Exercise During Pregnancy: Benefits, Safety Concerns, PT Tips

Learn about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, how to exercise safely, and PT tips for best prenatal exercises

Published Date: Apr 23, 2024
Table of Contents

Reasons not to exercise when you’re pregnant can feel endless: Your belly bump gets in the way. Your back aches and you have to pee. A lot. And that baby in your belly is making you next-level tired. But here’s why you shouldn’t skip exercise during pregnancy: Exercise is both safe and recommended for most pregnant women

If you’re healthy and your pregnancy is normal, physical activity does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery. In fact, research shows exercise during pregnancy is associated with minimal risks and lots of health benefits for you and your baby, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). One benefit: more energy. Another: less back pain. Convinced? Good. Read on to learn more benefits of pregnancy exercise and guidelines to help you exercise safely, plus how to know when to stop and when not to exercise at all.

Consult your ob-gyn about exercise before you continue your usual workout routine or start a new one. If you have certain medical conditions or are at high risk for pregnancy complications, your health care provider may recommend you put exercise plans on hold until after you deliver.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Jacqueline White, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. White is a Hinge Health Pelvic Health Physical Therapist with a special interest in supporting women throughout all stages of life, including pregnancy/postpartum care and menopausal support.
Tamara Grisales, MD
Expert Physician in Urogynecology and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Grisales is a board-certified urogynecologist and surgeon and oversees the Women's Pelvic Health program at Hinge Health.
Kandis Daroski, PT, DPT
Pelvic Health Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Daroski is a pelvic health physical therapist who provides clinical expertise for the Hinge Health Women's Pelvic Health Program.

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Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

At Hinge Health, we like to say that movement is medicine — and that’s definitely true for healthy pregnant women and their babies. Regular exercise during pregnancy can help:

  • Ease low back pain

  • Boost energy

  • Decrease the risk of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy) and preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure)

  • Reduce your risk of cesarean birth, or C-section

  • Improve sleep quality

  • Prevent excess weight gain

  • Ease common pregnancy symptoms, such as constipation 

  • Manage stress and help reduce anxiety and depression

  • Improve your ability to do everyday activities

How Much Should I Exercise During Pregnancy?

Aim for 150 minutes of low-impact, moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week — that’s the goal for healthy, pregnant women for the full 40 weeks. Moderate-intensity means you are moving enough to slightly elevate your heart rate and maybe get a little sweaty. But you should still be able to talk normally during the activity. If that seems overwhelming, this might help: Break up the recommended 150 minutes into 30-minute workouts, five days a week. You can even split that 30 into three, 10-minute sessions throughout the day — for the same health benefits. Shorter workouts may feel more manageable during your first trimester, when fatigue or nausea sets in. (Exercise helps both, by the way.) And short bouts of exercise can help during your third trimester, when a larger belly can make exercise more challenging.

How Pregnancy Body Changes Affect Your Exercise Routine

Your body changes in many ways during the 40 weeks of pregnancy. When you’re active, you may notice changes in your:

  • Joints. Pregnancy hormones relax the joints in your pelvis (to help your body prepare for labor). This can make your joints more mobile and could increase your risk of injury.

  • Balance. Your bigger belly shifts your center of gravity, which can change your gait and make you more likely to lose your balance.

  • Breathing. Your body needs more oxygen when you’re pregnant. Plus, your growing belly puts pressure on your diaphragm, a muscle that helps you breathe. The combination may leave you feeling short of breath at times, especially during exercise.

Exercise During Pregnancy: Safety Concerns and Precautions

While exercise is safe and recommended during a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, it’s important to take certain precautions, such as:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

  • Don’t get overheated. In addition to drinking enough water, wear loose-fitting clothes and exercise indoors when it’s very hot or humid. Consider extra support. Wear a sports bra to help support your breasts. Later in your pregnancy, you can try a pregnancy support belt or brace during exercise to help reduce discomfort.  

  • Avoid lying flat on your back. This position can put pressure on major blood vessels. It’s not recommended for an extended period of time after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Exercise in this position might be allowed for short periods of time, if cleared by your doctor.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about what’s safe and appropriate for you.

When Is Exercise During Pregnancy Not Safe?

Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure exercise is safe for you. According to ACOG guidelines, women with certain health conditions or pregnancy complications should not exercise. Those may include:

  • Certain heart and lung conditions

  • Incompetent cervix, or cerclage

  • Being pregnant with multiples with risk factors for preterm labor

  • Placental issues or vaginal bleeding during pregnancy

  • Preterm labor during the current pregnancy or ruptured membranes (your water has broken)

  • Preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure)  

  • Severe anemia

Get Started: Guidelines for Safe Exercise During Pregnancy

If you were healthy and active before you got pregnant, you may be able to continue your same activities. Check with your ob-gyn to make sure your exercise regimen is safe or if you need to make any modifications throughout your pregnancy. If you are new to working out, start slowly and build gradually. Begin with five minutes of activity each day and work your way up to 30 minutes on most days. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the best activities for you. Some exercises that are generally safe for pregnant women include:

  • Walking. It’s a total body workout that is easy on your joints and muscles. To hit a moderate-intensity level, walk briskly.

