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Back Exercises During Pregnancy

It’s a tough call, but no one would dispute that back pain ranks in the Top 10 list of a pregnant woman’s gripes. According to the North American Spine Society, at least half of all women experience back pain at some point in pregnancy.

An aching back is usually caused by your shifting center of gravity. The weight of your baby puts strain on your lower back, but it also may simply be the result of pregnancy-related weight gain. The good news is that the aches usually go away after the baby is born.

By stretching your back daily, and doing a series of muscle-strengthening exercises and stretches you can keep your back on track — during pregnancy and beyond. These exercises are safe to do throughout pregnancy and afterward, but if you ever feel discomfort, stop immediately.

You should always check with your physician before beginning a new exercise program, but if you have a pre-existing back problem, it’s especially important to get your doctor’s approval for new exercises.

Exercise tips

Regular exercise gives you energy and keeps you healthy during pregnancy. It also helps you feel better during a time when your body is undergoing tremendous change. But it’s no time to overdo it, unless you’re in the best of shape. Here is a summary of the current exercise guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):

  • Continue mild to moderate exercise routines for at least 30 minutes on most, or even all, days.
  • After the first trimester, avoid doing exercises on your back since it can decrease blood flow to the uterus.
  • Never exercise to exhaustion.
  • Don’t exercise in hot, humid weather or when you are sick with a fever.
  • Drink extra water on the days you exercise.
  • Avoid activities that may cause you to lose your balance, especially during your third trimester.
  • Stop exercising immediately and call your physician if you experience any of the following symptoms: pain, vaginal bleeding, dizziness or lightheadedness, increased shortness of breath, uterine contractions and chest pain, fluid leaking from the vagina.
  • It’s probably not necessary to say it, but if you’re pregnant, you should avoid downhill skiing, scuba diving and contact sports like soccer, basketball and ice hockey, according to ACOG.
  • You can certainly exercise on your own, but you may also consider enrolling in an exercise class for pregnant women — or even a water exercise class, especially as it becomes more difficult to move around. The classes are often conducted by certified instructors who can make sure you move in a safe and effective manner.

Strength-training moves

Before doing the following exercises, warm up by walking in place for five minutes. You can do the first six moves every day, but give your muscles 48 hours of rest in between the last three strength-training moves listed below:

  • Cat back stretch (to stretch your entire back). Get down on all fours and flatten your back so your spine is aligned from your neck to your tailbone. Now arch your back slowly, starting at the tailbone and stretching up through your shoulders. Hold for five seconds. Relax to the neutral position. Repeat five times.
  • Heel sits (to stretch your lower back and buttocks). Get down on your knees and bend over, stretching your hands out before you, palms flat on the floor. Slowly rock back onto your heels (As your baby grows, move your knees wider apart to accommodate.) While sitting back, walk your fingers forward, increasing the stretch. Stretch one arm at a time for increased flexibility. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds; repeat two to three times.
  • Forward bend (to stretch and strengthen your back). Sit in a chair with a hard seat and back. Keep your arms relaxed. Bend forward slowly, allowing your arms to hang down in front of you. Hold with position for a count of five, and sit up slowly without arching your back. Repeat five times.
  • Trunk twist (to stretch your back and upper torso). Sit on the floor with your legs crossed, with your left hand holding your left foot and your right hand on the floor at your side for support. Slowly twist your upper torso toward the right. Look over your right shoulder. Do the same movement to the left side, switching your hands (right hand holding right foot) and looking over your left shoulder. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
  • Rocking back arch (to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the back, hips and abdomen). Kneel on all fours with your weight evenly distributed between your hands and knees and your back in a straight line (not sagging or arching). Rock back and forth to a count of five. Return to the starting position and arch your back up as much as you comfortably can. Repeat five to 10 times.
  • Back press (to strengthen the upper back and promote proper posture). Stand with your back against a wall, your feet about 10-12 inches from the wall. Press the lower part of your back against the wall. Hold for a count of 10. Release and repeat 10 times.
  • Arm raises (to strengthen shoulders and upper back). Get down on all fours, making sure your back is flat as in the Cat Stretch (not arched or sagging). Raise your right arm straight out in front of you to shoulder level. Hold for five seconds. Lower and repeat 10 times. Switch arms and repeat. When this becomes easy, add a second set. Holding a one- or two-pound dumbbell or wearing wrist weights will make the exercise even more challenging.
  • Overhead pulldown (to strengthen your middle and lower back). Stand with your knees relaxed and extend your arms up and over your head. Imagine that you’re holding a barbell in your hands. Now pull your arms down, bending your elbows out to the sides until your hands are shoulder height. The “bar” should be behind your head. Return to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times, and complete three sets. When this becomes easy, hold a one- or two-pound dumbbell in each hand.
  • Upright row (to strengthen your shoulder and upper back muscles). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees relaxed. Let your arms relax at your sides, palms facing back. Pull your elbows up and back until they are at shoulder height. Contract your muscles in order to resist the movement. Now lower to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Complete three sets. When this becomes easy, hold a one- or two-pound dumbbell in each hand.

North American Spine Society. Back Pain During Pregnancy. http://www.spine.org/articles/backpain_pregnancy.cfm

Spine Health.com. Exercise for Back Pain During Pregnancy. http://www.spine-health.com/topics/conserv/preg/preg01.html

March of Dimes. Exercise. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/159_515.asp

American Academy of Family Physicians. Pregnancy and Exercise: What You Can Do For a Healthy Pregnancy. Updated April 2008 http://familydoctor.org/305.xml

YMCA. Fit For Two: The Official YMCA Prenatal Exercise Guide. YMCA of the USA with Thomas Hanlon. Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc..

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Planning for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. Second revised edition, Signet, New York, A Healthy Lifestyle. pp 93-96

Pregnancy Yoga Stretches for Back, Hips, and Legs

Bridge

Bridge provides a gentle stretch for your hip flexors. It can also help strengthen your lower back, abdominals, and glutes. It will help relieve hip and lower back aches.

Note: Bridge is officially considered a backbend in yoga. You’ll want to avoid “big” backbends during pregnancy, but this gentle stretch can help with aches and pains and bring about pelvic awareness. This can benefit you during labor.

Equipment needed: yoga block (optional) for restorative or more challenging poses

Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, rectus abdominis, hip flexors

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. They should be approximately hip-width distance apart, but can be more spaced out if it’s comfortable. Keep your arms straight alongside your body and if possible, have your legs bent enough that your fingers can graze the backs of your heels.
  2. As you inhale, curl your pelvis until your lower back is gently pressing against the floor, then gently lift your hips and back off the ground, pressing evenly into your feet, keeping a neutral spine.
  3. Hold for a few counts.
  4. As you exhale, gently roll your spine back onto the ground, one vertebra at a time.
  5. As you relax preparing for the next lift, be sure your spine is neutral. Your lower back should be slightly off the ground, respecting the natural curve of your lumbar spine.
  6. Repeat 10 times.

Take it to the next level

To take this hip stretch to the next level, you’ll want to have a yoga block handy. You will be resting your lower back on the block. This will give your hip flexors the opportunity to open up more.

  1. Begin by following steps 1 and 2 in Bridge pose above.
  2. When you get your hips above chest level, slide the yoga block under your sacrum. The block can be on any level/height. The main thing is that you need to feel stable enough to rest your pelvis’s weight on it.
  3. If you had relatively flexible hips before pregnancy, you can lift one foot, point your toes, and tuck them backward onto the floor. The top of your foot will now be aimed toward the ground.
  4. Once in place, relax completely and take 5 slow, deep breaths.
  5. Slowly untuck your toes and switch feet. Repeat on the other side.

