Which exercises are safe during pregnancy?

In most healthy pregnancies, exercise is safe and recommended to improve the health of mom and baby.

Regular physical activity during pregnancy offers many health benefits, like improved aerobic fitness, weight management, enhanced mood, and a reduced risk of various health conditions.

However, not all exercise is created equal, so understanding which exercises are safe during pregnancy is essential.

Which exercises are safe during pregnancy?

The Canadian guideline recommends pregnant individuals participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (for example, 30 minutes, five times per week). Pregnancy workouts should include aerobic exercises like taking a brisk walk, spinning on a stationary bike, swimming, and strengthening activities.

Pregnant individuals are encouraged to use the talk test to ensure their exercise isn’t too intense. The talk test checks how easily you can speak during the activity. Individuals who want to be active at a higher intensity should consult with their healthcare provider to ensure their safety.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

While exercise is generally safe during pregnancy, there are a few exceptions. These include exercising in excessive heat or humidity, scuba diving, and activities with a collision risk, high impact, or falling. Pregnant women should avoid activities like contact sports, hot yoga or horseback riding.

Pregnant individuals should also ensure good nutrition and enough water during physical activity and modify their positioning if they feel lightheaded, dizzy, or unwell while exercising on their backs.

If you notice red-flag symptoms like pelvic pressure, leaking urine, or pain (like chest pain), stop the activity and seek an assessment from a registered healthcare provider. Pregnancy shifts your center of gravity, so be extra careful when trying complicated moves.

The importance of core exercises during pregnancy

Strengthening your core during pregnancy is crucial to reduce back pain, improving posture and limiting strain on other muscles and joints. A strong core also helps during the pushing stage of labour and delivery and aids in postpartum recovery. Core moves can still elevate your heart rate and help you achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity.

Ab exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Avoid exercises that produce too much pressure through your abdomen during pregnancy. Specifically, when the pressure is more than your body can handle, you’re more likely to develop pelvic floor issues, including diastasis recti (ab separation), incontinence (leaking urine), and pelvic organ prolapse.

If you see a coning or doming shape down the middle of your stomach, there may be too much pressure on your core. Sit-ups are often an exercise to avoid during pregnancy and planks may need to be modified depending on the individual. However, these exercises may be okay if you can appropriately manage the pressure through your abdomen.

What are safe core exercises during pregnancy?  

Choose exercises that engage your core with appropriate pressure to strengthen your core safely during pregnancy. Some examples include the pelvic floor connection breathbird dogs and different plank variations, such as side planks, lie flat plants, incline planks or wall planks.

Pelvic Floor Connection Breath

To perform this exercise, begin by lying on your back. Take a deep breath, allowing your stomach to fill with air and your rib cage to expand. At the same time, relax your pelvic floor muscles (this should feel like letting urine release while sitting on the toilet).

As you exhale, gently lift your pelvic floor muscles (as if you’re stopping the flow of urine) while engaging your lower abdominal muscles. Repeat this exercise three to five times. You can also try this exercise in different positions, such as seated, on all fours or standing. You may even choose to switch your positions as your pregnancy progresses.

Begin positioned on your hands and knees, with your hands placed directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Breathe in and let your pelvic floor muscles relax as you fill your belly with air and expand your rib cage.

As you exhale, engage your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles while lifting your left arm and right leg off the ground, extending them straight out. Lower yourself back down and repeat with the other arm and leg. Repeat this eight to 10 times per side.

Modified Side Plank (on knees)

Lie on your side with your forearm on the mat, ensuring your elbow is directly below your shoulder. Position your bottom knee on the mat and extend your top leg straight.

Inhale and let your stomach fill with air, allowing your rib cage to expand and your pelvic floor muscles to relax. As you exhale, engage your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles while lifting your hip off the ground until your body is in a straight line. Hold at the top for 10 to 15 seconds, then lower back down. Then repeat this plank move on the other side.

Note that each person responds to an exercise differently, especially with the changes to your body and the extra weight from a growing pregnancy. Consult a qualified professional and listen to your body to determine a safe exercise routine for your pregnancy.

What exercises are best during pregnancy?

In addition to strengthening the core muscles, it’s essential to strengthen your arms, back, glutes, and leg muscles. Ultimately, the best prenatal exercises make you feel good and increase blood flow while achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity.

Even small amounts of regular exercise can have significant health benefits for you and your baby if this goal is not attainable. Start small and choose safe activities that encourage you to keep moving throughout your pregnancy.

Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your healthcare provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being.

Jenni founded Jenni Diamond Health, an online platform that provides evidence-based exercise programs for new and expecting moms and birthing individuals. Jenni’s programs help moms and birthing individuals exercise safely during pregnancy and gain postpartum strength, confidence, and energy.

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