Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy isn’t an acceptable excuse to miss out on a sweat session. Women are often worried that exercise may hurt the baby or fatigue the body, but staying fit and healthy before, during and after having a baby actually requires regular exercise.
“While it’s not a great idea to initiate a new exercise regimen during pregnancy, continuing and modifying what you already do—with a few caveats—is probably going to make you feel a lot better,” explains LivingHealthy expert Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD. “It will contribute to a healthier pregnancy for both body and mind and may also contribute to a smoother labor,” says the Beverly Hills-based ob-gyn.
But for all you independent exercisers out there with your structured routines, Gilberg-Lenz may have some bad news for you. While it’s very possible that you can continue your workout of choice, you will probably have to make some modifications to accommodate your changing body and growing bump.
Definitely consult a pregnancy-trained or certified personal trainer to get some guidance, advises Gilberg-Lenz. “While reports of maximum heart rates during exercise are entirely bogus and not evidence-based, pregnant women should exercise to their own personal level of tolerance, period,” she explains. “Just like when you aren’t pregnant, if you feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseous, or have chest pain, you need to stop!”
9 Pregnancy-Friendly Workouts
What it’s good for: Prenatal yoga is a great mind-body workout for expectant mothers, helping to improve flexibility, stamina and balance as well calming the mind through meditative exercises.
Tips: If you are a regular yogi, talk to your instructor about whether your current class is still right for you. If you’re doing any variation of hot yoga, stop immediately! Most hot yoga rooms are kept between 90 and 105 degrees with 60 to 70 percent humidity; pregnant women are supposed to keep their core body temperature under 102 degrees. “Switch to prenatal or have your experienced teacher help with modifications,” suggests Gilberg-Lenz.
What it’s good for: Pilates is great for pregnancy-related hip and back pain as well as easing labor. “In Pilates, every move you do is low impact and works the lower abs, which are what you use to push the baby out,” explains LivingHealthy expert Nonna Gleyzer, who trained Stacy Keibler and Gisele Bündchen during pregnancy. She adds that Pilates strengthens your muscles from the inside out, which means you won’t see results as fast as you would with weight lifting, but the results are sustaining and the muscle memory lasts longer, making it easier for your body to bounce back after birth.
Tips: “I recommend someone start Pilates either during or right after the end of their first trimester,” Gleyzer says. You can continue with a regular regimen until you’re four or five months along, then your exercises will need to be modified to avoid working out on your back, which can be dangerous. Also, because estrogen is so high during pregnancy, you should avoid holding stretch positions for long periods of time as well as working out so hard that your body temperature rises too high.
What it’s good for: Gilberg-Lenz recommends this system (based on yoga, tai chi, swimming and dance) for pregnancy-related upper body stiffness as well as hip and back pain. “This system is excellent for a pregnant woman because it assists in free movement of the spine and legs, while offering the external support she needs to relieve the weight of pregnancy,” explains Leda Franklin, owner of Gyrotonic in the Fields. “It is especially helpful to relieve water retention, sciatica and overall tiredness, and to prevent varicose veins.”
Tips: Try Gyrotonics after pregnancy as well. “Gyrotonics is especially effective to help a woman get back in shape after pregnancy, because it supports strengthening the core from the inside out, and strengthens the pelvic floor through movement rather than tension,” Franklin says. “Strengthening the pelvic floor with movement helps women regain functional strength and control of their bladder after pregnancy.”
What it’s good for: SoulCycle junkies, rejoice! If you were a spinner before, you can continue cycling your way into pregnancy. “SoulCycle is a great source of exercise during pregnancy, offering an efficient workout while letting you be mindful of your changing body and the baby,” explains instructor and expectant mother Lindsay Buckley. Temperatures can be regulated, bike settings can be altered, impact can be dramatically decreased, and any tweaks or adjustments are encouraged.
Tips: Buckley suggests the one-on-one-off approach for her pregnant riders, meaning that they commit to one song, but then take a break for the next one. This brief rest allows for a mini recovery while maintaining a steady heart rate, consistent momentum and still being part of the class. As your baby bump grows, ask a staff member to adjust your bike settings (such as the seat and the handlebars) to maintain comfort. “Most of all, pregnant riders should keep in mind that if something doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct,” Buckley says. “There are particular moves that may have been favorites. However, once you have a baby on board, you may notice that those moves do not serve your body the same way.”
What it’s good for: A combination of Pilates, yoga and ballet, barre-type classes are a great low-impact, toning workout for expectant mothers. “Xtend Barre is a safe and fun way to stay active during pregnancy, toning your thighs, glutes and arms. We offer non-impact options while including cardio and toning,” explains Lora Banner, studio manager of Xtend Barre West Hollywood. “All of our instructors are trained in prenatal modifications and will give the mommies different exercises to do doing the core section.”
Tips: Along with getting permission from your doctor (before signing up) to exercise lying on your back or side, Banner suggests staying hydrated and minimizing (or eliminating) crunching and twisting movements during class.
What it’s good for: Weights are great for women who have engaged in some form of strength training before they got pregnant, says LivingHealthy expert Ramona Braganza, who has trained celebrities like Halle Berry and Jessica Alba during their pregnancies. “Women who do weights when pregnant find they can maintain a mental stamina during childbirth, have decreased pain and pregnancy discomfort, and have improved physical stamina for everyday chores as well as the birth,” she explains.
Tips: Squats, lunges and step-ups are great for lower body strength and help ease delivery. Working on the postural and shoulder muscles counters heavy breasts and require only your own body weight or small weights—even water bottles will work!
What it’s good for: In addition to burning calories and keeping your body toned, getting outside for some fresh air via a walk or hike will give you peace and tranquility by being in contact with nature and something bigger than you and your daily concerns, says Gilberg-Lenz. Adds Braganza, “It will also strengthen important lower limbs and core muscles, not to mention condition your cardiovascular body, which will help in the overall physical stamina needed during childbirth.”
Tips: Pace yourself and be very aware of your body’s limits. Do not attempt a long, grueling hike or walk, especially when it’s hot or humid.
What it’s good for: If running is part of your regimen, then continue as long as you can. However, you may have to slow down over the course of the pregnancy, according to Gilberg-Lenz.
Tips: “Make sure to remain hydrated throughout the run to avoid exertion,” advises Braganza.
What it’s good for: Jumping in the water and swimming laps will not only provide the comforting feeling of weightlessness up to the very end of pregnancy, but it’s also great for cardio health, says Gilberg-Lenz. Braganza adds that swimming is even safe for women who are not fitness-oriented or did not work out before becoming pregnant.
Tips: Enjoy the pool, but avoid jumping in the Jacuzzi after your swim. Water temperature above 98 degrees is a no-no for moms-to-be, as hot water can reduce blood flow to the baby.
As for pregnancy-unfriendly workouts, Gilberg-Lenz lists hot yoga—“or anything in a room where your body’s natural ability to cool itself via sweating is inhibited”—and “workouts that require balance and might result in a fall or injury,” like trapeze, boxing, rock climbing and more strenuous outdoor cycling, as exercises that should be avoided.