Best Exercises While Pregnant and What to Avoid

In this article we tell you the very best strength exercises to program while pregnant, and which to avoid altogether.

You’ve been blessed with a pregnancy and your life is about to change forever.

But one thing that should stay the same is your ability to exercise – although you might just need to make some adjustments here and there.

It’s important that you stay as healthy as possible during your term, and that means not being scared to hit the gym, work hard and reward yourself with a healthy post-workout meal.

According to research, the better your lifestyle, the more positive your birthing experience will be.

Experts agree that you should keep moving during pregnancy. And that goes for strength training too – it’s all about keeping strong, mobile and being as fit as you can be in preparation for motherhood.

Here’s everything you need to know about exercise while pregnant – from benefits and best exercises, to adjustments and what you should avoid…

Exercise During Pregnancy?

Exercise during pregnancy is both safe and beneficial for you as a mom-to-be.

And while there are a few things to consider when planning your workouts, the advantages far outweigh any small risk.

At SpotMeGirl we encourage all women to be active during pregnancy, unless there’s a specific reason not to.

Going for walks, taking part in fun activities and hitting the gym for some modified strength training are all awesome ways to maintain your confidence and physical ability while you nurture that little baby inside you.

Your body is changing… so should your exercise plan

As your baby develops, your body will change.

It’s a beautiful experience and something you should embrace and enjoy.

When it comes to the best exercises while pregnant, it all about what happens to your body from month one through to labor.

Here’s a very quick breakdown of what to expect:

  • Hormonal changes – there’s a big increase in a hormone called relaxin. Produced by your ovaries, this hormone helps relax your joints in preparation for labor. But it also puts you at risk of joint issues and muscle strains too.
  • Vascular changes – changes to blood pressure and heart rate will mean that after the first trimester, exercise laid down might result in decreased venous return.
  • Body temperature changes – you’ll find it harder to cool down during exercise, so things like circuits, high-intensity cardio and aerobics classes will be much more difficult.
  • Respiration changes – in order to deliver enough oxygen to your baby during pregnancy, your breathing efficiency increases quite significantly – both oxygen uptake and breathing depth. This is one reason why some women improve sports performance during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman stands outdoors feeling her bump

The Benefits of Strength Training During Pregnancy

  • Helps you deal with labor
  • Improves your health, mood, fitness levels and general wellness
  • More energy, endurance and strength meaning less fatigue
  • Reduces back ache, bloating and edema (swelling)
  • Improves posture
  • Could reduce or maybe even prevent gestational diabetes
  • Tones your muscles
  • Improves sleep (because once that baby arrives you’ll not be getting much!)

Best Strength Exercises While Pregnant

Strength training while pregnant

A fit mom is a healthy mom.

And just because you’re nurturing a little human in your tummy doesn’t mean you can’t still do impressive stuff in the gym.

Being able to life weights throughout your pregnancy provides a number of important benefits that help to protect both you and your baby.

But it’s all about doing it right, not taking unnecessary risks, and choosing exercises that give you the most bang for your buck.

Here are the best strength exercises while pregnant:


#1. Squats

You’ll need strong legs to walk, lift and carry your own weight, and that of your baby’s too. It’s also a great exercise for labor preparation too.

Focusing on your booty, legs and calves helps to build strength, stability and also stamina in your lower half.

Goblet squats work well as you can cushion a weight into your chest and keep balanced throughout the movement.

Holding dumbbells by your sides is another option. And if you’re struggling with weights, just do a body weight squat instead.

Squat down as low as feels comfortable with your feet around shoulder-width apart. Come back up under control, making sure you push through your heels.

4 x 12-15 reps works well.

#2. Seated leg curl

Unfortunately, the lying leg curl is out of the question now. But this seated variation is great for toning and strengthening the back of your legs and your butt too.

After all, we all want a nice booty.

Strong hamstrings also help to keep your knees more stable, reducing the risk of cruciate ligament injury.

Sit on the machine, pop the support pad under your ankle and curl your heels toward your butt. Aim for a full range of motion, but make sure you control the weight on the lowering phase.

Go for 3 sets of 6-10 reps.

#3. One arm row

Keeping your upper and middle back strong during pregnancy is great for maintaining good posture.

Using a chair or table to hold onto, set yourself up in a position that keeps you balanced.

Bend forward until your chest is facing the floor (shoulders slightly higher than your hips) and put your weight through your left foot.

With your left hand, grab a weight and row it up to your ribs so that your elbow is higher than your hips.

Control the weight on the way down and switch sides once you’ve finished. Aim for 3 x 8-15 reps.

#4. Farmer’s walk

This surprisingly difficult exercise is a hybrid of strength and cardio. Not only does it test your grip, arm, core and back strength, it’s also guaranteed to get your heart rate up too.

Grab a couple of heavy(ish) dumbbells that you could press overhead for only 2 or 3 reps. Make sure you’ve got plenty of space and complete 10-15 laps of 10 meters.

if you’ve not got much room, you can walk, turn and walk back as one rep.

This one improves everything from balance and stability, to stamina and strength.

#5. Lunges

This is possibly the most advanced exercise on the list, and should only be performed if your balance is good.

Lunges are a brilliant leg conditioner, but also fantastic for core strength too.

You’ll also build stamina too.

Use a split stance with your feet hip-to-shoulder-width apart (go narrow and you’ll struggle to keep balanced).

Place your hands on your hips or grab a pair of dumbbells. Drop your rear knee down until it gets to around 90 degrees. Your upper body should travel completely vertically, with no forward lean whatsoever.

Lift yourself back to the start position with as much control as possible. Complete all reps before switching legs.

Go for 3 x 15-10 reps per leg.

What to Avoid While Pregnant

There are a huge number of benefits to lifting weights while pregnant. But the reality is that your body is changing, and so does the way you should approach exercise.

Here’s a list of things you should avoid if you want to manage your exercise risk and keep safe and strong:

  • Overexertion and over-stretching – the aim of completing the best exercises while pregnant is to maintain fitness, not to push your body’s limits.
  • Any machine or exercise that pushes against your tummy – it can cause discomfort and could even damage your baby
  • All strength exercises where you’re off balance – reduce the risk of falls as much as possible by having a stable base during all strength exercises.
  • Holding your breath – aim to breathe rhythmically when you lift weights.
  • Bouncing while stretching – because of increased relaxin, you might strain a muscle.
  • High-intensity strength training – avoid anything where you have to work maximally for periods of time.
  • Hot and humid gym environments – you’ll soon overheat

Is exercise during pregnancy safe?

Most definitely.

Strength training is one of the best ways to keep strong, fit and healthy during pregnancy.

It also helps to boost your mood, energy levels and reduce excessive weight gain too.

The only time exercise becomes unsafe is if you have a medical condition that effects your body (speak to your health practitioner if you are unsure), or you perform exercises that are high risk such as Olympic lifting or sports.

Summary – Best Exercises and What to Avoid While Pregnant

Pregnancy is a beautiful experience. But it’s also demanding.

Hitting the gym and keeping your strength, endurance and stamina up helps you prepare for labor much better than following a less active lifestyle.

Using exercises that are balanced, not too demanding but target the right muscle groups is the key to the best workout.

Being aware of how your body is adapting and avoiding anything risky that focuses on intensity over form will help to keep you safe.

Enjoy this time of your life and the new experiences being a strong, fit and confident mother will bring you.

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