Exercising While You’re Pregnant

By Megan Merkle
A pregnant woman stands mid hike and gazes out at scenery while holding walking sticks

With so many information sources in the media, many expecting mothers may suddenly find themselves overwhelmed with questions surrounding their pregnancy, specifically when it comes to their exercise routines. Is it OK to keep exercising while pregnant? How soon should I discontinue my exercise routine? Will exercising hurt my baby? What modifications can I make to maintain my current program? It is widely known that regular exercise positively benefits any woman, but how will it affect your baby?

Can I exercise while pregnant?

Many research studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise during pregnancy can have positive outcomes for both mother and baby. Babies born to mothers who continued a regular exercise program consistently have a higher muscle mass percentage and less body fat. Mothers who continue a regular exercise program often report feeling happier, healthier and more confident about their bodies than those who do not exercise while pregnant.

Clinically, exercise during pregnancy can reduce the incidence of preeclampsia in mothers, a potentially dangerous condition in the mother and child marked by high blood pressure and protein found in urine. While there is vast research on the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, many mothers still find themselves wondering, what is the best way to exercise while pregnant?

How to modify your workout routine

Physicians report that women who have followed a regular exercise program prior to conceiving can typically maintain that exercise program with minor modifications, even up to the very last week! These modifications include the following:

1. Pregnant women should avoid contact sports during all trimesters.

2. For avid trail runners, doctors recommend that women who are pregnant try to avoid excessively rocky or uneven surfaces. Since the joints become very flexible during pregnancy, risk of injury (think ankle sprains) increases.

3. While exercising, women should wear supportive footwear to minimize injury and maximize comfort.

4. Most importantly, women should monitor their hydration levels and nutrition to ensure adequate fluids and fuel are being delivered to their child.

5. Avoiding exercise in hot or humid environments is encouraged when possible, and women should not exercise to the point of exhaustion or dehydration.

What about the third trimester?

Generally speaking, regular exercise can be continued. But what about in the third trimester, when your body begins to change so much that just getting up out of bed requires an act of Congress? Small modifications to your exercises can help minimize any chance of injury to your baby. Women in their second and third trimesters should typically aim for more non-weight bearing exercise (i.e., biking, swimming, elliptical trainers, etc.) to decrease impact on the joints. During the third trimester, women should avoid doing any exercise that involves lying on your back, as this increases the pressure on the placenta, thereby decreasing blood flow to the child. Avoid lifting weights over your head, and focus on strengthening the upper torso, specifically the back muscles.

Overall, research suggests a regular exercise program can be very beneficial to both mother and baby. Remember to listen to your body – stay hydrated and stop when you become too fatigued. Wear supportive footwear, avoid dangerous situations and keep your intensity at a low to moderate level, especially in the final weeks. Continuing your exercise routine during pregnancy can help give you and your baby a happier, healthier beginning.

Megan Merkle, CPT, is studying Applied Physiology and Kinesiology. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and focuses on weight loss strategies, functional training and metabolic conditioning. Megan enjoys working out, reading, and running with her dog, Olliver.