Bound Angle Pose

This seated pose is a hip opener. It also stabilizes and helps brings awareness to your pelvis. You’ll stretch your inner thighs, back, and neck.

Try it as a supported pose with a yoga or birth ball for you to lean on.

Muscles worked: inner thighs, hips, and back

  1. Sit on your mat and bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet together in front of you.
  2. Grab hold of your toes and draw your feet gently toward your pelvis.
  3. Inhale and sit up tall on your sitting bones, not your tailbone. You don’t want your pelvis tucked here.
  4. As you exhale, press your knees to the ground. Keeping your spine straight, gently begin to bend at the hips, taking your torso toward the ground.
  5. When you get as far as you can comfortably go, release any tension in your neck by dropping your chin.
  6. Stay here for 3 to 5 slow, even breaths. If possible, gently lean farther forward with each exhale, but be sure not to overstretch.

Lunge

This stretch is helpful for those with tight hip flexors, the muscles that run along the front of your hip. These muscles can often get tight during pregnancy due to changes in the position of the pelvis.

Equipment needed: pillow or yoga mat

Muscles worked: hip flexors, glutes, core

  1. Begin kneeling on the floor with your knees on a yoga mat or pillow for comfort.
  2. Step one foot forward so that both your front knee and hip are at 90-degree angles.
  3. As you exhale, slowly lean forward, putting weight into your front leg. Square off your hips by rotating your back hip forward until you feel a stretch down the front of the hip and thigh.
  4. Hold onto a wall or chair for balance, if needed.
  5. Hold position for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat on other side.

The Best Stretches to Do During Pregnancy

Stretching helps lengthen your muscles and loosen your entire body to make you more comfortable while you’re pregnant, whether you’re walking around the grocery store, working out, or just lounging around. Although stretching is always a treat, it can feel especially heavenly during pregnancy, when your body can really benefit.

Benefits of stretching during pregnancy

As your pregnancy progresses, your posture shifts to redistribute the weight of your growing baby belly and breasts. For many women, this can result in tightness in the lower back, neck and chest. The good news: Stretching, especially when it’s done daily, can help alleviate pain during pregnancy and improve your range of motion, which can mean a smoother and more comfortable pregnancy.

And don’t forget that stretching has many of the same benefits as other exercises for your baby.

Safety tips to keep in mind while stretching

As long as you’ve checked in with your doctor and gotten the OK for physical activity including stretches during pregnancy, your body can benefit from stretching. Just be sure to follow a few important safety tips:

  • Warm up. Stretching cold muscles can cause injury, so always warm up before jumping in. A few minutes of brisk walking or alternating knee raises in place should do the trick.
  • Don’t bounce. Bouncing while you’re stretching can result in a pulled muscle. Instead, focus on holding each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, getting as far as you can into each position and holding at a spot where you feel the stretch but don’t feel pain.
  • Don’t overdo it. During pregnancy your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which loosens ligaments in the pelvis to make delivery easier. But since relaxin affects all your ligaments, you’ll likely be more flexible from head to toe, which can ultimately lead to overstretching and injuries. The best way to protect yourself is to listen to your body and limit yourself to a range of motion that feels good, never painful.

Is bending dangerous during pregnancy?

Although it sure might feel awkward with a third-trimester baby bump, bending at the waist is safe throughout pregnancy (unless, of course, your practitioner advises you otherwise).

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Bending only becomes a concern if you’re folding forward, usually for a job, 20 or more times a day, every day. This kind of excessive, repetitive physical motion may increase risk for preterm birth and injury during pregnancy, among other things. So if your job requires lots of lifting and bending, talk to your supervisor to see if you can be reassigned to a less physically-demanding role.

Can you stretch your stomach while pregnant?

Yes, it is safe to gently stretch your ab muscles when you’re pregnant. You’ll just want to avoid any stretch that involves a deep back-bend (like full wheel) where your back is arched and your abdominals are splayed — especially if you have diastasis recti.

What stretches should you avoid during pregnancy?

It’s safest to avoid all stretches during pregnancy that involve deep back bends or other contortions, like camel or bow pose in yoga. You may find that you get calf cramps when you point your toes; if that’s the case, flex your feet instead. Also be sure to avoid lying flat on your back for extended periods of time after the first trimester.

Still concerned? Check out a prenatal yoga class or talk with a trainer who’s savvy about pregnancy to get the low-down on stretching safety. Your best rule of thumb: If a stretch doesn’t feel good, pull back or choose another one that does.

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Pregnancy stretches you’ll love

After warming up, practice these stretches daily to prevent aches and pains before they start. Erica Ziel (@EricaZiel), creator of Knocked Up Fitness, recommends the following stretching exercises:

1. Back

Like a modified child’s pose, this stretch can safely elongate your back muscles.

A photo posted by Erica Ziel (@knockedupfitness) on Dec 12, 2015 at 2:20pm PST

  • Kneel with the tops of your feet pressed into the floor. Place both palms on an exercise ball.
  • Keeping your hips over your knees, exhale as you tuck your chin and extend your arms to roll the ball forward until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and arch your lower back to a comfortable position, holding for 30 seconds. (If you feel your abs working, bring your hips back to release pressure.)
  • Exhale and tuck your hips as you roll the ball towards you, bringing your spine to an upright position.

2. Neck

This stretch helps ease tension in your neck.

  • Sitting in a chair, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Gently tilt your head to one side and let it drop toward your shoulder. Don’t raise your shoulder, and don’t force your head down.
  • Hold for three to six seconds.
  • Gently roll your chin forward to relax into your chest, then switch sides.
  • Repeat three to four times.

3. Chest

This heavenly stretch relieves tension in your chest and upper back.

A photo posted by Erica Ziel (@knockedupfitness) on Dec 12, 2015 at 5:48am PST

  • Kneel with the tops of your feet pressed against the floor.
  • Exhale as you sit back on your heels, rounding your shoulders and letting your head drop gently forward as you reach your arms in front of you to feel a stretch.
  • Squeeze your butt to come back up on your knees as you inhale and lift your arms to the sides, gazing overhead. Circle your arms back, down and around to starting position.
  • Repeat a few times, then reverse directions.

4. Shoulders

This stretch helps ease tension in your shoulders (especially if you spend a lot of time at the computer).

  • Standing with your feet hips-width distance apart, bring your left arm to your chest.
  • Gently pull your slightly bent left elbow toward your chest with your right hand as you exhale.
  • Hold for five to 10 seconds. Switch sides.

5. Abdomen

Open the front of the body with this liberating stretch, which elongates the muscles supporting your tummy.

A photo posted by Erica Ziel (@knockedupfitness) on Dec 10, 2015 at 6:30pm PST

  • Kneel on your left knee with the top of your left foot pressed into the ground. Place your right knee on the ground and position the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh. Place your right palm on the ground behind you, fingertips pointed away from the body.
  • From this position, exhale as you extend the left hand overhead and press your hips up.
  • Inhale to lower down.
  • Repeat as many times as you’d like, then switch sides.

6. Hip flexors

The hip flexor muscles allow you to lift your knees and bend at the waist. Stretching them periodically helps keep you limber so it’s easier to get into the proper position during childbirth.

  • Stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs and hang on to the railing.
  • Place one foot on the first step and bend your knee. Keep your other leg straight on the floor behind you.
  • Lean into your bent leg, keeping your back straight, to feel a stretch in your straight leg. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch sides.

7. Hips

This classic hip opener can help relieve discomfort related to sciatica and stretch your belly.

A photo posted by Erica Ziel (@knockedupfitness) on Dec 11, 2015 at 7:03am PST

  • Kneel on the floor and bring your left knee in front and slightly to the left of your left hip, extending the right leg behind you, toes pointed. Try to get your left shin parallel to your hips. If it’s too intense, place a rolled-up towel under your hip.
  • Placing your fingertips on the ground in front of you, gently push away from the floor, bringing your shoulders away from your ears. Keep a slight arch in the lower back as you square your hips to the ground.
  • Hold for 20 seconds while breathing deeply, then switch sides.

