Exercise and Pregnancy
by Connie Jo York, Group Fitness Instructor
Following are some things you need to know, the most important
being, talk to your doctor about your exercise program!
Research continues to show that pregnant women can exercise safely if they follow certain
Even if you were sedentary before pregnancy, it is okay for you to begin an exercise program now
that you are pregnant. It was once thought that it was okay to exercise while pregnant ONLY if
you did so before the pregnancy. Now, pregnancy is considered an important reason to START
exercising! However, be sure to obtain your doctor’s permission and recommendations!
Safety must be your foremost concern.
Complete control of your body is crucial. Keep movements slow.
You are going to feel like you are working harder than normal. And as your pregnancy advances,
you won’t be able to maintain the same workload. You will have to gradually decrease your
intensity and workload. Don’t expect too much. Don’t overexert yourself.
Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes focusing on good posture, proper body alignment and a neutral
spine position. Use simple range-of-motion movements followed by gentle static stretches.
Concentrate on areas of stress, such as the neck, shoulders, hip flexors, calves and lower back.
(For the lower back, emphasize relaxation more than extension and flexibility.)
Include stretches with arms lifted overhead to help open the rib cage area and allow room for
more oxygen. Think about such phrases as “Lift the baby off the rib cage” to help visualize the
Remember that, during pregnancy, your center of gravity changes, body alignment changes,
balance decreases, joints loosen and may become unstable.
Pregnant women reach their target heart rates and ratings of perceived exertion more quickly
than non-pregnant women. Don't try to work upper body and lower body at the same time. Your
cardiovascular system does not need the extra challenge now.
Use basic, low-impact moves and keep it simple. Avoid movements that increase the risk of
injury. Avoid quick directional changes.
Upper body conditioning is important for pregnant women (for tension reduction, improved
posture and strengthening). Remember--you will soon be lifting car seats and diaper bags, not to
mention that little bundle of joy!
During pregnancy, your center of gravity is off, so you want to concentrate on maintaining proper
alignment and try to use some support (such as holding on to the wall). Movement control is
crucial! Squat exercises may be done without weights or with light weights on the shoulders.
Kegels will help you in many ways. Kegel exercises, sometimes called '“vaginal weight training”
strengthen the muscles that support the pelvic organs. And following the birth, Kegels will help
speed the return of these muscles to their pre-pregnant state. To locate this muscle: Stop your
urine flow in midstream the next time you urinate. This is precisely the move you want to do.
Squeeze it for a count of three, then release. Repeat this 5 to 10 times, several times throughout
the day, and work up to 100 repetitions.
More on Kegels--Kegel exercises were developed by Arnold Kegel, a surgeon. The Kegel exercise
strengthens the muscle surrounding the urinary opening and the outside of the vagina.
Performing Kegels consistently will enable a woman to better control the opening and closing of
the urethra, the outlet for the bladder. Pregnancy and postpartum are great times to form the
habit of doing Kegel exercises. It is a simple exercise and can be done anywhere (see above for
Abdominal work after the first trimester remains controversial. You can do abdominal
exercises with modifications if your doctor approves. A strong set of abdominals will help during
the pushing stage of labor. The elastic memory of strong abdominal muscles will help speed up
your return to pre-pregnant state.
During second and third trimesters, it is best to limit abdominal work to less than five minutes.
Women in the later stages should rest sitting up or lying on their left side for a few minutes while
other class members complete abdominal work.
Do pelvic tilts throughout pregnancy. They will relieve low-back aches and strengthen the abs
by maintaining proper alignment of the pelvis. Pelvic Tilt: Hands and knees--head in alignment
with the spine and the back straight--contract the abdominals and point the tailbone to the floor-
-hold for a count of three and release.
Pregnant women should not perform supine exercises after the fourth month. You’ll need to
modify: Try lying supine, but with a pillow under the shoulders for support. Try lying on an
incline step. Try lying on your left side (which promotes return of blood to the heart). Try
kneeling with elbows supported on a chair. All you really need to strive for is contracting your
The following two exercises are safe for your third trimester: C-Curves (Kneel on the floor on
all fours or with elbows on a chair seat for support--inhale and contract the abdominals while
creating a “C”; shape with the spine--exhale and release), Side-lying C-Curves (Lie on the left side
with the upper hand on the floor for support--contract the abs and bring the knees to the chest--
exhale and release).
THROUGHOUT YOUR ENTIRE PREGNANCY: CONCENTRATE ON MAINTAINING A
NEUTRAL SPINE POSITION AT ALL TIMES. THIS WILL WORK ABS EVEN WHEN YOU
ARE NOT IN EXERCISE CLASS!
Take time to focus on flexibility and stress management. Flexibility training will help you
maintain good positioning during the pushing stage of labor. The hormone effect of pregnancy
makes women much more flexible, so be careful not to over stretch. Concentrate on slow,
sustained stretching. RELAX!
You are encouraged to eat a small, easily digestible snack (such as crackers) prior to exercise.
You are encouraged to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to prevent
Wear loose, comfortable clothes (preferably cotton to help absorb perspiration). A supportive
cotton bra with wide straps is essential.
AFTER YOUR BABY COMES:
After giving birth, your body will need time to heal (whether the birth was vaginal or cesarean).
Some doctors say you can resume exercise after four to six weeks; some say when bleeding stops.
Make sure you receive clearance from your own doctor before returning.
Remember, endorphins naturally produced during exercise will increase a sense of well-being.
Work at your own pace and rest when needed...