I spent a lot of my pregnancy being a nerd. I read a LOT. I spoke to a lot of pelvic floor therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and my phenomenal OB about things that I should and shouldn’t be doing. I annoyed everyone. I wouldn’t stop at knowing what I could or couldn’t do, I needed to know WHY. Throughout all of my discussions, I found a general theme – pregnant women are not fragile. Gone are the days when women were instructed to not lift, or to only continue with any exercise routines that they had been doing prior. The dusty guidelines to not let your heart rate exceed 140 BPM are out the window. The younger generation of practitioners has since swooped in and begun this new era of training throughout pregnancy and embracing the multitude of benefits that come along with it. So naturally when it was my turn to write the next blog post, I jumped back on my pregnancy soap box to shout more fun pregnancy facts from the rooftop.
Why should a pregnant woman exercise?
Now first and foremost, please listen to your body. The pregnancy rollercoaster is going to consistently be challenging your body physically, physiologically and emotionally. You may not have the desire to move at all during your first trimester and that is totally okay! These guidelines are general and I encourage you to never feel bullied into movement. However, when the time comes that you crave some exercise, I want you to feel educated about where to start.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology currently recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week throughout pregnancy. For some, those minutes may be HIIT in nature. For others, exercise may consist of walks through the neighborhood or gentle strength training. Despite what your fitness was (or wasn’t) heading into pregnancy, you can still reap the multitude of benefits from exercising throughout pregnancy. These benefits include:
- Increase in energy levels and immune function
- Increased blood volume and delivery of nutrients to the baby
- Decreased physical discomforts (including bloating, constipation, muscle aches and nerve pain) throughout pregnancy
- Tendency to have easier, shorter and less complicated labors
- Can improve brain function in baby
… just to name a few!
A pregnant woman’s blood supply will always protect the baby first. The female body is intuitively programmed to keep the baby safe, so if a workout is too stressful on the body, she will be signaled to stop long before the baby is affected. A general guideline for women to judge the intensity of their workout is the “talk test”. Women should be able to talk at any point throughout their exercise routine with only a moderate need to catch their breath. In other words, you should be able to talk, but it should be difficult to hold a conversation.
My Top 3 Prescribed Exercises to Preggo’s
Now, of course, exercise will look different for each woman based on what they are comfortable with. A yogi will train differently through her pregnancy than a Crossfit athlete. Some women love weight training – some hate it. However, despite everyone’s preferences, all pregnant bodies change in the same pattern throughout the course of 40 weeks.
My prescribed exercises are focused on supporting the body as the center of gravity changes. As the belly grows, the back must work harder to keep the body upright. (Cough, cough – enter shameless pitch here about how important it is to see a chiropractor during your pregnancy to manage these changes. Want to know more? Read all about it in my last article here!)
1. Core with belly breathing
The core is such a hot topic during pregnancy and truthfully, I could write an entire blog post on the core alone. Core stability directly translates to postural support. Core strength also supports the body during the demands of labor. The core ALSO plays a massive role in healing during the postpartum period as our center of gravity once again shifts. I remove planks from my pregnant patients’ routines solely because I think there are more effective ways to train the core while also protecting the belly and spine. I prefer a dead bug approach, as it can easily be modified and is safe to be used throughout an entire pregnancy.
- Lay on your back with the lumbar spine sealed to the floor, legs at 90 degrees (knees slightly wider than hips), and arms straight to the sky. Often, this position is enough of a workout, especially as the belly grows.
- If you feel strong enough, add in one foot at a time slowly tapping the ground.
- If you crave something even more (and are equipped to do so), the opposite hand can touch the floor overhead.
This one is important and can easily be modified for comfort and safety, so please speak to a chiropractor or pelvic floor therapist for guidance specific to you and your body if you have any questions.
2. Romanian Deadlifts/Single Leg Deadlifts
This exercise is a favorite of mine for pregnant and non-pregnant alike. Deadlift strengthens the posterior chain and helps support the low back as the belly grows. If mama is comfortable, the single leg progression helps to remove potential compensation patterns and imbalances. Further into the pregnancy, I recommend a single-leg progression with hand support on a wall or box to increase stability and safety. This exercise can be completed with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or even be unweighted depending on the size of the belly and what mama is comfortable with at that moment. Remember – it isn’t a squat! Hinge at the waist, keep the weight close to the body and move with control.
- Hinge at the waist (practice the hip hinge move first).
- Keep a soft bend in the knees.
- Keep the weight close to the body.
- Move with control!
3. Single Arm Rows
Another great exercise, this time focused on strengthening the lat and upper back. Not only will these feel great during pregnancy as the belly grows, but it also translates well into holding a little baby soon. (Thank me at 2 am when she finally falls asleep and you are strong enough to hold her upright in the glider.) I prefer the single arm version because again, it helps identify imbalances, but also allows for one arm to safely support the body and belly.
- Set up by bending forward with the non-working arm leaning on a box or bench for support.
- With the weight in the working arm hanging towards the floor, pull up with the elbow driving towards the sky and then slowly return back down to the hanging position.
- When at the top, think about squeezing the arm tight into the body for extra lat engagement.
And as with the others, move the weight with control and intention throughout the entire exercise.
Now, while those are my go-to exercises for pregnant women, there are a TON of runner ups. Unilateral carries, box step ups and side bridges all could have easily made the list. And if I was allowed to talk here forever, I would open a hip mobility can of worms and discuss the benefits of pregnant women spending time in a deep squat every day. However, for the sake of summarization (and maybe a great cliffhanger), I leave you with this:
- If you are pregnant, you are not fragile.
- A workout does not have to leave you on the floor panting to be effective.
- Consult an educated professional for extra guidelines and assistance personalized to you.
- And last but not least, it does not have to be fancy. When in doubt- just move!
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee Opinion No. 650: Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. (2015). Obstetrics & Gynecology, 126(6), e135-e142.
- Physical activity during pregnancy: a systematic review for the assessment of current evidence with future recommendations. Cilar Budler, L., Budler, M. (2022.) BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 14, 133
Dr. Abby Dante is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner, and a Prenatal Chiropractor. She is passionate about the treatment of pregnant and postpartum women. Holding a Birthfit Coaches certification, she helps her patients modify their exercises throughout this period of life and return to activity safely afterwards. Having a little one of her own at home, she brings her experience of what she found helpful (and not helpful) to her patients with the hope of easing their transition as best as possible.