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Stay Active With These 7 Pregnancy Exercises

By Laura Scholz
Reviewed by Elizabeth Eden, M.D.
November 01, 2023

Being pregnant doesn’t mean giving up your favorite spin class or morning jog. In fact, there are many benefits of exercise during pregnancy.

“A lot of people think that they shouldn’t be working out, but, in fact, [one of the best things] you can do for the health of yourself and the baby is to incorporate movement into your pregnancy, as long as you feel up to it,” says Megan Roup, founder of the Sculpt Society and a certified pre- and postnatal fitness instructor in New York City.

Kathleen Slugocki, D.O., a board-certified ob-gyn at Women's Healthcare of Illinois, says, “The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are numerous, including easing back and pelvic pain, building endurance for labor and delivery, and giving birth to healthy weight newborns.”

But before starting or maintaining any fitness routine, always consult with your doctor to ensure you’re doing pregnancy-safe workouts. Exercise during pregnancy can be unsafe for those with high-risk pregnancies, such as multiple gestations (twins, triplets, or more), a history of premature labor and/or delivery, or underlying medical illnesses causing reduction of blood flow to the developing fetus.

If exercise during pregnancy is okayed by your doctor, a consistent workout routine is key. This can boost your mood and energy levels, improve sleep, and reduce the risk of complications ranging from gestational diabetes to preeclampsia.

Plus, working up a sweat may be good for the baby, too: a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that babies born to those who exercised during pregnancy tested higher on neuromuscular skills tests, which may mean that prenatal exercise could potentially reduce the risk of childhood obesity, according to researchers.

Whether you’re already an avid exerciser or looking to start a new fitness routine, use these tips to ensure you have a safe and effective pregnancy workout plan.

Choose Pregnancy-Safe Workouts with Moderate Impact and Intensity

safe pregnancy workouts

For those with healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity— enough to elevate the heart rate and work up a sweat—each week.

With the exception of high-risk conditions and pregnancies, Slugocki says those active prior to pregnancy can continue their favorite activities in their pregnancy workout plan, as long as they’re cleared by a physician.

New to working out? Slugocki recommends walking and other low-impact cardio, such as swimming and water aerobics, cycling on a stationary bike, or using an elliptical machine. Prenatal fitness classes, such as yoga and Pilates, taught by certified prenatal instructors are also ideal because they’re designed specifically for pregnant bodies.

Know What Workouts to Avoid When Pregnant

Regardless of fitness level, Slugocki advises against strenuous or potentially dangerous activities like rock climbing and skiing after the first trimester, due to the risk of falling, which could harm you or your fetus. High-contact sports, such as soccer, basketball, and ice hockey, are also considered off-limits.

Additionally, skip hot yoga when pregnant and use caution when exercising outdoors in heat and humidity, which can lead to dehydration, dizziness, and even falls.

Slugocki recommends drinking plenty of water, wearing loose-fitting clothing, and taking breaks as needed during the warmer months. And, if you experience signs of dehydration (lightheadedness, abdominal cramping, back pain), she says you should always stop immediately.

Modify Your Pregnancy Workout Plan as Your Baby Grows

“The more your body changes, the more you will have to modify movements [in your prenatal workout plan],” says Laquisha Rena Smith, a certified personal trainer who is co-owner of Body By Kariim Fitness and founder of Mommy & Me Fitness + Nutrition with L. Rena in Atlanta.

She recommends adjusting the intensity and duration of exercise as your pregnancy progresses. For example, you may need to listen to your body and decrease mileage and add walk breaks into your runs or decrease reps and resistance when weight lifting.

Keep an eye on your balance, too. Relaxin, the pregnancy hormone that loosens ligaments and prepares the body for birth, can make it harder to maintain balance during exercises like box jumps and single-leg deadlifts. Roup suggests using a wall, chair, or countertop for added stability and widening your stance when doing lunges, curtsy squats, and other standing exercises in order to prevent falls.

Find New Ways to Do Core Workouts During Pregnancy

Working your core while pregnant is important because not only can it help with labor and delivery, but a strong core can prevent postnatal complications like diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and incontinence, says Roup.