8. Legs

Swelling, cramping…pregnancy has been tough on your legs. Give them a much-needed break with this easy stretch.

  • Stand and hold onto a sturdy object.
  • Bend your right knee and grab your right foot with your right hand, bringing your heel toward your buttocks. Press your hips forward, keeping your back straight, to feel the stretch more. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the left leg.

9. Entire body

This stretch opens your back and chest to promote deep breathing, alleviating stress and physical tension.

A photo posted by Erica Ziel (@knockedupfitness) on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:39pm PST

  • Sit on your heels with your knees spread wide enough to allow room for your belly.
  • Cross your forearms on top of an exercise ball and roll it forward, bending from the waist.
  • Relax your upper body into the ball as you take slow deep breaths and relax your pelvic floor. Hold for one to two minutes.

Deep breathing exercises during pregnancy

Deep breathing is especially important for pregnant women. Not only is it relaxing, it can improve your body awareness and teach you to control your breath to better cope with labor pain.

For all of the above stretching exercises, focus on breathing deeply, allowing your lower abdomen and lungs to expand fully. You’ll get more oxygen to your body and baby than when you take typical shallow breaths from the upper chest.

And even when you’re not stretching, it’s a good idea to do some deep breathing a few times a day if possible. Sit up straight and place your hands on your belly. Feel it rise and fall as you inhale through your nose and exhale out your mouth. Try repeating a comforting word, like “peace” or “relax.” Or count to four as you inhale and six as you exhale.

The Best Exercises for Pregnant Women

Your back aches, your ankles are swollen, and you can’t sleep (let’s not even talk about the bloating and constipation!). If only there were something you could do to minimize the common symptoms of pregnancy. Turns out, there is: exercise is one of the most effective cures for the aches and pains of the expecting set.

Working out while you’re pregnant offers lots of benefits for you and your baby. You’ll get a boost in mood, a decrease in many pregnancy symptoms, and a quicker postpartum recovery. And your baby may enjoy a fitter heart, lower BMI, and boost in brain health.

What’s more, it doesn’t matter if you were an iron woman or a sofa slacker until now. You can still benefit from getting active during pregnancy. Exercise is also perfectly safe, as long as you get the okay from your practitioner before hitting any new or familiar workout routine and follow a few pregnancy-specific modifications.

So lace up those sneakers and get going! But before you do, read these guidelines and learn about some of the best exercises for pregnant women.

How much exercise should I get during pregnancy?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that expecting moms get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day, most (if not all) days of the week.

What counts toward that 30 minutes? As far as your heart and general health are concerned, three 10-minute walks sprinkled throughout the day are just as beneficial as 30 minutes on the treadmill or bike at the gym. For that matter, even non-exercise activity — like 15 minutes of vacuuming and 15 minutes of light yard work — counts toward your daily goal.

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Are there any risks of exercising while I’m pregnant?

While it’s true that now isn’t the time to learn to water ski or enter a horse-jumping competition, most women can still enjoy most fitness activities. In fact, many exercises that are off-limits during pregnancy (like mountain biking or downhill skiing) are ones you’d probably have a hard time doing with a basketball-sized tummy anyway.

That said, definitely be sure to get the go-ahead from your practitioner before you start any exercise program during pregnancy. Some conditions (such as severe anemia, placenta previa, incompetent cervix and ruptured membranes, among others) can rule out exercise during pregnancy.

What are the best cardio exercises I can do while I’m pregnant?

As long as you get the go-ahead to exercise from your practitioner, you can consider the following cardiovascular exercises to increase blood circulation, muscle tone and endurance (which you’ll be thankful for come delivery day):

Swimming

Swimming and water aerobics may just be the perfect pregnancy workout. Why? In the water, you weigh less than you do on land, so you’ll feel lighter and more agile. A dip in the pool may also help relieve nausea, sciatic pain and puffy ankles. And because baby’s floating along with you, it’s gentle on your loosening joints and ligaments (your body’s natural response to pregnancy hormones).

Just be careful walking on slippery pool sides, and step or slide into the water rather than diving or jumping in. Your growing baby isn’t equipped to handle the bubbles that form inside the body when you quickly change altitudes under the pressure of the water (it’s why scuba diving is a big no-no). And as your pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity will likely be off too. All that means the impact of diving isn’t worth the potential risk.

Walking

There’s no easier exercise to fit into your busy schedule than walking during pregnancy … and it’s a workout you can continue right up until your delivery date (and even on D-day if you’re anxious to help along the contractions). What’s more, you don’t need any special equipment or a gym membership to participate — just some good sneakers.

Running

Want to go a little faster? Experienced runners can stay on track during pregnancy with a doctor’s OK. Stick to level terrain (or a treadmill) and never overdo it (loose ligaments and joints during pregnancy can make jogging harder on your knees — and you more prone to injury).

Ellipticals and stair climbers

Both ellipticals and stair climbers are good bets during pregnancy. Adjust speed, incline and tension to a level that’s comfortable for you. Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses, you may have a harder time with resistance (or not; listen to your body) and need to pay closer attention to where you step to avoid stumbles.

Group dance or aerobics classes

Low-impact aerobics and dance workout classes like Zumba are a great way to increase your heart rate and get the endorphins flowing if you’re a newbie exerciser. As your abdomen expands, avoid any activities that require careful balance. If you’re an experienced athlete, listen to your body, avoid jumping or high-impact movements, and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you’re new to exercise, opt for the water version of aerobics, which is ideal for the expecting set.

Indoor cycling

If you’ve been spinning for at least six months before pregnancy, you should be able to continue as long as you tone down the workout and have your practitioner’s OK. Indoor cycling can be great exercise, as it lets you pedal at your own pace without the risk of falling or putting pressure on your ankle and knee joints.

Make sure your instructor knows you’re expecting, and sit out sprints if you feel overheated or exhausted at any point. Also adjust the handlebars so you’re more upright and not leaning forward to avoid adding pressure on your lower back. Stay seated during hill climbs, since standing is too intense for moms-to-be. If spinning seems exhausting, take a break until after baby’s born.

Kickboxing

With the OK from a practitioner, many experienced expecting kickboxers can continue to get their kicks in the ring. You may find you aren’t quite as graceful or quick as you were pre-pregnancy, so be sure to start slow. To avoid accidentally getting jabbed in the belly, leave two lengths of space between you and other kickboxers, and let everyone in the class know you’re pregnant (or find a class specifically for pregnant moms).

High-intensity interval training workouts (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training definitely isn’t for every expecting woman. The workouts, which involve more hardcore moves to get your heart rate up followed by periods of rest, are simply too intense to begin for the first time when you’re expecting.

However if you’ve been at HIIT for a while and get the green light from your practitioner, classes can be safe with modifications from your instructor (avoid jumping, jarring movements and quick changes in direction, and choose lower weights than you might usually pick up). Stop if you’re feeling out of breath or exhausted, drink lots of water, and be especially careful with any exercises involving balance.

Some outdoor sports

Now’s not the time to take on a new sport, but if you’re an experienced athlete, you should be able to continue the following outdoor sports given your doctor’s approval and a few modifications:

  • Hiking: Avoid uneven terrain (especially later in pregnancy, when your belly can block your view of pebbles in your path), high altitudes and slippery conditions.
  • Biking: If you’re an avid outdoor cycler, talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe to continue biking outside after getting pregnant (and if, at some point, you should stop). The extra weight of your baby belly can affect your balance, and you don’t want to risk toppling over when baby is on board. Wear a helmet, skip bumpy surfaces, and avoid wet pavement and roads with tight curves.
  • Ice skating, horseback riding and in-line skating: You can probably keep these activities up early in pregnancy as long as you have your practitioner’s green light, but you’ll have to give them up later on due to balance issues.
  • Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing: These are both fine as long as you’re extra careful about tripping. Just know that downhill skiing and snowboarding are off-limits for now because the risk of a serious fall or collision is too great.

