Frequency (How often you should exercise)
This is determined by your pre-pregnancy activity level and other health factors.
-If you were very active before, then you should be able to continue your exercise regimen given that you are feeling well and are following appropriate safety measures.
-If you did not exercise before pregnancy, it is recommended that you build up your activity level to more frequent exercise. Once you are cleared by your doctor, you can begin exercising 2-3 time a week, and work your way up to exercising on most days of the week.
-It is recommended that you exercise for shorter periods of time, a few days a week rather than trying to fit in a long exercise session once or twice a week. This will help improve your muscle memory, your muscle tone and strength, your endurance, and balance.
Intensity (How hard you should exercise)
This is determined by your pre-pregnancy activity level and other health factors
-Low to moderate intensity of exercise is recommended for most women who did not exercise pre-pregnancy
-The point of exercising during pregnancy is not to lose weight, become a bodybuilder, or triathlete. You are exercising to keep your body strong and healthy while you carry your baby, to help during the birthing process, and to help you get back to shape once you have your baby. That being said, you don’t want to lift heavy weights, perform strenuous exercise, and do something that will leave you feeling breathless and uncomfortable.
-You want to exercise at a steady pace so that you are still able to talk while you are exercising. You want to be able to always control your breathing, so any exercise that makes you hold your breath or feel faint, is probably something you will want to make easier or discontinue until you can do it safely.
Time (How long you should exercise)
-Studies have shown that you get better results from shorter, more frequent sessions, rather than longer sessions once or twice a week.
-10-30 minutes of exercise a day is enough to leave lasting effects on your body.
-You can break up your exercise into 2- 15 minute sessions a day.
-Optimally you want to be exercising 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day
Type (What type of exercise is best for you)
-There are many types of exercises that are safe for pregnant women.
-Walking: Simple, can be done almost anywhere, easy on your joints
-Swimming: Helps keep your body toned, does not put extra weight or stress on your joints
-Prenatal Yoga: Easy on the body, helps with breathing
-Prenatal Pilates: Helps with core strengthening
-Dancing: Good way to get your heart rate up and keep active; avoid excess spinning and jumping
-Light weights: Help with muscle strengthening, muscle tone, muscle endurance
-Physioball exercises: Incorporates balance, strengthening, endurance, and provides an alternative to being on the floor while exercising
-Pelvic exercises: Helps improve pelvic floor muscles to help with incontinence (during and after pregnancy), help with labor and delivery
-Strengthening Exercises for large and small muscle groups are great for your body as long as you are being safe and do not put a strain on your body.
-Avoid any exercise that involves excessive jumping, hopping, or bouncing
-Avoid any exercise that has a risk of you falling or getting injured
-Stretching before, during, or after exercise is a touchy subject because your body is flooded with hormones (Relaxin) that help relax your muscles and joints, especially in your pelvic area. This can lead to instability and a higher chance of injuring yourself. If you chose to stretch, do so with caution and awareness that your body is already doing some of the stretching for you due to the hormones and changes you are going through.
-ALWAYS listen to your body. Do what feels good, and if it feels painful, uncomfortable, or something is not right, then stop what you are doing.
What to avoid during pregnancy:
-Activities that increase the risk of falling
-Activities that can cause trauma to your abdomen
-Intense jumping, bouncing, or hopping
-Intense stretching, or bouncing while stretching (your body is full of hormones that promotes relaxation of muscles, so its easier to get injured while stretching)
-Exercising in hot, humid conditions
-Holding your breath for an extended period of time, or not breathing correctly through exercises
-Exercising to the point of exhaustion; you should be able to keep a conversation while exercising, or not be out of breath during activities
-Laying on your back for prolonged periods of time; after the first trimester, your baby can put pressure on your inferior vena cava, and decrease blood supply to you as well as the baby itself
Tips during exercise:
-Drink plenty of water during and after activities
-Make sure you are eating enough calories to restore the nutrients and calories you are losing while exercising; you aren’t exercising to lose weight while you are pregnant, although exercising after the baby is born will help with weight loss.
-After activities, which require you to be on the floor, get up slowly to prevent dizziness
Important to remember:
-Your joints are more flexible due to hormones which cause muscles to relax, so be very careful if you chose to do some stretches.
-Center of gravity might be shifted due to extra weight from the front, which will affect your balance
-Extra weight and nutritional/ physical demands cause your body to work harder than before you were pregnant. This means that you will become tired quicker and have less energy. (Exercising will help improve your energy levels over time)
-When you exercise, blood flow shifts from internal organs to the muscles, lungs and heart. This means that less blood flow is going to your uterus (and your baby), so you need to be careful that you do not over-exercise and maintain a healthy heart rate so that your baby is still getting the proper oxygen amount.
While exercising and staying active during pregnancy is often encouraged, it is important that you check with your OBGYN first; especially if you have a high risk pregnancy or have not exercised prior to becoming pregnant.
If you normally get little to no exercise, walking 30 minutes a day is a good way to start getting active. Walking is usually safe because it does not put too much pressure on your joints and still gives you a full body workout.
Exercise helps with:
-Strengthening and preparing your body for all the changes it will go through (from pregnancy, birthing, to post-pregnancy)
-Regulating blood sugar
-Regulating blood pressure
-Easing back pain
-Strengthening your cardiovascular system (improved circulation helps prevent hemorrhoids, varicose veins, leg cramps, and ankle swelling)
-Strengthens the respiratory system
-Improving metabolism and digestion (helps prevent constipation)
-Improving sleep quality
-Preparing your body for a quicker recovery after delivery
Elina Skripochnik PT, DPT, CSCS
Elina is a Physical Therapist with experience in women's health and pediatrics. She aims to educate women on the importance of becoming and staying active during pregnancy, as well as to provide safe and easy exercises that can be done throughout pregnancy and beyond.