Trainers share how to exercise during pregnancy without compromising the health of you or your baby — plus, a prenatal workout that's guaranteed to make you sweat.
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Once the side effects of pregnancy — fatigue, nausea, body aches, and other joys — begin to show up, it's more than understandable if all you'll want to do is wrap yourself up in a blanket cocoon and chill on the couch until you give birth. After all, your body is going through some major changes to accommodate growing a tiny human.

While you should definitely listen to your body, and rest when you want, know that dedicating time to physical activity while pregnant has some great benefits for you and your baby.

Here, trainers share all the benefits of exercising while pregnant, pointers and safety cues to keep in mind while you sweat, and a prenatal workout that's designed to strengthen your back and core, helping to prevent pain and abdominal separation.

The Benefits of Prenatal Workouts

To be clear, exercise during pregnancy is associated with very few risks and has been found to benefit most expectant parents, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In fact, folks who exercise during pregnancy — whether it be through walking, indoor cycling, aerobic activity, or strength training — have been found to have a reduced risk of cesarean delivery and preeclampsia (aka high blood pressure), as well as a shorter postpartum recovery time, per the ACOG.

Regularly breaking a sweat while you're expectant can also help make those 40-ish weeks pass with a little more ease, says Emily Skye, a personal trainer and the creator of the Emily Skye FIT Pregnancy program. "Think of the things that seem daunting about pregnancy: the aching back, swelling, and interrupted sleep," she says. "Consistent exercise can help reduce back pain by maintaining muscle strength and reduce swelling by keeping your circulation running smoothly. A workout will help you get better-quality sleep, too."

All those workouts can help childbirth go more smoothly, too, adds Caitlin Ritt, a pre/postnatal exercise specialist and the founder and CEO of The Lotus Method. "Labor is a physically demanding event, and you wouldn't just go from sitting on the couch to going and running a marathon," she says. "You might be able to run the marathon, but probably not with the best time or outcomes. It's just going to set you up for, hopefully, better labor and a much better postpartum recovery."

Of course, it's important to get the all-clear from your physician before you start working out while pregnant and continue to check in with them as the weeks progress. Your doctor may recommend limiting exercise if you have certain heart or lung diseases, preeclampsia, severe anemia, or placenta previa (when the placenta covers the opening of the uterus); have had cervical cerclage (the cervix stitched close to prevent or delay preterm birth); or you're pregnant with twins or triplets and are at risk for preterm labor, according to the ACOG.

Once you get their stamp of approval, how hard you can go in the gym generally depends on your fitness routine pre-pregnancy. Folks who were regular exercisers before pregnancy should be able to continue with their high-intensity activities so long as they have uncomplicated, healthy pregnancies, according to the ACOG. People who didn't exercise frequently pre-pregnancy, however, should gradually mix low-intensity exercise into their regimen, per the ACOG. "This is a time to maintain fitness, not stretch for new fitness goals," adds Skye. Translation: Don't start training for a triathlon if you never even ran a 5K before you were expecting.

How Much Should You Exercise During Pregnancy?

Once again, only your doctor will know what exercise regimen is best for you and your baby. But in general, just as with folks who aren't expecting, pregnant individuals should aim to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, according to the ACOG. For example, a safe and effective prenatal workout routine might include 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity three to four days a week, per the ACOG.

To keep track of your workout's intensity, the ACOG recommends using ratings of perceived exertion or the "talk test" — a moderate-intensity activity would be a 13 or 14 (or "somewhat hard") on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale, and you'd be able to talk but not sing while you train.

What to Keep In Mind While Trying Prenatal Workouts

Focus on key muscle groups.

Along with aerobic activity, you'll want to incorporate strength training into your pregnancy workouts to prevent complications and prepare your body for parenthood. During your prenatal workouts, consider concentrating your efforts on these muscle groups.

Core

Of all the muscle groups to focus on while powering through prenatal workouts, both Ritt and Skye agree that the core is one of the most important. During pregnancy, "you have your uterus and the baby pushing out on your abdominal wall, so if you don't keep some kind of core activation, that can lead to…aches and pain, abdominal separation [aka diastasis recti], and pelvic floor dysfunction," says Ritt. This separation, which occurs between the rectus muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen, is common during pregnancy, says Skye. And it can weaken the abdominal muscles and, in turn, cause lower back pain and make it difficult to lift objects, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Performing core-strengthening exercises during pregnancy, however, has been shown to reduce the odds of developing diastasis recti, according to the ACOG. Since lying on your back after the 20-week mark can restrict blood flow, skip the traditional crunches and leg lifts and instead try mixing some upright core-building moves, such as the Paloff press, deadlift, and resistance band press-down, into your prenatal workout, suggests Ritt.