What are the best strength and flexibility exercises I can do while I’m pregnant?

Strength workouts help maintain and build your muscles. Stronger and more flexible muscles, in turn, help you to bear the weight you gain throughout your pregnancy and protect your joints from injuries as your ligaments relax. As long as you get your doctor’s OK to work out, here are the best strengthening exercises for pregnant women:

Weight lifting

Lifting weights is a good way to increase your muscle tone when you’re expecting — just opt for more reps (i.e. 12 to 15 in a set) using a lower weight than usual. You might also want to switch to machines, which limit your range of motion to reduce any chance of injury. Try to skip isometric movements — exercises where you hold still in a particular position — because if you accidentally forget to breathe (it’s a common mistake!), you could easily become lightheaded. Use light weights with multiple repetitions instead. And don’t forget to stretch when you’re done!

Ask your practitioner if you need to make modifications to your TRX routine, and skip the Crossfit unless you’ve been at it for years and get the okay from your doctor.

Pilates

A pregnancy-appropriate Pilates routine focuses mainly on strengthening your core and lengthening your muscles with low- to no-impact, which will help ease backaches and improve your posture as well as your flexibility (and that all comes in handy during labor). Look for a class tailored specifically to pregnant women or let your instructor know you’re expecting to avoid moves that overstretch or otherwise aren’t compatible with pregnancy.

Barre

Barre classes — a mix of Pilates, yoga and ballet-inspired moves — are excellent for expecting women because they involve strengthening your lower body and core without much jumping. They also involve balance exercises, which help keep you stable as your baby bump throws off your balance. Be sure to let your instructor know you’re pregnant before you begin class so he or she can give you modifications for the few exercises that can put extra strain on your abdomen.

Yoga

Prenatal yoga is another ideal workout for moms-to-be: It encourages relaxation, flexibility, focus and deep breathing — all great preparation for the marathon of birth. Look for a class specifically tailored to pregnant women, or ask your regular yoga instructor to modify the poses so they’re safe for you (that usually means avoiding deep back bends as well as full inversions like handstands and headstands because of potential blood pressure issues). Avoid Bikram (hot) yoga, since you need to pass on exercises that heat you up too much.

Tai Chi

This ancient form of meditation involves slow movements that allow even the least flexible to strengthen their bodies without risk of injury. If you’re comfortable with it and have experience, it’s fine to continue tai chi now. Just look for pregnancy-specific classes or stick to exercises you know well, and be extra cautious with those involving balance.

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Tips on working out safely during pregnancy

Ready to hit the gym? While exercise during pregnancy is generally very safe, there are a few precautions you’ll want to follow to work out safely during pregnancy. Follow these tips:

New to exercise? Start slowly. Going all-out when you’re a newbie can lead to sore muscles, sagging resolve and even injury. Start with 20 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down, and build to 30 (or more, if you feel comfortable).

Already a gym rat? Don’t go overboard. If you’re already hitting the gym on the regular, keep in mind that while now’s a good time to maintain your fitness level, it’s probably not the time to increase it (save the PRs for after you deliver).

Stay cool. Skip the saunas, steam rooms or hot tubs, since anything that raises a mom’s temperature more than 1.5 degrees F is a no-go. If temperatures soar, keep your workouts inside. And always stay in an air-conditioned environment for prolongued workout sessions.

Warm up and cool down. Warming up ensures your heart and circulation aren’t suddenly taxed and reduces the chance of injury. Since stopping abruptly traps blood in the muscles and reduces blood supply to other parts of your body (including your baby), finish with a few minutes of walking and a few minutes of relaxation before taking on the rest of your day.

Listen to your body. Never exercise to the point of exhaustion when you’re expecting. And checking your pulse isn’t the trick to figuring out if you’re overdoing it. Instead, listen to your body: If it feels good, it’s probably fine; pain or strain is not. A little sweat is good; getting drenched isn’t. While vigorous exercise is okay for expecting women, keep your intensity to a 13 to 14 max on a scale of 20; you should work out only so hard that you can still talk while you’re moving. And you should feel energized, not drained, after you finish.

Know when something is wrong. Stop exercising if you have calf pain or swelling or muscle weakness affecting balance. Serious signs that necessitate a call to the practitioner include unusual pain anywhere (from your hips to your head), a cramp that doesn’t go away when you stop, regular painful contractions, chest pain, very rapid heartbeat, difficulty walking, a sudden headache, dizziness/lightheadedness, increased swelling, bleeding, or a reduction in fetal movement after week 28.

Keep off your back. Avoid exercises that have you lying flat on your back or standing still without moving for a prolonged period of time after the fourth month. The weight of your expanding uterus could compress blood vessels, restricting circulation.

Avoid certain moves. Full sit-ups or double leg lifts pull on the abdomen, so they’re probably best avoided. Also skip activity that requires deep back bends, deep flexing or extension of joints, jumping, bouncing, sudden changes in direction, or jerky motions.

Drink up. For every half hour you work up a sweat, down at least an extra full glass of water — more in hot weather or if you’re seriously sweating. Start sipping ideally 30 to 45 minutes before you begin exercising, and continue to sip on plenty of water during and after your workouts.

Snack. High-intensity exercise or exercise for longer than 45 minutes can lead to low blood sugar, so enjoy a light protein-carb combo snack before and after workout sessions.

Dress for success. Wear loose, breathable, stretchable clothes and a sports bra that supports your breasts without pinching. Don’t forget to replace your sneakers if they’re aging to reduce risk of injuries or falls.

Stay motivated. Choosing a pregnancy exercise routine that works for you is pretty simple: Pick what you actually enjoy doing, and consider switching up workouts to keep things interesting. That way, even on the days when you’d rather be scarfing down a pint of ice cream on the couch, you’ll be more likely to motivate yourself in the direction of the yoga mat.

Keep in mind that there are plenty of other ways to fit in fitness during pregnancy — as well as a few more exercises you definitely shouldn’t do, too. If you’re at all unsure what’s safe, always confirm with your practitioner what’s okay and what’s not for you. Whatever you do, try not to be too hard on yourself when it comes to exercising, and don’t forget to have fun!

Practicing Pilates can help fight a number of common problems women face during pregnancy. For instance, Pilates can help lengthen and strengthen the muscles that will be needed throughout pregnancy and labor. Ziel says to be careful of certain common core exercises. “Really make sure in any class that you’re modifying and doing other abdominal exercises besides crunch style exercises,” says Ziel. “That can actually lead to back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti.”

Yoga is known for its ability to decrease stress and reduce anxiety. Studies show it can also improve heart health, reduce pain and increase strength — all of which can be incredibly beneficial for pregnant women. As with any exercise, be conscious of modifications, like avoiding movements on your back. Ziel recommends checking if there are any prenatal yoga classes near you, as these instructors are specially trained to work with expecting mothers. “Across the board, I would say the most important thing, no matter what class someone is taking, is that the instructor knows how to tailor it toward a pregnant woman.”

Erica Ziel, owner and founder of Knocked-Up Fitness®, is proud to give you her complete guide to the Best Pregnancy Workouts. Erica and her team have developed a series of precise exercises that have been proven to prevent many major health issues that women can experience during pregnancy and post-pregnancy. This guide will highlight the best exercises during each trimester of pregnancy, along with the recovery process post-pregnancy.

