4 Safe and Easy Workouts for Pregnancy

Find out why walking, swimming, yoga and weight lifting are great exercises for pregnant women--and how to get fit safely.

Why Get Fit?

Now that you're expecting, you're ready to put your feet up and rest for the next nine months, right? Not so fast. "Regular exercise while you're pregnant can improve your heart health, give you energy, and pump up your self-image," says Frances Crites, MD, an ob-gyn at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Maintaining a healthy body can also reduce common pregnancy complaints like lower back pain, and it may even shorten your labor time.

Check with your doctor before you start any workout routine to make sure the activities you choose are safe. If she gives you the okay, try to get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise three to four days a week. Remember that your goal is to keep up your pre-pregnancy fitness, not to train for Dancing with the Stars. Start with one of these doctor-approved activities.

Walking

Body Benefits: Even if you've never exercised a day in your life, a quick stroll around the neighborhood is a great way to start. You'll get a cardiovascular workout without too much impact on your knees and ankles, and you can do it almost anywhere and at any time throughout the entire nine months.

Safety Bump: "As your belly gets bigger, you can lose your sense of balance and coordination," says Dr. Crites. Try to walk on smooth surfaces, and watch out for potholes and other obstacles. Remember to wear supportive sneakers. Your feet may swell in your later trimesters, so if your shoes start to feel tight, buy ones that are a half-size bigger.

Swimming

Body Benefits: "This is the ideal form of exercise during pregnancy," says Baron Atkins, MD, an ob-gyn at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Texas. There's zero chance of falling on your stomach and injuring your baby. Exercising in water gives you better range of motion without putting pressure on your joints. "I feel weightless in the pool, even though I'm carrying twins," says Sharon Snyder, of San Francisco, who is four months pregnant. Even in your ninth month, you can swim, walk, do aerobics, or dance in the water.

Safety Bump: Choose a stroke that feels comfortable and doesn't hurt your neck, shoulders, or back muscles. The breaststroke is a good choice because you don't have to rotate your torso or belly. Be careful entering the water. Diving or jumping in could cause too much abdominal impact. To avoid overheating, stay away from very warm pools, steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas.

Yoga

Body Benefits: Prenatal yoga classes keep your joints limber and help you maintain flexibility. "Also, because yoga strengthens your muscle system, stimulates circulation, and helps you relax, you can use the techniques you practice in class to stay calm and have a little more control during labor," says Sokhna Heathyre Mabin, a yoga teacher at Laughing Lotus, in New York City.

Safety Bump: As your pregnancy progresses, skip positions that really challenge your balance. In your second trimester, steer clear of poses that require you to lie flat on your back -- as your uterus gets heavier, it can put too much pressure on major veins and decrease blood flow to your heart. Also, be careful not to overstretch, says Annette Lang, personal trainer and author of Prenatal & Postpartum Training Fan. Pregnant women produce more relaxin, a hormone that increases flexibility and joint mobility, so it's important to know your limits and hold back slightly when stretching.

Weight Training

Body Benefits: Lifting weights is a great way to prepare your body for all the heavy lifting you'll be doing once your baby is here. Plus, it helps counteract the risk of injury during pregnancy by strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints.

Safety Bump: Reduce the amount of weight you're used to lifting by half and do more repetitions so you still get a good workout. "Lifting weights that are too heavy can strain your muscles and put a dangerous amount of pressure on your abdomen," says Dr. Atkins. And when you're weight training -- just like when you're doing yoga -- don't lie flat on your back. If you find yourself holding your breath, reduce your load ASAP. Breathing incorrectly can increase your blood pressure and decrease the flow of blood to your baby.

Pregnancy Workouts: Best Arm Exercises
Pregnancy Workouts: Best Arm Exercises

When to Stop

Any of these symptoms could mean you've put too much stress on your body. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you have:

  • Vaginal bleeding or leakage of fluids
  • Difficult, labored, or uncomfortable breathing
  • Heart palpitations or pain in your chest
  • Headache, nausea, or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sudden change in temperature, clammy hands, or overheating
  • Swelling or pain in your ankles and calves
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain in your abdomen

Best DVDs

No time for the gym? Pop in one of these for a quick living-room workout.

Erin O'Brien's Prenatal Fitness Fix
Forty minutes of safe, fun exercises focused on cardio and toning. Bonus: extra 20-minute partner workout featuring Erin's husband -- dreamy James Denton from Desperate Housewives.

Denise Austin: Fit & Firm Pregnancy
Three 20-minute workouts adapted for all three trimesters that focus on keeping core muscles active and preparing for the birthing process.

Tracey Mallett's 3 in 1 Pregnancy System (2006)
Pilates, yoga, and strength training that you can do during pregnancy and after giving birth.

Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the August 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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