Glutes and Pelvic Floor

Keeping your booty and pelvic floor strong throughout pregnancy can also help keep unpleasant side effects at bay. "Your glutes and your pelvic floor are kind of like BFFs — they work in synergy together," says Ritt. "Your glutes are going to be what supports your pelvis, and then obviously your pelvic floor muscles are in control of the bottom of your pelvis. If one is weak, the other one's going to kind of compensate, so glutes are really important during pregnancy."

ICYDK, the pelvic floor is a group of muscles that form a "hammock" across the floor of the pelvis and help to hold the uterus, cervix, vagina, and other organs in place, allowing them to function properly, according to the National Institutes of Health. Keeping your pelvic floor strong throughout pregnancy (hi, Kegels!) will not only help control bladder leakage and reduce your chances of developing hemorrhoids, but it can also help you push during delivery, according to the Office on Women's Health. "It is absolutely essential that your pelvic floor is strong to support your growing baby and to prevent or control incontinence after giving birth," says Skye. "Clench and release whenever you can!"

Having weak butt muscles, specifically in the gluteus medius, may also increase your risk of suffering from back pain six- to eight-fold, research shows. To strengthen that booty, turn to kickstand deadlifts, squats, clamshells, lunges, and bridges, says Ritt.

Upper Body

To get your body prepped for all of the one-handed baby-holding and car-seat-carrying after birth, Ritt recommends incorporating unilateral upper-body exercises (re: moves that work one side of the body at a time) into your prenatal workout. Try single-arm presses, single-arm rows, and Paloff presses, she says. 

Practice diaphragmatic breathing.

To help maintain a connection between your pelvic floor and core — and be able to relax the muscles in both areas when it's time to deliver your baby — consider practicing diaphragmatic breathing, suggests Ritt. "If you haven't created awareness of your pelvic floor and your abdominal muscles… if you've never figured out how to relax your pelvic floor, you might push for a really long time during labor," she explains. "It also increases blood flow and nutrients to the placenta, so it's really important for the baby, and it decreases stress because it taps into our parasympathetic nervous system."

To practice this breathing technique, sit on an exercise ball or chair and put one hand on your ribs and the other on your low belly. Pretend an umbrella is in your ribcage, and when you inhale through your nose, imagine it opening up, says Ritt. At that point, you should feel your belly softening and your pelvic floor relaxing and dropping. Then, exhale out through your mouth as if you're blowing on a straw. Simultaneously, imagine you're "picking a blueberry up through your vagina and bringing it up to your belly button" to activate your pelvic floor, says Ritt. Practice roughly 10 reps a few times a week to get the hang of the breathing pattern, then start integrating it into your daily movement and prenatal workouts, she suggests.

Watch for abdominal coning.

Simply put, abdominal coning (aka doming) occurs when your intra-abdominal pressure pushes outward and through the linea alba, or the tissue that separates the right and left rectus abdominis muscles, and makes it look like a shark fin is sticking out of the center of the belly, says Ritt. "It's basically the physical representation that a core exercise is just a little bit too much for that woman," she explains. Not all people will experience coning throughout pregnancy, but it's important to look out for: Left unchecked, this coning could lead to diastasis recti, says Ritt. "While every woman has some amount of abdominal separation during pregnancy by the third trimester — [it] has to happen to accommodate the growth of the baby and uterus — we have the ability to minimize the extent of the separation by being mindful of the movements we do and minimizing how often we see that doming," she says. 

If you notice that doming during exercise, take it as a sign to try diaphragmatic breathing (engaging your pelvic floor and deeper core) or change your alignment (making sure your ribs are over your hips), which may put a stop to it, says Ritt. "If you can't make that shark fin go away, then that's probably a [hint you] either need to regress the exercise, so make it a little bit easier and change the position," she says. "If you're doing a push-up, instead of doing it on the ground, do it on your kitchen counter or on a table. Just changing that incline will typically make it so that you are no longer coning or doming." If you still see the coning after those adjustments, it's typically best to hold off on that exercise altogether, says Ritt.