Pregnancy is the BEST time to learn to strengthen your deep core muscles! This goes beyond just strengthening your ‘abs’. While tightening and toning is a goal for many moms, core training is all about learning to strengthen your entire deep core. When you’re learning to connect to your deep core when you’re pregnant, you have your baby in your belly to lightly ‘hug’– and it can actually help you find and feel your deep core muscles like you’ve never felt them before!

Deep core training encompasses specific methods (Push Prep); improving your ability to connect with your deep core in every movement, and of course performing the most effective exercises the correct way!

1. Best Pregnancy Workouts: First Trimester

When exercising, if the core is not correctly engaged, injury and even worsening of existing abdominal separations or pelvic floor dysfunction can occur. This is why it is so important to learn the best pregnancy workouts to accommodate your changing body. It might seem a little strange to think about ‘training your abs in pregnancy, but it’s actually the best time to connect with your belly and really feel your best when exercising and throughout your day!

Some of the benefits of learning how to strengthen your core during pregnancy:

  1. Fewer aches + pains
  2. Better posture
  3. Minimize diastasis recti
  4. Muscles growth with diastasis recti exercises
  5. Better pelvic floor strength
  6. Decrease the likelihood of pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence
  7. Increased energy
  8. Easier delivery and recovery
  9. Achieving a toned and strengthened core {Hips to Shoulders}
  10. Improve body confidence!!

Below I’ve included some of the best pregnancy workouts for core strength building. Doing the right kind of exercises to help properly train and strengthen your abdominal muscles is so important to achieve the results you want and need. More importantly, these exercises will help you connect with your deep core, so you can feel that connection, and even help heal abdominal separation {diastasis recti} while you are pregnant!

Because it really is possible to get stronger while you are pregnant!

I’ve always been fascinated by working with expecting mama’s, and seeing first hand that it is possible to become much stronger, even in pregnancy, by using the best pregnancy workouts! Becoming stronger doesn’t just happen by staying physically active – it requires specialized training to strengthen your deep core correctly, and learning how to move your body effectively so you feel good! What I’ve learned over the years from training moms of all activity levels, is that the physical changes of pregnancy can cause us to lose the connection with our core. However, with proper training and specific exercises, this connection can actually improve during pregnancy.

You’ll find a lot of my best pregnancy workout tutorials on how to strengthen your deep core, along with other recommended exercises, plus get exclusive access to join me each month for a live group coaching call, become a member of our private online community, and much more when you start your prenatal membership!

  • Aim for 20-60 minutes of exercise every day (yes, walking counts).
  • Aim for at least 3 hours/week of exercise to maximize benefits (being sure to include cardiovascular exercises such as walking, biking, or swimming).
  • Aim for strength resistance exercise 2-4 times/week. (Lightweight exercises, pilates, & yoga count)
  • Stay hydrated. Always carry a bottle of water, preferably not plastic. (If you are thirsty you are dehydrated)
  • Wear layers so you can easily remove outer ones when you get warm
  • Don’t exercise outside in hot humid temperatures or indoors for that matter either (If its hot inside)
  • Wear good supportive tennis shoes
  • Remember, your body is changing so your balance may not be as good, just be aware.
  • For more tips and info check out the prenatal membership and take some time to look around the Knocked-Up Fitness website.

2. Best Pregnancy Workouts: Second Trimester

Our best pregnancy workouts second trimester include the following tips when working out during your second trimester of pregnancy:

Take advantage of feeling better during your 2nd trimester. If you weren’t able to exercise during your 1st trimester, but you feel better now and your doctor has cleared you to exercise, then it’s time get moving. Even just 10 minutes every day can harbor results and help you feel better.

If you haven’t been exercising and are starting now, begin by following the same guidelines as exercising during your 1st trimester. Start slow, keep it pregnancy safe, follow the guidelines below and be sure to discuss your exercise with your doctor. The prenatal membership and workouts are appropriate for beginners (just follow any modifications and skip any exercises that don’t feel good for your body).

As your baby grows and your belly gets bigger, limit lying on your back for long periods of time. Some doctors tell their patients not to lie on their backs at all, so of course, listen to your doctor if he/she tells you this (just skip those exercises when working out). Unless you have a high-risk pregnancy or other medical reason, I typically advise lying on your back up to 5 minutes at a time during rest or exercise, IF YOU FEEL OK.

Release that annoying low back pain during pregnancy with this foam rolling exercise

It’s great during pregnancy and beyond! Every single one of my clients has seen a tremendous benefit by learning simple foam rolling release exercises. If you find this one provides a bit of relief in your low back and/or sacral area in even just after spending 30 to 60 seconds releasing then its one that I recommend you do on a daily basis.

Some simple tips for making this foam rolling release most effective:

  1. Engage your deep core muscles
  2. Lengthen tall through the top of your head
  3. Move s-l-o-w-l-y
  4. Breathe deep + slow
  5. Relax those tense shoulders and hip!

Avoid overstretching during your entire pregnancy

Relaxin is a pregnancy hormone. It allows for your ligaments to become for lax, specifically for your pelvis, to open up so your baby can birth out of your birth canal. However, it doesn’t only affect ligaments around your pelvis and hips.

It affects the ligaments throughout your entire body, so you need to be cautious when it comes to stretching when you’re pregnant.

  • Avoid exercises that also require you to change direction quickly.
  • Active stretching that connects your muscles if far more effective {and safe!} then just holding a stretch.
  • While yoga can be very beneficial during pregnancy, we need to be cautious of going too deep into poses.
  • Foam rolling is a great way to achieve balance, connectivity and healthy stretching {access to several foam rolling release videos in our prenatal membership}
  • Give yourself time to heal after delivery, mama. Your body has been through so much, now is not the time to risk injury. Relaxin stays in your body for 10-12 weeks after delivery. Try these exercises after baby once your doctor has approved you for exercise.
  • Core strength is central to all of my pregnancy and postpartum exercises – you will feel stronger, more fluid in your movements, and more flexible when you have an activated core.

Yoga during your pregnancy:

I know lots of mama’s look to join a prenatal yoga class to start doing prenatal yoga during pregnancy. While I do love yoga I also want to share with you some of my professional expert advice when it comes to yoga during pregnancy:

  1. Relaxin – a hormone that comes along with pregnancy and helps to relax your ligaments to allow for the baby to be birthed through your pelvis. Problem is that relaxing doesn’t just affect your pelvis, it affects all the ligaments in your body. So you do need to be careful to avoid overstretching during pregnancy.
  2. Look for a trained fitness professional that is aware of modifications for pregnancy, especially if you are not joining a specific prenatal yoga class.
  3. Wear layers, even in non-Bikram classes; a yoga room can heat up fast! While your pregnant body actually could dissipate the heat better than non-pregnant bodies it’s always best to play it safe, so wear layers that can be shed as the room heats up and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated {because dehydration, especially later on during pregnancy could cause pre-term labor or false early labor}.
  4. Avoid any excessive twisting moves as your belly becomes bigger {in part baby will be in the way but I also recommend avoiding twisting through your torso if your hips aren’t moving through the motion with you}.
  5. Inversions: while many may say to avoid these pregnancy exercises, I recommend to avoid if you haven’t been doing them prior to pregnancy. However, if you are an avid yogi who was doing inversions prior to pregnancy and they feel good for your body then, by all means, carry on {unless, of course, your doctor tells you to avoid inversions} just minimize your time spent inverted.
  6. Move through a controlled range of motion where you can feel your muscles really activating and not just stretching. I find it very important {especially during pregnancy} plus see amazing benefits to building strength over just stretching. Start thinking about your poses for building strength and continue lengthening as one instead of falling into stretches {remember tip #1, about the relaxin hormone}.

