How to Exercise During Pregnancy (and How Not To)

Women’s Health

A very common question among pregnant women is “can I exercise while pregnant”?

There is so much information out there, and clearly you want to do what is best for you and your baby.

No one wants to cause harm to their baby during pregnancy. And if you are a first time mom, there are a million questions swirling around your head.

Well, I am here to answer some for you, and give you a better idea of how exactly you can exercise during pregnancy in a safe way for both you and the baby.

So – to answer the first question…YES you can exercise during pregnancy. In fact, it is recommended!

Let’s get into exactly how you can exercise during pregnancy. And hopefully you finish reading this blog with a clear understanding of what to do and what not to do.

Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy has been proven to boost the experience, but also lead to an easier pregnancy and delivery when the time comes.

There are a lot of risk factors during pregnancy, especially if you already have underlying conditions before becoming pregnant.

This is why you want to do everything you can to have a safe pregnancy, but also to take into account things you could be doing to benefit you in the long run.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy from The American College of Sports Medicine and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

• prevents excess weight gain during pregnancy

•  reduces risk of gestational diabetes

• decreases risk of high blood pressure associated with pregnancy (preeclampsia)

• decreases postpartum recovery time

• decrease risk of low back pain

•  prevents or improves symptoms of depression

• maintains physical fitness

All are great reasons to exercise during pregnancy.

And this doesn’t mean having to start running or doing HIIT workouts. It can be very simple exercise, but can really make a difference.

Let’s get into exercise you can do during each trimester, and answer a few more questions that pertain to exercising during pregnancy.

I have a certification for pre & postnatal coaching through the Girls Gone Strong program and most of the  information in this blog came from their textbook.

When to stop exercise while pregnant

There can be complications during pregnancy that may lead to you stopping exercise, or slowing it down.

Many are out of your control, but it is always important to listen to your body and take things day by day.

Pain and discomfort are the top reasons you should stop a certain exercise, or exercise as a whole during pregnancy.

Pay attention to form and what the exercise is, and determine if the exercise needs to be changed, or if you need to seek medical help.

Other reasons to stop exercise and call a medical professional include:

• vaginal bleeding

• regular, painful contraction

• amniotic fluid leakage

• shortness of breath before exertion

• dizziness

• headache

• chest pain

• muscle weakness affecting balance

• calf pain or swelling

I just want to say that it isn’t always exercise that is the culprit of these things.

And that usually exercise during pregnancy is safe unless you have underlying/preexisting conditions.

So again, listen to your body and pay attention – always ask your healthcare professionals if you can/should exercise during pregnancy.

And if you are concerned, find a program/coach/trainer that is certified to work with pregnant individuals to guide you through the process.

Can I workout in the 1st Trimester?

Absolutely! Again, talk to your healthcare professional first to get cleared.

And if you have been exercising prior to pregnancy, make sure you let your healthcare team know that.

Workouts in the first trimester can be anything, really. The baby is growing and developing, but you aren’t quite at a place yet where the belly is in the way of anything.

There are a few things you want to avoid, you will read those in a later section.

The biggest barrier you will have during this trimester is energy and feeling up to it.

Many experience morning sickness (or all day sickness) during the first trimester. So make sure you take it easy if you are someone who is having trouble with nausea, dizziness, tired, winded etc.

Rest is #1, exercise is going to come after that.

Regular exercise during the first trimester (if you can) has been proven to help with mood, cognition, attention, and memory, and decrease anxiety, depression and stress.

So many psychological changes happen during the first trimester, and exercise may be able to help you manage those changes.

Biggest things with exercise in the first trimester is learning how to properly breathe, connecting with your pelvic floor, and not holding your breath during exercises.

You can continue with exercise you had been doing (cleared by a doctor) and you can also start exercise, just start in a slow manner.

Don’t start running during pregnancy if you have never ran before.

Don’t start doing HIIT and jumping during pregnancy if you have never done it before.

Exercise you can start (or continue) during pregnancy:

• low impact aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, stationary biking, rowing)

• modified yoga and pilates

• strength training

There are a lot of pregnancy programs out there – just be smart about what you start doing if you have never exercised before.

Can I workout in the 2nd Trimester?


Things might get a bit more challenging now as the belly starts to grow, but you can certainly continue to exercise as long as you don’t have any concerns that your healthcare team has mentioned to you.

You will likely feel your best during the second trimester, but there are a few things you are going to want to consider when it comes to exercise during the 2nd trimester.

If you feel lightheaded, experience tingling in the legs or feel general discomfort when laying on your back – avoid doing so for exercises.

You can modify an exercise to something else, or you can even add a little elevation to the exercise so you are not flat.

If you do not have any of these symptoms and your breathing is not impaired during or after the exercise – then you can continue to lay flat on your back during exercise.

If you have been doing barbell exercises that the belly will get in the way for (cleans, snatch, upright row, bent over row, hip thrusts etc) you may want to switch to dumbbells or kettlebells.

This is for form sake and safety.

You also may want to stop front or back loaded exercises if you are experiencing doming or coning of the abdomen.

