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4 Ways You Need to Change Your Workout When You Get Pregnant

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Photo: Lyubov Levitskaya/Shutterstock.com

As long as you’ve got the all clear from your doctor—a must for all pregnant women, regardless of your fitness level—you can keep on with your gym routine. Regular exercise can help reduce back pain, promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy, and reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or having a C-section, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Of course, you do need to take it a little slower with exercise and listen to your body,” says Diana Ramos, M.D., an adjunct assistant clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the Keck USC School of Medicine. Here’s all the news to stay strong for those nine months.

Grab Smaller Dumbbells (But Keep Lifting!)

Research in the journal Physical Activity and Health shows that women who did moderate-intensity resistance training plus aerobic exercise (about three days a week for 30 minutes at a time) had lower rates of pregnancy-related hypertension and diabetes compared with those who didn’t lift. Just don’t hold your breath or hoist a load to the point of straining—both of which can create extra pressure in the abdominal area and pelvic floor, says Brianna Battles, a strength and conditioning coach and the founder of the Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism program. (Related: The Top 5 Exercises Every Mom-to-Be Should Do)

Switch to the Talk Test

Pregnancy creates changes throughout your cardiovascular system, so monitoring heart rate with a tracking gadget isn’t the best way to assess how hard you’re working, says Carrie Pagliano, a doctor of physical therapy and a board-certified clinical specialist in women’s health physical therapy. Instead, use the talk test and dial down your intensity to moderate. “If it takes you more than a minute to catch your breath and hold a normal conversation, you are probably working too hard,” says Pagliano. (Here's more on How to Modify Group Fitness Classes When You're Pregnant.)

Take It Easy On Your Abs

“During pregnancy, you really don’t need to do ab-focused exercises—in fact, at some point they can do more harm than good,” says Battles. Chalk that up to your expanding belly. “The fascia of the linea alba [connective tissue that runs down the midline of the abdominal wall] has to make room for your growing baby, and crunches will add pressure to an area that’s already under stress,” she explains. Besides, being in a face-up position is not advised after the first trimester (unless you use a wedge to prop yourself up), since your expanding uterus can compress the vena cava, the major vessel that brings blood to the heart. As for planks, they can increase downward pressure on abs. Instead, doing lunges and squats should work your abs (and pelvic floor) sufficiently, says Battles. (Or try these 7 Prenatal Pilates Exercises to Safely Strengthen Your Core During Pregnancy.)

Take a Break from High-Impact

It’s not bad for baby—in a healthy pregnancy, she’s got plenty of cushioning—but your pelvic floor can be at risk, says Battles. Too much impact can intensify the downward pressure on these muscles, setting you up for potential complications like incontinence or other issues with weakened pelvic support. (Instead, hit up a barre class. After all, that's Pippa Middleton's pregnancy workout of choice.) 

9 Reasons to *Stop* Your Workout When Pregnant

Back off and call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • Pain (especially chest pain)
  • Dizziness
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Regular, painful contractions
  • Labored breathing (before exertion)
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness that affects your balance
  • Calf pain or swelling

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