Avoid coning of your belly during pregnancy to help in minimizing diastasis recti

Coning of the belly during pregnancy is when you see a ridge or bulge popping out down the midline of your belly, typically when doing an exercise incorrectly or an exercise that puts too much stress on the abdominals and should be avoided (see the image below for a visual). You can also see coning after baby if there is any abdominal separation (diastasis recti).

NOTE: This is why you do NOT do traditional crunches during pregnancy, once in your second trimester you will always see coning doing crunches.

A pregnant belly should stay as round and smooth across your entire belly. If you see any coning, that’s a good indication of a couple of things:

  • 1) You need to be sure your deep core muscles are activated properly.
  • 2) You should avoid any exercise that causes coning during and right after pregnancy.
  • 3) You have diastasis recti and need to follow #2 rule very strictly until you can heal your diastasis after baby.
  • 4) And YES you can heal your diastasis after baby and even prevent further separation and possibly even decrease the separation during pregnancy – crazy concept but I’ve done it with many clients and you can too! Join me for my monthly group coaching calls!
  • 5) Always roll to your side to lay down and to get up instead of laying straight back which typically always creates coning towards the end of pregnancy. I do recommend to continue this after baby until your core strength is back and/or diastasis recti is healed.

3. Best Pregnancy Exercises: Third Trimester

Our best pregnancy workouts during the third trimester include the following tips when working out during your third trimester of pregnancy:

By now as you enter your 3rd trimester, you may be feeling more tired, maybe even exhausted, and just ready to have your baby (well… not the labor, but after, right?). As you exit out of your 2nd trimester, you may be noticing that everything is just a little more challenging.

Exercising may be getting more difficult, especially since your lung capacity has greatly decreased. The solution — Mental Toughness. This is where you need to dig deep within yourself to find the motivation to get these exercises done. This is also what will separate you from either having abdominal separation issues post pregnancy or not. You are much stronger than you think! Stay focused, stay strong, stay sharp! You can do it! We believe in you!

To safely do the best pregnancy workouts in the third trimester, consider the following in addition to the modifications in Exercising During your 2nd Trimester:

  • You may feel like you “just can’t get a big enough breath in”, which is completely normal. Your baby is getting bigger and taking up more space, thus causing less room for your diaphragm to expand. This leaves you having a hard time breathing, especially when exerting energy. As you breathe, try to breathe out into your sides and into your back. Continue practicing good posture and engaging in cardio exercise as these can help increase your ability to breathe deeper both during and after pregnancy.
  • Having a hard time getting a breath in? Stretch your arms overhead and take in really deep slow breaths. I recommend sitting down, but sitting straight with good posture.
  • Some women begin to feel Sciatic nerve pain, dull or sharp pain in your butt, which usually runs down your leg. Exercise may or may not help alleviate sciatic pain. If you’re experiencing in the beginning or middle of your pregnancy with appropriate exercises, you can usually get the sciatic pain to go away, or at least minimize it. If you’re near the end of your pregnancy, many times it’s the position of your baby plus the added weight that’s causing the pain, and it may not resolve until after the baby is born. If you have sciatic pain, you should avoid any straight leg lifts or kicks as this can pull even more on your sciatic nerve & make it worse. There are several amazing exercises I’ve included in our prenatal membership that can help alleviate those small aches & pains. Be sure to watch the foam rolling video here that could help with both sciatic and low back pain.
  • Swelling of your legs, ankles, and feet is common, especially the last month or two. Regular exercise during your 3rd trimester can help with swelling and varicose veins. Elevate your feet as often as you can while avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time. If you tend to stand a lot, try setting an alarm to remind you to sit or modify your day so you can rest your feet.
  • If you haven’t been already, be sure you roll to your side when you are getting up to avoid overusing your abs (specifically rectus abdominals) to help minimize or avoid diastasis recti (abdominal separation). Continue avoiding any crunching motion exercises. Planks can be ok for some, but I recommend doing the modified plank into your 3rd trimester as long as you are able to properly engage your deep core muscles and avoid any “coning” of your belly. Rotational exercise such as Squats with Rotation, Forward Rolls (also a great back stretch) and Cat Cows are wonderful, just to name a few.
  • Stay Hydrated! Take breaks every 20 minutes or so during exercise to drink water (you will probably have to pee as well!). Dehydration is one cause of early labor. Remember: if you are thirsty, then you are already dehydrated!
  • If you haven’t already, you may begin to feel “Braxton-Hicks Contractions”. This is your body’s way of practicing for the real event… LABOR! They are completely normal, so don’t worry. These contractions may come on stronger as you exercise (due to dehydration), so it’s even more important that you stay hydrated. If you start to feel them come on too strong, it’s an indication to momentarily stop exercise, sit, drink some water, and once you feel better, continue your exercise as long as your body is telling you it’s ok. If not, give yourself a break and see how you feel tomorrow. If they don’t stop or decrease intensity, it’s a good idea to go see your Doc, especially if you are within those last 4 weeks or so.
  • As you near the end of your pregnancy baby will “drop” getting ready for the main event and making it easier to breathe! Relief! But now you have to pee ALL THE TIME! You may feel as though your baby is going to “fall out”! He/She/They won’t, but it’s a great reason to have strong deep core muscles (pelvic floor and transverse). After your baby has dropped, there may be exercises that don’t feel so good anymore, so just don’t do them, modify them and go through a smaller range of motion and decrease the resistance.
  • It’s important to spend time relaxing both your body and your pelvic floor in those weeks leading up to your due date. Each night spend some time focusing on deep diaphragmatic breathing and releasing and relaxing your pelvic floor.

4. The Best Pregnancy Workout Routine

The Best Pregnancy Workout Routine Guidelines:

Across the eleven proposals, frequency recommendations differed for almost every guide. How often you should be exercising is partly determined by your pre-pregnancy activity level, among other health factors. 3/4 of the guidelines recommended a goal of gradually building up to more frequent exercises, on most days of the week.

For moms who were active before pregnancy, it’s generally considered safe to continue to exercise as often as you were before, especially in the first trimester, so long as the intensity (see below) is within range, and the exercises are safe & feel good. If you’re just starting out, get clearance from your doctor, and begin with 2-3 days per week of low-intensity exercise, gradually working up to most days of the week for optimal results. Doing my best pregnancy workouts each day can help to improve your endurance, strength, and muscle memory, giving you results more quickly and safely than trying to pack in a week’s worth in one day.

So rather than trying to set aside a day or two a week to squeeze in a gym-marathon, try fitting in shorter bursts (see Time, below), of prenatal exercises daily… your body and baby will thank you!

Intensity

Determining how hard you’re working during an exercise can be challenging, especially if you are new to an exercise program and are concerned about overexerting yourself.

Many exercise guidelines traditionally advise tracking your heart rate. Heart Rate Monitoring involves tracking resting heart rate, and calculating a safe range to exercise within (usually 60-80% of maximum aerobic capacity) or around 140 beats per minute. This measurement, however, varies significantly based on your individual cardiovascular strength and pre-pregnancy activity level. Using heart rate monitoring is not considered the most effective way to determine what’s safe, or whether you’re getting the best pregnancy workouts in.

Recently updated health care recommendations suggest moms use the ‘Talk Test’ to help achieve optimal prenatal exercise. This easy-to-use intensity indicator requires no equipment (and no math!). You should be able to carry on a conversation with your workout buddy, sing along to a song, or say a few words to your growing baby bump. Use the talk test to determine if your workouts are too intense (not getting enough air) or if it’s time to ramp up your efforts!

It’s most important to remember that the best indicator for safe prenatal exercise is how you feel. So breathe easy, do what feels good, and challenge yourself where you can to make the most of our best pregnancy workouts.

