pregnant woman exercising

With all of the changes that women experience during pregnancy, female athletes may find it difficult to continue with their normal exercise routine. Many women have concerns on whether it is safe to exercise during pregnancy. In an uncomplicated pregnancy, exercise is not only considered safe, it is highly encouraged.

Benefits to exercising during pregnancy

There are plenty of benefits to exercise during pregnancy, whether you are an elite athlete, or someone who is new to exercise. The benefits can be both medical and psychological, with most experiencing a sense of wellbeing associated with exercise. Continuing exercise will help you to maintain your current body composition, and it will help to decrease the chance of excess weight gain during pregnancy. In addition, it may help decrease the risk of developing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

Goals for exercise during pregnancy

Goals for exercise during pregnancy can include building or maintaining strength, exercising in a way that is safe for both you and your unborn child, preparing the body for labor and delivery and promoting recovery postpartum.

Ideally, every woman should be participating in some form of exercise during pregnancy (when safe to do so). The exercise program during pregnancy is developed based upon the following:

  • Changes in the body including joint laxity, widening of the pelvis and pubic symphysis, shifting of the center of gravity and weight gain
  • Positions that are safe for Mom and baby
  • Strengthening muscles responsible for supporting and stabilizing the changing female body
  • Training (practice of activating and relaxing) muscles in preparation for labor, delivery and the postpartum period

The main components of the pregnancy exercise program

  • Core strengthening and stabilization
  • Pelvic floor muscle training and strengthening
  • Breath training
  • Leg strengthening
  • Balance

Our guidelines on exercise during pregnancy

This routine is designed to build or maintain strength and promote wellness for both mother and baby throughout pregnancy.

First trimester

Changes in body

• Relaxin levels peak at week 12
• Pubic symphysis widens week 10-12
• Ligamentous laxity in sacroiliac joints, pubic symphysis, peripheral joints

Exercise positions

• Hooklying
• Sidelying

Exercises: (those in orange incorporate pelvic floor activation)

Transversus abdominus (TVA) activation
Pelvic floor activation
Dead bug
• Bridge on physioball
• Sidelying hip abduction*
• Side plank/modified side plank*
• Side plank with clam shell*

Watch exercise videos for the first trimester

Second trimester

Changes in body

• Relaxin levels decrease until week 17 and stabilize
• Center of gravity shift

Exercise positions

• Sidelying
• Quadruped
• Sitting
• Standing

Exercises: (*continue starred exercises from first trimester)

• Bird dog
Quadruped plank
Modified plank
Seated alternating arm and leg on physioball
Squat with band
Wall slide with physioball and medicine ball
• Band walks

Watch exercise videos for the second trimester

Third trimester

Changes in body

• Edema/fluid increase week 32+
• Weight gain
• Transient osteoporosis

Exercise positions

• Sidelying
• Quadruped
• Sitting
• Standing

Exercises: (continue with all exercises from second trimester and *starred first trimester)

• Balance
• Single leg fire hydrant
• Step ups

Watch exercise videos for the third trimester

View these exercise guidelines as a PDF

Is it safe to continue exercising once pregnant?

With few exceptions, it is safe to continue exercise that you were doing prior to being pregnant. Aerobic activities such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling are all excellent ways to maintain strength. Yoga is an excellent way to preserve flexibility during pregnancy, with care to modify positions that are uncomfortable or that might increase risk of falling. Of course, just as you would take care of yourself during and after exercise, it is important to remember that you are caring not only for yourself but for your unborn child. Be sure to stay well hydrated and avoid overheating. Whatever exercise you continue or decide to start, be sure to talk with your doctor about it.