This means during the exercise you can see a line forming down the center of your abdomen from the air pushing outwards. This can cause extra stress on the core muscles that we do not need.

Load may also need to be decreased during this trimester. Just pay attention to your body – and if it feels like too much for the core and pelvic floor, grab something lighter.

For cardio or HIIT exercises – you want to maintain a 6-8 out of 10 on the RPE scale.

You should be able to talk and exercise, if not, decrease the intensity of the exercise or workout.

If running or jumping no longer feels “good” or “right”, then you want to scale back and find other forms of exercise to suit you during this period.

Can I workout in the 3rd Trimester?

Yes – after checking with your doctor and making sure you are cleared to do so.

The biggest hurdle in the 3rd trimester when it comes to exercise is the growing size of your belly, and your mobility.

Certain exercises and positions may be harder to get into, or even impossible. So take things with caution.

Exhaustion also comes back in the 3rd trimester as the baby grows the most during this time.

You will gain more weight now, and things might just feel harder in general. It could be a good time to do body weight exercises, stretching, yoga, or anything that is slow and low impact to keep energy reserves.

You want to continue to avoid any exercise that is causing doming or coning of the abdomen. By now you should know how to properly engage the core and pelvic floor so that exercises can be safely performed without any coning, leaking or discomfort.

Front loaded exercises like planks, crunches and sit ups are likely no longer in your programing as they can cause more harm than good to the core and pelvic floor.

Make sure you limit the amount of time you are spending on your back during exercises – especially if you have symptoms of light-headedness, tingling in legs, breathlessness or any general discomfort.

Continue to keep cardiovascular or HIIT exercise to a 6-8 out of 10 on the RPE scale. It is likely going to take less for you to get to that level this late in pregnancy.

You may want to start adding in some mobility exercises to help open up the hips and prepare for delivery.

Exercises to avoid when pregnant?

This is going to very by trimester as we stated above, but there are a few things you want to avoid all together during pregnancy.

These include:

• contact sports (hockey, boxing, soccer, basketball, etc)

• activities with a high risk of falling (skiing, surfing, off road cycling, gymnastics, horseback riding)

• scuba diving

• activities done in high temperatures (hot yoga, hot pilates)

You also want to make sure you are cleared by your doctor to do any sort of exercise during pregnancy.

Each pregnancy is different, so ask questions and make sure everything is safe. And don’t be afraid to question your healthcare team if they are giving you “don’t lift more than 50 lbs” even though you have no symptoms or conditions that should cause you to lift lighter than you are used to.

Do not start doing a new form of exercise while pregnant – like running or HIIT.

You can, however,  start strength training, yoga, and low impact aerobic activities.

What exercises are safe when pregnant?

As I stated above, most all exercises are safe when pregnant.

The biggest difference from person to person, and pregnancy to pregnancy is and underlying issues that are being watched, as well as exercise history.

If you have been exercising before pregnancy you are likely safe to continue what you were doing (unless it is listed in the “exercises to avoid” section).

The most important thing when it comes to exercise and pregnancy is being comfortable. Making sure exercise feels good and you aren’t pushing through any kind of pain or discomfort.

You also want to be smart when approaching exercise. You likely don’t want to do planks when you cannot control your core muscles as you grow, and you probably don’t want to do burpees as your belly grows.

If you are uncertain of what is safe or what you are able to do, find a reputable pregnancy workout you can follow along with through your 9 months.

Can I run when pregnant?

If you are an avid runner before getting pregnant, than it is likely safe to continue running through pregnancy (as cleared by your doctor).

If you have never ran before, pregnancy is not the time to start.

And if you have run in the past off and on, a mile here and there, I would advise you to choose a different type of exercise as you likely are still not conditioned enough to continue running with the extra stress of pregnancy.

But again, consult your doctor or certified prenatal/postpartum fitness trainer to ask about your specific situation.

Running is a hard activity. It may seem easy (one foot in front of the other) but a lot goes into breathing, foot strike, core contract, pelvic floor strength etc.

So I would start with walking, biking, swimming, rowing before running as your form of cardio during pregnancy.

Should I start working out while pregnant if I never have before?

When women get pregnant, they usually wan to make sure they are doing everything they can to be healthy for themselves, and for their baby.

Which is great.

Overall health is important, and as you read in the first section of this blog, exercise during pregnancy has so many benefits.

You can start exercising during pregnancy if you never have before, with clearance from your doctor.

It is recommended that you start with 1-2 workouts per week at a low intensity – so maybe walking, biking, yoga, strength training.

As your energy, body and time allow you can start to increase it to 3-4 times per week.

I recommend starting to workout whenever you are ready.

During pregnancy, before, after. Whatever works for you.

Just make sure you are safe, and listening to your body.

There are a programs out there you can follow if you need guidance (find one through someone who is certified to work with pregnant women), and there are personal trainers and coaches you can work with specifically to get started (again, find someone certified to work specifically with the pregnant population).


Next Steps:

I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you could do be a favor and please feel free to share it on social media for all your pregnant mom friends!

If you want to get on the waitlist for when my pregnancy program launches – you can do that here!

Haley Rowe July 26, 2022