Best Pregnancy Exercises

Time

Several studies now show that shorter workouts, (10-15 minutes at a moderate intensity) performed more frequently can actually be more effective than one long sweat-session. These shorter workouts also have longer-lasting benefits, including long term cardiovascular and muscular response improvement. We recommend incorporating this into your best pregnancy workouts.

Frequent, shorter exercises, performed at your maximum intensity works to:

  • Regulate blood sugar
  • Keep blood pressure in check
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Increase your metabolism and improve digestion (which can often be sluggish in pregnancy– thanks, hormones!)
  • Improve your sleep quality

As busy mamas, an hour or more at the gym might be impossible to come by, but fifteen minutes to perform some exercises at home that don’t require a gym full of equipment can be a very realistic goal. By performing exercises for shorter periods of time, you are more likely to do them accurately so you can reduce your risk of injury and get more out of each move.

Rather than exercising to exhaustion once or twice a week (not recommended in pregnancy!), you can try 10-30 minutes of well-performed pregnancy workouts each day. You’ll see more benefits from breaking up 2-3 hours of exercise over 7 days, versus one long day spent at the gym!

Type

Activities considered beneficial for prenatal health promotion across most of the guidelines in the study include: aerobic, strengthening, walking, and water exercises. Other examples of safe and effective prenatal exercises suggested in many of the included samples include; yoga, Pilates, and pelvic floor exercises (incorporated in the Prenatal Membership)!

The best pregnancy exercises for each individual pregnant mom vary, based on your pre-pregnancy exercise routines and how your pregnancy is progressing. We see moms cross-fitting, lifting, and competing in athletics, all within their own range of physical capability. You can safely continue any pre-pregnancy exercises into the first trimester, so long as there is no risk for impact, falling, or pressure on your pelvic floor (including incontinence symptoms). Into your second and third trimester, including some prenatal specific programs, like the Prenatal Sculpt workouts. Introducing these pregnancy-specific exercises can help prepare your growing body for late pregnancy, delivery, and life as a mom.

Always remember, only perform exercises that are comfortable for you. You can alleviate many common discomforts of pregnancy with light stretching, walking, or mindful breathing exercises, but it’s important to talk to your doctor before exercising.

So What’s Right For Me?

Always discuss with your healthcare provider before changing your health plan during pregnancy. Your doctors can provide insight into how your pregnancy is progressing, and if there might be concerns or limitations specific to your body and baby.

Once you have the green light, and if you’re new to exercising, begin with 10-15 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercises, then you can gradually work up to 30 minutes per day, on most days of the week. Research indicates that 150 minutes of exercise per week is the minimum to strive for, which works out to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Breaking up that 150 minutes in any manageable slices (fifteen minutes in the morning, and fifteen after work) can help you achieve the ultimate objective: improving your health and endurance in pregnancy, without having to overhaul your schedule!

5. Best Pregnancy Exercise for normal delivery

Best Pregnancy Exercise for normal delivery

Train Your Body for Delivery Day – The average marathon, 26.2 miles, takes elite athletes a little over 2 hours to complete… that’s the same amount of time, on average, moms can spend in active labor! Like any athlete, training your muscles for the required work is the most effective way to be prepared for the big day. Specifically training your deep core (‘pushing muscles’), legs, and back, within your total body prenatal exercise program can significantly improve your pregnancy and delivery experience. Learning Erica’s Push Prep Method could help you with the ease of and speed of delivering your little one. You can find her methods in her book, The Knocked-Up Fitness Guide to Pregnancy and by video in our prenatal membership.

Remember the goals of exercising during pregnancy:

  • Prepares your body for labor & delivery
  • Helps you feel good
  • Keeps you as “pain-free” as possible
  • Helps maintain/create good posture
  • Return to your pre-pregnancy weight sooner & easier
  • Easier recovery after baby
  • Improve your body confidence!

Having gone through 3 pregnancies, all very different, my best advice during the 3rd trimester is to get out and move every day, even if you don’t have the energy. It doesn’t have to be hard or long, just move (as long as it’s not painful)!

Painful and tired are two different things. If this is your first pregnancy, take advantage of it and sleep as much as you can. During my first pregnancy, I slept 12 hours every night during the last month (except to get up and pee of course!). With my 2nd pregnancy, I couldn’t do that, but I did sneak in naps when my daughter slept. With my 3rd, there is no time to sleep!

Remember, some things can wait and you and your baby’s health is the most important thing right now. Even though you may have a list a mile long of things you want to get done before your baby arrives, they can wait. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your hubby (of course), as well as close friends and family.

6. Best Pregnancy Exercises Videos

My best pregnancy workouts focus on moving from your core, appropriately, teaching you properly deep core breathing with each movement. Every exercise has a purpose for your body – to improve your overall strength, posture, deep core strength while decreasing and even getting rid of aches and pains.

Back pain is something that many believe is just a part of pregnancy – but it doesn’t have to be! Learning how to strengthen your deep core safely and effectively, with the best pregnancy workouts and postural tips (all of which I teach you in additional educational tutorials in our Prenatal Membership).

Every single pregnancy workout you do involves your core in one way or another and I teach you and clue you in every exercise what your core should be doing. While it’s important to learn how to strengthen your core during pregnancy (including your pelvic floor), it’s also important to learn how to release and relax your body and specifically your pelvic floor to help prepare your body for birth. Even if you are planning a c-section learning both how to strengthen and release your deep core is extremely beneficially for your body during pregnancy, for postpartum recovery and life as a busy mama!

I become very emotional when just thinking about how important it is to learn the best pregnancy workouts to strengthen your core safely and effectively and how pregnancy is the best time in your entire life to learn to do so. It really can be life-changing both now and for the rest of your life!

Due to a high demand for a step-by-step program designed to help mama’s heal abdominal separation (diastasis recti) and improve pelvic organ prolapse symptoms, incontinence, poor posture, aches and pains, and so on I knew I had to put my training together in an online format for woman to be able to access all over the world. And today I have my Core Rehab Program which is helping so many women get their body confidence back! Improving and healing diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, getting rid of aches and pains and helping mama’s feel better than they did before having their little ones.

Mama, it really is possible to feel good – you deserve to feel good – when you feel good your quality of life improves and you get more enjoyment out of each and every day!

International Journal of Childbirth Education: Exercises for Lower Back Pain in Pregnancy

Physical Therapy, Stretches, and Massage for Sciatic Pain, Hip Pain, and Pelvic Floor Misalignment

International Journal of Childbirth Education. September 2008

Heather Jeffcoat, DPT

Sciatic pain? Lower back pain? Hip pain? Any of these sound familiar? What can be done for these women suffering through one of the best times of their lives? So often the advice given is to “just get a massage.” Yes, massages feel WONDERFUL, but unfortunately many women find themselves $100 poorer (plus tip!) and still in pain several hours later. Why does this happen?
Massage techniques are essentially designed to reduce muscle spasm as well as manually stretch the muscles. But this type of treatment offers only symptomatic relief and does not always address the source of the pain. Women’s health physical therapy practitioners are trained to address the source of the pain and provide the pregnant patient with an appropriate treatment plan. Sometimes, this includes massage as a means to decrease the present muscle spasm. However, there are key exercises and education to provide your patients with that can also help so many of these women and oftentimes, prevent the pain from returning.

Potential sources of the pain may include postural dysfunction related to pregnancy, diastasis rectus abdominus (DRA), misalignments in the pelvic girdle, and poor body mechanics. The presence of diastasis rectus abdominus should always be evaluated for and addressed.

