if you have never exercised in the past.
How Much Time Do I Need to Spend Exercising?
You should aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. These 150 minutes should be split up across 3 or more days (i.e., 30 minutes x 5 days a week, or 50 minutes x 3 days a week). Remember that something is always better than nothing. If you can only manage 10 minutes a day, there are still huge benefits compared to 0 minutes a day!
How Hard Should I Exercise During My Pregnancy?
The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology recommends exercising at a moderate intensity level. An easy way to check whether you are in the moderate intensity zone is through the “talk test”. As the name implies, you should be able to maintain a conversation during physical activity. If you are too out of breath to maintain a conversation, it is recommended that you reduce your exercise intensity. If you would like to exercise at a higher level of intensity, speak to your primary care provider to discuss the risks and benefits prior to increasing your exercise intensity.
What Exercises Should I Avoid During Pregnancy?
- Aim to avoid exercises that put excessive downward pressure on your pelvic floor, such as sit ups/crunches.
- Avoid exercises associated with increased risk of falling or physical contact, such as skiing, horseback riding, or contact sports.
- Avoid exercising in hot/humid environments.
- If you experience light-headedness, nausea, or feel unwell when exercising on your back, modify your position to avoid lying on your back.
- Be cautious about: planks/core exercises (these should be done with proper form, minimizing any abdominal coning/doming), and running/jumping (should only be done as tolerated).
Additional Safety Considerations:
Stop exercising and contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
- Excessive shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Painful uterine contractions (more than 6-8/hour)
- Vaginal bleeding
- Any “gush” of fluid from vagina
- Dizziness or feeling faint
What Muscles Should I Work During Pregnancy?
- Core (abdominal muscles): These muscles are important for balance, preventing low back and pelvic girdle pain, strengthening muscles involved in labour, and injury prevention. They may also help to improve core function and allow for a faster return to baseline fitness levels postpartum. Talk to a qualified exercise professional or pelvic floor physiotherapist to learn how to engage your core safely, and without putting excessive downward pressure on your pelvic floor.
- Back muscles: These are important for good posture, as well as back and shoulder health.
- Glutes/legs: Work these muscles to prevent back and pelvic pain, promote pelvic stability, and prevent development of varicose veins.
- Arm muscles: These muscles are important to prepare and strengthen for lifting and carrying your baby and equipment (e.g., car seat, stroller).
- Moderate intensity cardiovascular exercises: This is important to decrease the risk of adverse pregnancy complications (e.g., gestational diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia, perinatal depression), support healthy pregnancy weight gain, and help with stamina during labour and delivery.
Some Final Thoughts:
Try not to be too rigid in your expectations of how you want to exercise during pregnancy. This will likely look very different than your pre-pregnancy routine! Your body will change and adapt in ways that you cannot plan for. Your job is to listen to your body’s cues and just do the best you can.
There is so much to be discussed about prenatal exercise, and this blog post is far from an exhaustive list. You can enroll in The Prenatal Academy here for an 8-week strength training program for safe exercise during any trimester of pregnancy.
Mottola MF, Davenport MH, Ruchat S-M, et al. 2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1339–46.doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-100056pmid:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30337460
Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your health care provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being, and prior to participating in an exercise program.