Listen to your body.

Every person's pregnancy experience is different, and the prenatal workout that's safe and effective for one soon-to-be parent may be painful or too intense for another. That's why Ritt encourages all pregnant folks to pay close attention to their bodies and how they're reacting to the activity. For example, you might deal with pelvic pain during pregnancy, particularly while you're running or performing lunges. Or you might experience bladder leakage or feel a heaviness in your pelvic floor while breaking a sweat, says Ritt. "If it's happening during an exercise, or it's exacerbated after you go on a run or you're lifting heavy, that's your body's way of letting you know, it's probably a little too much," she says. 

When you pick up any signs that your body isn't digging your workout, listen to them and modify your activity — don't brush it off, says Ritt. "Unfortunately, I've seen women push through it, and then they have a much harder and longer recovery back to that exercise because they're dealing with complications postpartum…[such as] pelvic floor or core dysfunction," she explains. "Being mindful of those warning signs during pregnancy is going to get you back to it far sooner."

Don't fall into the comparison trap.

Thanks to social media and in-person prenatal workout classes, it's easy to start comparing your activity level and capabilities during pregnancy to that of others — and that's one of the biggest mistakes you can make, says Skye. "Pregnancy is stressful enough without comparing yourself to other pregnant women — or even your pre-pregnancy self," she says. "...The only pregnancy journey you should be focusing on is your own. Choose who you take advice from, do what feels right for you, and, if social media is making you feel inadequate or stealing the joy you should be feeling at this amazing time, unfollow." (Related: What Emily Skye Wants to Say to People Who Are "Shocked" By Her Pregnancy Workouts)

Set realistic expectations for yourself.

Reminder: Your body is going through major changes, and you're likely not going to lift as heavy or train as frequently and with as much intensity as you did pre-pregnancy, says Skye. Though it can be tough to come to terms with your changing body and abilities, Skye suggests remembering why you're exercising in the first place: To take care of your health and your baby's, "not to set personal bests or to be stronger than you've ever been before," she says. 

That's why she suggests setting goals for your pregnancy that aren't focused on your body. "For instance, you might set a goal to do some form of movement five days a week — some of those days might be a strength session with me on FIT, other days it may just be a walk around the block — that's okay!" says Skye. "And on those days when you can't exercise due to nausea or dizziness or whatever it may be, don't beat yourself up."

Emily Skye's Low-Intensity Prenatal Workout

One way you can hit those activity recommendations and score all the health benefits that can come with it? Break a sweat along with Skye and power through her low-intensity prenatal workout, which, along with other prenatal workouts, is available through the Emily Skye FIT app. "[This pregnancy workout] is designed to help keep you moving safely in the middle stages of pregnancy and maintain strength in your back and core," she says.

Though the prenatal workout is designed specifically for folks in their second trimester, it's generally safe to tackle during any trimester of pregnancy, says Skye. That said, "the most important thing is the safety of yourself and your baby, so if something doesn't feel right, talk to your doctor," she says. (Related: The Best Pregnancy Workouts for At-Home Classes)

Note: You should not start this FIT Pregnancy workout if you have not participated in exercise regularly prior to becoming pregnant — this program is not designed for beginners. Always consult your health care professional before beginning any new exercise program or regimen, as there are some situations where exercise may not be advised. This information should be used as a guide only and should not replace the advice of your medical practitioner.

How it works: Start your prenatal workout off with the warm-up. Then perform each exercise in the prenatal workout for 30 seconds, with 20 seconds of rest between each move. Repeat the entire circuit four times total, resting for 60 seconds after each round. Cap off your prenatal workout with the cool-down.

You'll need: A pair of light dumbbells (Buy It, $14, amazon.com), a chair, and a cushion

Warm-Up

March In Place

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and gently march in place. Use your arms, moving them backward and forward while marching, making sure to keep chest lifted and shoulders back.

Continue for 30 seconds

Half-Squat with Lean

A. Stand tall with feet-hip width apart. Carefully sink down into a half-squat with weight through heels. 

B. Hold the squat position and reach right arm gently up overhead toward the left. Lower arm down and gently reach left arm up overhead toward the right. 

Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating arms

Shoulder Press to Tricep Overhead Extension

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, roll shoulders back and down, and bring hands up in front of shoulders. 

B. Press hands above head, then hinge at elbows to drop hands behind head. 

C. Straighten arms, then bring hands back down to shoulders.

Repeat for 30 seconds

Sumo Plie Stretch

A. Stand with feet just wider than shoulder-width, with hands pressed together in front of chest. Roll shoulders back and down and carefully sink into a sumo squat. 

B. While lowering into the squat, rest forearms on the inside of thighs and gently push with elbows to open up the stretch. 

C. While pushing up out of the squat, remove forearms from thighs and return to standing

Repeat for 30 seconds

Side Squat with Overhead Stretch

A. Stand with feet under hips, knees soft, and shoulders rolled back and down. 

B. Step one foot out to the side and carefully sit back and down into a squat. While squatting, raise both arms up above head to touch hands together. 

C. Push up from the squat and return to start, resting arms back at sides. 

Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating sides

Arm Circles

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms resting at sides. With shoulders back and down and chest lifted, make small circular motions with both arms. Don't let arms drop — try to keep them in line with shoulders.

Repeat for 30 seconds forward, then 30 seconds backward

Prenatal Workout

Bodyweight Squat

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with toes turned slightly outward. Brace abdominal muscles to engage core.

B. Inhale and initiate the squat movement by hinging at the hips first, then bend knees to lower into a squat position until comfortable, sitting weight through heels. Keep knees in line with toes. 

C. Exhale and press into the mid-foot to straighten legs to stand, hips and torso rising at the same time.

Repeat for 30 seconds 

Single-Arm, Forward-Leaning Dumbbell Row

A. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and place free hand on the back of a chair for support. Step forward with foot opposite to dumbbell and settle into a split stance. Hinge forward 45-degrees at hips, with active arm in a straight line from shoulder down to wrist and palm of active hand facing opposite leg. 

B. Slowly bend through active arm's elbow to row the dumbbell up to the outside of belly and slowly lower back down. Keep shoulders rolled back and down to prevent too much trap activation and breathe.

Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides

Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted hip-width apart on floor. Roll shoulders back and down and bring dumbbells up to shoulder height, palms facing toward you. 

B. Slowly push the dumbbells up towards the sky while simultaneously taking elbows wide and rotating hands so palms face forward. 

C. Reverse the movement to bring the dumbbells back to start.

Repeat for 30 seconds 

Alternating Donkey Kicks

A. Start in a table-top position on floor with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Keep spine neutral and back of head in line with spine. 

B. Transfer lower-body weight into left leg. Keeping a 90-degree bend at the knee, extend through right hip to raise right leg behind, driving heel towards the sky. 

C. Squeeze through glute to control the movement and slowly lower leg back to floor. 

Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating sides

Cool-Down

March In Place

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and gently march in place. Use your arms, moving them backward and forward while marching, making sure to keep chest lifted and shoulders back.

Continue for 60 seconds

Butt Kicks

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and shoulders pulled back and down. Carefully lift one leg back behind body to kick bum, then bring it back to the ground. Continue the movement, alternating on the opposite side each time.

Repeat for 60 seconds

Standing Quad Stretch

A. Standing parallel to the back of a chair and holding it for balance, transfer weight into leg closest to chair. 

B. Bend knee on opposite leg and bring foot up behind body. Hold foot or ankle with the hand on the same side, tucking tailbone under to prevent arching of lower back. You should feel a stretch through quad of leg behind held. 

Hold for 30 seconds per side

Standing Chest Stretch 

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees soft, and spine neutral. Put hands behind back and interlace fingers, palms facing body. Roll shoulders back and down and gently push hands away from back to feel a stretch across your chest.

Hold for 30 seconds

Hip Flexor Stretch

A. Kneel with right foot flat on the floor, directly under right knee, and left knee directly under hip, left foot facing the wall behind you. Each knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle.

B. Gently tuck tailbone under to lengthen the left hip flexor. Hold, then repeat on opposite side.

Hold for 30 seconds per side

Child's Pose

A. Kneel on the floor with a cushion in front of body and sit back onto heels, knees pointing out to sides. 

B. Hinge forward at hips to bring chest down toward the cushion. Rest forearms on top of each other and head on top of hands. Knees should be wider than elbows and hips seated back over heels.

Hold for 30 seconds