Diastasis rectus abdominus is a separation of the rectus abdominus muscle down the midline of the abdomen, at the linea alba. It commonly occurs at the level of the umbilicus, but can occur above, below, or a combination of the three. It usually occurs during the second or third trimester and often persists after delivery if not addressed. Women may not know this separation is occurring. The primary sign is a small or vertical bulge at the women’s midline with standing, and a bulge or gap in the same location when doing a crunch.

If an individual has a diastasis, this contributes to weak abdominal and trunk muscles, poor posture, and low back pain. She will also be unable to do many exercises correctly without injuring or further aggravating her lower back. All strenuous activity or exercise should be avoided until the diastasis is corrected to a two-finger width.

How to check for a diastasis recti:

  • Have your patient lie on her back with her knees bent.
  • Place two fingers vertically in the middle of her abdomen at the level of the umbilicus.
  • Have her lift her head off the floor. Do not have her lift up the shoulders (as in doing a crunch).
  • Feel with your fingers if there is a separation occurring.
  • Then place your fingers in the same position and check two inches above the umbilicus and two inches below the umbilicus.
  • A one-to-two-finger separation is normal. If there is more than a two-finger separation at any of the levels, then your patient has a diastasis recti.

She should also perform the following exercise:

Diastasis Rectus Abdominus Correction:

Wrap a towel or sheet around the patient’s waist, at the level of the umbilicus (A). Instruct her to exhale as she lifts her head off the floor, gently squeezing the towel around the abdomen (B). Have her inhale as she lowers the head back down. Begin with 10 repetitions twice a day, and work up to a total of 40 repetitions daily.
Other exercises will be important to incorporate as well, which include stretching and strengthening of the involved areas. However, there are some considerations that should be taken into account when recommending any exercise to a pregnant patient. If flexibility is the desired goal, focus on maintaining normal joint range of motion. Do not encourage excessive muscle flexibility during pregnancy due to ligamentous laxity. Be especially careful to prevent hyperextension at the knees and elbows (think of having a slight bend in the knees and elbows). Furthermore, jerky or bouncing movements should be avoided. Due to a pregnant women’s changing center of gravity, balance is affected, although no data supports an increase in fall risk. Still, exercises where there is a potential loss of balance, and therefore trauma to the abdomen, should be avoided.
The following list of exercises is generally appropriate for pregnant patients who complain of the orthopedic ailments listed above. However, if the pain is severe, or does not improve with the following exercises, referral to a women’s health physical therapist is in order. The patient should feel better after completing the exercise. If an increase in pain occurs, she is likely stretching with too much intensity or the exercise is not appropriate for the cause of her pain.

Gluteal Stretch:

Instruct the patient to place her ankle over her opposite thigh (A). Then, have her slowly pull her top leg towards her chest until a gentle stretch is felt in the buttock and thigh (B). Hold for 30 seconds, repeat twice on each leg. Have her perform this exercise two to three times a day until the pain subsides.

Hamstring stretch and sciatic nerve glide:

Instruct the patient to hold the back of her leg, as pictured, and slowly straighten her knee until a gentle stretch is felt in the back of her thigh (A). Hold for 30 seconds, repeat twice. Then, have her slowly point and flex her ankle to move the sciatic nerve for 10 repetitions B). Perform this exercise two to three times a day until the pain subsides.

Child’s pose stretch:

Have the patient get into the position above (A), spreading her hips and knees apart to make room for the belly. Keep the heels pressed to the bottom and reach the arms straight ahead. Hold for 30 seconds. Now, have her slowly walk her hands to the left, deepening the stretch on the right side of the torso (B). Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat to the right side. Perform this exercise two to three times a day until the pain subsides. This exercise may also be performed using a birthing ball, to provide for a greater thoracic spine stretch into extension (C).

Side-lying quad stretch:

Have the patient lie on her side and hold her ankle as she gently pulls the leg back. Make sure the thigh is in line with the body. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat twice on each leg. Perform this exercise two to three times a day until the pain subsides.

Gentle strengthening exercises can also be performed, as this will help with supporting the weight of the expanding abdomen throughout pregnancy and take stress off of the lower back.

Pelvic tilts, with ball squeeze:

Have the patient lie on her back, heels two inches apart. Place a small ball between the knees (A). Have her exhale as she squeezes the ball and presses her back into the floor (B). Inhale, return to the start position. Repeat for 15 repetitions, one to two times per day. There should be no bulging through the abdomen (i.e., a worsening of the DRA). Rather, the navel should gently pull down toward the spine.

Pelvic tilts on birthing ball:

Have the patient sit on the ball as pictured in (A), with her spine in a neutral position. Have her exhale as she tucks the belly up towards the chest (B). Inhale back to her start position. The shoulders and upper back should still be erect, as pictured in (B). Do not bring the chest down to the belly, which will cause her to appear slumped over. Do 10-15 repetitions, one to two times a day.

Side-lying clams:

Have the patient lie on her side with her hips and legs stacked on one another. Cue her to gently pull her navel towards her spine as she inhales. Keep that tension in the navel as she opens her knees apart. Do not allow her spine to twist backward. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions, once per day.

Quadruped pelvic tilts:

Have the patient go onto her hands and knees as pictured (A), keeping the spine in a neutral position. Have her exhale as she tucks the pelvis, flattening the lower back without curving the entire spine (B). Perform 8 to10 repetitions, once per day.

Mini-squats:

Have the patient stand with her feet just wider than hip-width apart with her hips and knees turned out, as pictured. Now, have her go into a partial squat, as deep as is comfortable and feels balanced. Count to three slowly going down, and then to three again going up. Perform 15-20 repetitions, once per day.
As with any exercise program for pregnant women, watch for warning signs that indicate there may be a problem. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that after the first trimester, the supine position results in relative obstruction of venous return and therefore decreased cardiac output. For this reason, supine positions should be avoided as much as possible during rest and exercise.

It later states that exertion in supine in particular should be avoided. If performing gentle supine exercises, I recommend breaking every five minutes at a minimum to take pressure off of the vena cava. According to the ACOG, if a pregnant patient exhibits any of the signs or symptoms below, do not exercise.

  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Uneven or rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble walking
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Headache
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Uterine contractions that continue after rest
  • Fluid gushing or leaking from the vagina
  • Decreased fetal movement

Furthermore, before a patient arises from a horizontal position, she should take one or two deep breaths. If she was supine, she should first roll to her side and wait before sitting up to avoid supine hypotension. The patient should then wait a moment before standing all the way to minimize dizziness (orthostatic hypotension).

Additionally, any position or movement that causes a patient to hold her breath is too strenuous. This will increase intra-abdominal pressure and strain the abdominal wall and pelvic floor muscles. If abdominal bulging is observed through the separated rectus abdominus, the exercise being performed is likely too difficult and should be modified or discontinued if modification is not possible.

A women’s health physical therapist can assist you with finding other potential causes of pain and provide a more directed treatment plan. If you don’t know of one in your area, contact the American Physical Therapy Association’s Section of Women’s Health at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (800) 999-APTA, extension 3229.

ACOG, 2005. Your pregnancy and birth. Washington, DC: Meredith Books.
Artal, R., O’Toole M. 2003. Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. British Journal of Sports Medicine 37: 6-12.
Creager, C. 2001. Bounce back into shape after baby: the ultimate guide to a fun-filled, time and energy efficient workout with your baby. Colorado: Executive Physical Therapy, Inc.
Noble, E. 1995. Essential exercises for the childbearing year: a guide to health and comfort before and after your baby is born. Massachusetts: New Life Images.
Shrock, P., Simkin, P., Shearer, M. 1981. Teaching prenatal exercise: Part II—Exercises to think twice about. Birth and the Family Journal 8:3 167-175.
Stephenson, R., O’Connor, L. 2000. Obstetric and Gynecologic Care in Physical Therapy. New Jersey: Slack, Inc.

Back exercises during pregnancy

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