Despite these benefits of working your core during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid traditional crunches, along with twisting and cross-body movements, which are not only uncomfortable as pregnancy progresses, but can lead to abdominal bulges and separations that actually weaken the core.

Instead, Roup recommends modified planks using a wall or chair for support as well as glute bridges, bird dogs, clamshells, and fire hydrants to build core strength and stability. Smith recommends simple diaphragmatic breathing exercises, both pre- and postpartum. These pregnancy-safe workouts can strengthen abdominal muscles while easing anxiety and stress. (See below for how to do these exercises.)

Ease Back Into Exercise Postpartum

After having your baby, you may want to start a postpartum workout plan, but it’s important to listen to your body (and your mind!) when it comes to timing.

“Many people rush back into exercise as soon as they’re cleared by their doctor, but it’s important to remember that your body just went through major trauma,” says Roup.

Your postpartum workout plan should include lots of low-impact activities. Rather than jumping straight into a high-intensity spin class or hot yoga, opt for gentle movements like walking while pushing the baby in a stroller, light strength training, and modified Pilates and yoga to “help the core strengthen and recover,” she says.

Smith agrees, advising: “Feed and nurture your body and your baby, be gentle with yourself, and understand that the journey back to pre-baby fitness will take time.”

7 Pregnancy-Safe Exercises To Incorporate in Your Prenatal Workout Plan

pregnancy workout plan

Ready to get started? You’re making a great choice for yourself and your baby. Here are seven of the best pregnancy exercises you can try, as long as you get your doctor’s permission first.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 1: Chair-Assisted Reverse Lunge

Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core, and upper back.

Instructions: Place both hands on the back of a chair. Standing tall, step one leg directly backward, bending the knee and shin parallel toward the floor. Return to standing and repeat on the other leg.

Reps: Lunge 10–12 times on each side.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 2: Wall Plank

Muscles worked: chest, arms, upper and lower back, core.

Instructions: Stand at arm’s length away from a wall with feet hip-width apart or wider. Place both palms on the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend the elbows to a 45-degree angle as you move the body in one long line toward the wall, then slowly push back to the starting position.

Reps: Push back 10 times.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 3: Glute Bridge

Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, core.

Instructions: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart with arms resting by your sides. Press into your feet and lift your pelvis and back off the floor until your lower body is in line with your knees. Hold for five seconds, lower, and repeat.

Reps: Repeat 8–10 times.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 4: Bird Dog

Muscles worked: core, hips, back.

Instructions: Start on all fours in a tabletop position, knees directly under your hips and hands directly under your shoulders. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your hips and shoulders parallel to the floor as you raise your right arm and left leg. Hold for five seconds, then switch sides.

Reps: Do this 8–10 times on each side.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 5: Fire Hydrant

Muscles worked: core, hips, glutes.

Instructions: Start on all fours in a tabletop position, knees directly under your hips and hands directly under your shoulders. Keeping your back flat and right leg bent at 90 degrees, lift the right leg out to the side to hip height. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Reps: Do this 10–12 times on each side.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 6: Clamshell

Muscles worked: hips, glutes, and core.

Instructions: Lie on one side, legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle with your head resting on your lower arm. Place a rolled-up towel under your rib cage if needed. Keeping your feet touching, rotate the top hip open, lifting the knee toward the ceiling while keeping the hips stacked, then lower. Repeat on the other side.

Reps: Repeat 15-20 times on each side.

Pregnancy-Safe Exercise 7: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Muscles worked: core.

Instructions: Sit or lie down. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Inhale through your nose as your belly and sides of your waist expand. Hold for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth as your belly gently contracts.

Reps: Repeat 5–8 times.

Following an Ideal Pregnancy Workout Plan

When it comes to exercise during pregnancy, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Just like every pregnancy is unique and different, every pregnant person will have different needs, desires, and skill levels to consider.

As you create your pregnancy workout plan, choose activities you enjoy and are motivated to do. Check with your doctor if you’re starting anything new. And always listen to your body. Adapt your plan based on how you’re feeling and the changes you’re experiencing.

Squeezing in a prenatal exercise routine of at least 150 minutes a week can be a challenge, but it’s worth it for all the benefits it offers to you and your baby.

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