  • Swimming and water workouts. Moving against water helps keep your heart rate up. Plus, it supports the weight of your growing baby to ease pregnancy discomforts and help avoid injury and muscle strain.

  • Riding a stationary bike. This is safer than standard bike riding because your belly bump can affect your balance, making you more prone to falls.

  • Modified yoga and Pilates. These are great activities to help reduce stress, improve flexibility, and encourage stretching. An instructor can help you modify or avoid poses that may be unsafe for pregnant women, like lying on your belly or flat on your back (after 20 weeks). 

  • Strength training. You can work out with weights as long as they’re not too heavy. Strength training can help you build muscle and make your bones strong. Ask your provider about how much you can lift.

Pelvic Floor Exercise During Pregnancy

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretch like a hammock from your pubic bone in the front to your tailbone in the back. Strengthening the pelvic floor during pregnancy helps prepare the body for carrying and delivering a baby. A pelvic floor physical therapist (PT) can help add exercises to your exercise routine that are safe for you, such as:

  • Pelvic floor muscle training. Strengthening and relaxing your pelvic floor can help better support your pelvic organs and baby, reduce urinary leakage, and help you prepare for birth.

  • Core and hip strengthening. Safe pregnancy exercises that activate the core and hips can support your pelvic floor, help reduce low back and hip pain, and improve mobility during pregnancy.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Deep breathing can help make your abdomen and low back more stable and relax your pelvic floor, which is important for labor.

You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Pelvic Floor Exercises for Pregnancy

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Squats
  • Kegel Reverse Lunge
  • Plank on Knees
  • Semi-Reclined Kegel

Tips to Help You Stay Motivated

Making time to exercise can be challenging for anyone. Add pregnancy discomforts and a burgeoning belly to the mix and it can be even tougher to stay the course. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated with exercise during pregnancy:

  • Start small. Realistic goals (say, two or three exercise sessions a week) are easier to achieve. When you achieve a small goal, it builds your confidence and desire to set new, bigger ones.

  • Try “temptation bundling.” This is when you pair a task with another enjoyable activity. You can boost your motivation by watching a favorite show or listening to your favorite podcast while you exercise.  

  • Make it social. Many people find exercise more enjoyable with others. Find a friend or group of fellow moms-to-be to exercise with. Another benefit: your exercise buddy can also serve as an accountability partner, to help you stay on track.

  • Set up for success. Your environment plays a big role in sustaining your motivation. Use it to your advantage by incorporating visual cues and reminders like leaving your yoga mat out where you can see it or setting out your exercise clothes at night for a morning workout.

  • Track your progress. There’s power in seeing the evidence of your efforts. Tracking your progress on paper or in a notes or fitness app can help motivate you to continue working toward your weekly exercise goals. Find more strategies on how to stay motivated and make exercise a habit.

Activities and Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy

While pregnant, avoid any activities that can increase your risk of injury, including:

  • Moves that require excessive rotation of the spine (such as yoga poses with a lot of twisting)

  • Contact sports and activities that put you at risk for abdominal trauma or falling (such as soccer, basketball, downhill and water skiing, horseback riding, and gymnastics)

  • Heavy lifting or extreme movements

  • Hot yoga, hot Pilates, or any exercise in extreme heat

When to Stop Exercising While Pregnant

Pay attention to your body and how you feel during exercise and watch for warning signs. Stop exercising and call you ob-gyn if you notice:

  • Vaginal bleeding

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath before you start exercising

  • Chest pain

  • Headache

  • Muscle weakness

  • Calf pain or swelling

  • Regular, painful uterine contractions

  • Fluid gushing or leaking from your vagina

PT Tip: Add Pelvic Floor Exercise to Your Routine

“Adding pelvic floor exercises to your pregnancy routine is a great way to prepare for giving birth,” says Jacquelyn White, PT, DPT, a Hinge Health pelvic floor physical therapist. “Just like marathon training prepares a runner for the race, pelvic muscle training prepares your body for the demands of childbirth. It can help strengthen the muscles that support your pelvic organs, reduce your risk of postpartum urinary leakage, and help you navigate childbirth with confidence and ease.” Consult a pelvic floor physical therapist for personalized guidance to ensure you're performing the exercises safely and effectively.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have pelvic pain or symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, you can get the relief you've been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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