Pregnancy fitness: Workouts for expecting moms


by Baylor Scott & White Health

May 16, 2017

Pregnancy is supposed to be a time for joy, anticipation and new experiences. But for many moms, it also comes with a lot of anxiety and questions.

With all the blogs, articles and social media confusion, moms are forever wondering if they are doing the right thing. How much exercise is too much, what’s safe and how should you modify your activity during pregnancy?

Workouts welcome!

Good news: Exercise is both safe and encouraged for most pregnant women!

Unless you have certain high risk conditions such as bleeding, cardiac issues or fetal growth restrictions, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 20-30 minutes of daily exercise.

Exercise should be at a moderate intensity level, which means you should be slightly out of breath but still able to hold a conversation. Regular exercise maintains physical fitness and helps with weight management. It can also reduces the risk for gestational diabetes in obese women and enhance mental well-being. Furthermore, exercise in the year prior to conception decreases the risk for preeclampsia.

Modifying workouts for pregnancy

If you already exercise, most likely you can continue with just a few changes. You can continue walking, lifting weights, swimming and even running to a certain extent.

It is recommended to stop activities where you may fall on the belly or something may hit the belly after the first trimester, such as racquetball.

Other activities may just need modifications. For example, if you like to bike, you may consider no longer using pedal clips after the first trimester. That way, if you lose your balance it is easy to place a foot down to avoid a fall. The safest option is to move indoors and ride on a stationary bike.

You may have to change the “goal” of your activity. Don’t focus on hitting a certain mileage or speed. Instead, try to maintain consistent physical activity during your pregnancy.

Don’t over do it! It’s extremely important you listen to your body for signs of fatigue, pain or changes in fetal movement.

Great pregnancy exercises

Yoga and Pilates are encouraged during pregnancy. Both have been found to decrease stress levels in moms and improve common pregnancy pains.

If you already do yoga or Pilates, then little modification is needed. You may want to avoid inversion positions (head below hips), as well as large asymmetric movements (movements where legs are going in opposite directions). As the baby grows, having the hips above the head for prolonged time could cause excess pressure. This can potentially disrupt normal blood flow and breathing patterns.

If you are a yoga veteran, you may tolerate these positions for short time periods without issues. However, if you experiences dizziness, shortness of breath or a headache, it’s recommended to stop these positions.

If you are new to Pilates or Yoga, you should take a class specific to pregnancy with a trained instructor. Consider starting with an individualized session or two.

Start a fitness habit

Many moms use pregnancy as a time to start new healthy habits. We love that! For moms starting a new exercise routine, walking is generally the safest cardiovascular activity. Light free weights or machines are a great way to start strengthening muscles. Strengthening should focus on the muscles of the arms, upper back and leg. Balance may be affected by pregnancy but exercise is a great way to decrease your fall risk.

So the take home message is: don’t be afraid to keep moving during pregnancy! If you are unsure how to start a routine or modify your routine, a physical therapist can help you set up a fitness program. Exercise has many benefits for mom and baby, so keep moving! Talk to your OB/GYN if you have concerns or questions about the safety of exercise during your pregnancy.

Wondering how much weight gain is normal during pregnancy? Find out the answer and access more pregnancy resources here.


ACOG Committee Opinion No. 267.  Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Obstet Gynecol.  2015;99:171-173.

Artal R, O’Toole, M. Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Br J Sports Med 2003; 37: 6-12.

Barakat R, Pelaez M, Montejo R, Luaces M, Zakynthinaki M. Exercise during pregnancy improves maternal health perception: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal Of Obstetrics & Gynecology May 2011;204(5):402.e1-7

Beddoe A, Yang C, Kennedy H, Weiss S, Lee K. The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. JOGNN: Journal Of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. May 2009;38(3):310-319.

Dempsey J, Butler C, Williams MA.  No need for a pregnant pause: physical activity may reduce the occurrence of gestational diabetes mellitus and preeclampsia.  Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2005 July;33(3):141-149

Moran-Perich S, Benson E. Power Pilates: Empowering Your Pregnancy. 2004 June.

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