exercising during pregnancy

Some tips and advice

Pregnancy is a time of huge physical and emotional upheaval, and every woman’s experience is different.  Throughout the nine months, your body goes through a rollercoaster of myriad changes, and sometimes it can feel hard to keep up.  Appropriate exercise throughout your pregnancy is a great way of staying in tune with your changing body and the life growing within keeping you stronger, more balanced and better equipped to cope with the demands of your growing baby.  Exercise can help your body in preparation for labour and birth, and should mean that you will get your figure back and be able to resume your usual programme quicker when the baby arrives.

The demands of pregnancy on your body mean that it’s more important than ever to perform exercise safely and with the correct technique.  Your exercise programme should shift accordingly and should be adjusted at least every month as your body changes.  Unlike before pregnancy, your fitness regime should no longer be focused on weight loss or increasing fitness levels.  Indeed the worrying trend for women to try and restrict weight gain during pregnancy is unhealthy for both mother and child. Weight gain during pregnancy is for very good reason. Instead, try to concentrate on a healthy, nutritious diet with regular meals, and a sensible approach to exercise, making sure to drink plenty of water. 

The new focus of your exercise routine should be to maintain a base level of fitness, and on postural exercises that address the body’s changing alignment and strengthen the appropriate muscle groups. Wherever possible, you should consult with a trained professional to devise the right programme for you, or attend classes that are tailormade for pregnancy such as pre-natal yoga.  At every stage, the most important advice is to listen to your body, and only do what feels comfortable.

Early pregnancy

Nausea, fatigue, dizziness, emotional highs and lows: the first trimester for many women can be pretty tough.

Although your pregnancy may not be visible to the outside world yet, your body is under a huge amount of pressure.  A surge in hormones throws your whole body out of kilter, and your baby is growing at its fastest rate, sapping your energy. By the end of week 12, although only the size of your little finger, all your baby’s organs will have formed and it will even be practising sucking and swallowing. It’s no wonder you feel exhausted, so if you really don’t feel up to exercising, don’t beat yourself up about it!

If you do feel up to it, and you have exercised regularly before, there is no reason why you can’t continue, but as a precaution I would advise that you avoid high intensity and high impact work.

Other adjustments to make to your usual programme:

  • A drop in blood pressure during the first trimester means that your heart is working harder to pump blood around your body. This means that you will tire and feel breathless sooner, it also means that monitoring your heart rate is no longer an effective way of measuring how hard you are working.

  • While getting out of breath is safe, you should not be pushing yourself to a point where you can’t talk easily or are struggling to catch your breath. You may need to adjust the level and intensity of your cardio sessions accordingly.

  • A pregnant woman’s set-point for sweating comes down, which means she will sweat sooner than before to make sure the body does not overheat. Make sure you keep your body well hydrated.

  • Be sensible: high impact sport is definitely best avoided, and always inform a class teacher that you are pregnant before starting an exercise class.

Mid to late pregnancy

Most women find that by the second trimester, their energy levels pick up and the unpleasant symptoms of early pregnancy start to dissipate.  However, your growing bump will pose a whole new set of challenges.  The increasing weight of the baby throws your body out of alignment, causing you to adopt an ‘S’ shaped stance that causes tightness in the front of your hips and strain on your lower back.  Increased weight of the breasts and exacerbated curve of the spine can also cause rounded shoulders. Your exercise programme needs to focus on stretching out these tight areas and strengthening opposing muscle groups in order to limit chance of injury and continued back pain.


After month 4, exercises should not be performed with the mother lying on her back as the weight of the enlarged womb can press on the vein that returns blood to the heart.

During the second and third trimester the body releases relaxin, a hormone that softens ligaments and cartilage in preparation for birth.  This affects your suppleness and joint stability, which means extra care has to be taken when exercising and stretching.  High impact exercise should now definitely be avoided, as this can put too much pressure on the joints and may result in injury.

The combination of relaxing and the growing uterus puts stress on your pelvic floor.  The pelvic floor has a lot of stretching to do and strong muscles actually stretch more easily than weak ones. Your programme should contain some work that focuses on strengthening the pelvic floor. This will help in preparation for birth, and should speed up your body’s recovery afterwards.

The rectus abdominals, which run vertically up the middle of the belly, can separate in the third trimester. This is referred to as diastasis recti and is more likely if the abdominal muscles are weak. This condition is quite common, happening in more than half of women. Although it is not painful, it can contribute to backache during and after pregnancy. Therefore, it is important to keep the transverse abdominals, which are the deepest layer of stomach muscles and wrap around the body like a corset, as strong as possible to help to support the spine. This will also give the muscles of the uterus some extra help during delivery.

During the late stages of pregnancy, the weight of the baby will be restricting your movement and you may feel physically exhausted.  But gentle exercise, pregnancy yoga and stretching can be of particular benefit at this stage, helping to ease aches and pains and relax body and mind.

Benefits of appropriate exercise

  • Improves posture and reduces risk of injury, aches and pains

  • Reduces excessive maternal weight gain

  • Improved circulation, easing varicose veins, swelling and leg cramps

  • Enhances muscular balance, keeping the right areas strong

  • Improves sleep

  • Eases gastrointestinal discomforts

  • Quicker recovery after birth

  • Helps to maintain a better self-image and stay positive

  • Good for your baby - studies show that sound and vibration stimuli (that would be increased during exercise) accelerate the development of the foetal brain.

 Main areas to strengthen during pregnancy

  • Pelvic floor

  • Transverse Abdominals

  • Back

  • Gluteal

This article has
been written by
Luisa Valenti