Here's a trimester-by-trimester guide to the perfect pregnant walking exercises for all sizes, shapes, and fitness levels.

By Tracy Tear and Teri Hanson
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Walking is the one workout that suits pregnant women of all different fitness levels. It's as gentle or as challenging as you need it to be. It requires no investment (all you really need is a good pair of shoes and a water bottle). Plus, you can do it nearly anywhere, anytime. Excuses like "I hate the gym" or "I've never exercised before" just won't fly.

"I recommend walking to most of my patients who are pregnant," says Tanya Ghatan, M.D., an Ob-Gyn at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "It's easy entry for women who've never exercised and gives athletic women a way to stay active without the high impact of other activities they've participated in."

Pregnancy is one time when exercise is not about setting records. Instead, your goal should be to optimize your and your baby’s health. Pay attention to how you feel, and monitor the intensity and duration of your workouts. “Just because you ran for an hour-and-a-half before you were pregnant doesn’t mean it’s OK now,” says Susi Kerr, a co-developer of the Fit to Deliver exercise program. 

This program is designed to be started in the first trimester. However, you can jump in at the appropriate level no matter how pregnant you are. (If you were inactive before your pregnancy, however, start at the first trimester program for beginners.)

Beginner: You've never exercised or you do so only rarely.

Intermediate: You're active, but exercise may be sporadic.

Advanced: You're fit and exercise four or more times per week

Regardless of your fitness level, keep in mind that it's not only fine but smart to swap days, shorten your walks, or even skip them occasionally according to how you feel. It's also perfectly OK to break up a day's total walking time into two or more shorter sessions.

Walking During Pregnancy Safety Tips

Get your doctor's approval before starting this (or any other) exercise program, and remember to warm up first by doing arm and ankle circles and leg swings for a couple of minutes (also take five minutes to stretch after each walk). Now, get out there and just start putting one foot in front of the other.

Take the talk. During the hardest part of your workout, you should be able to converse without gasping for breath, though not with complete ease, either.

Use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. On a scale of 1-10, most of your walks should fall between a 3 (slow walk) and a 7 (fast enough that you couldn't keep it up for more than 30-40 minutes).

Rest if you feel extreme fatigue. Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it.

Drink up. Add 8 ounces of water to your total daily fluid intake for every 30 minutes of exercise. Stay cool by dressing in breathable layers that you can shed. In warm weather, exercise early or late in the day, and ratchet down the intensity.

Watch your back. Back pain is common during pregnancy; if you experience it, make sure your exercise routine isn’t the culprit.

Watch for danger signs. Stop if you experience pain, bleeding, dizziness, faintness, sudden swelling, lack of normal fetal movement, an abnormally rapid heartbeat or extreme fatigue.

First Trimester Walking Workout (Up to 13 weeks)

Beginner

Approach this program gradually and focus primarily on sticking with it. Increases in intensity and duration will come over time.

  • Start by walking 10-15 minutes a day, three days a week, taking at least one day off between walks.

  • When you feel ready, add another day of walking and increase each walk by 5 minutes.

  • After a few weeks, add a fifth day of walking.

Start by walking 10-15 minutes a day, three days a week, taking at least one day off between walks.

When you feel ready, add another day of walking and increase each walk by 5 minutes.

After a few weeks, add a fifth day of walking.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 10-20 minutes a day, five days a week.

Intermediate

The fitter you were before you became pregnant, the sooner you can ramp up to six days of walking a week.

  • Start by walking 20 minutes a day, four days a week.

  • When you feel ready (after four to five weeks), add a fifth day, then a sixth. Also, increase the length of each walk by a few minutes.

Start by walking 20 minutes a day, four days a week.

When you feel ready (after four to five weeks), add a fifth day, then a sixth. Also, increase the length of each walk by a few minutes.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 20-40 minutes a day, six days a week.

Advanced

Even if you're fit and a faithful exerciser, changing to a low-impact walking program might be just what you need to continue staying active and feeling good.

  • Start by walking 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week.

  • When you feel ready, add a sixth day and increase the length of each walk by a few minutes each day.

  • If you feel up to it, also add hills, stairs and/or bursts of increased speed (intervals), but don't push beyond an RPE of 7.

Start by walking 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week.

When you feel ready, add a sixth day and increase the length of each walk by a few minutes each day.

If you feel up to it, also add hills, stairs and/or bursts of increased speed (intervals), but don't push beyond an RPE of 7.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 30-60 minutes a day, six days a week.

Second Trimester Walking Workout (13-25 weeks)

Beginner

During this "honeymoon" trimester, energy peaks and nausea should be history—the perfect time to exercise.

  • If you are beginning this program in your second trimester, start by walking 10 minutes a day, four to five days a week.

  • When you're ready, pick two days that will become your longer-walk days (15-30 minutes) and add another day of walking.

If you are beginning this program in your second trimester, start by walking 10 minutes a day, four to five days a week.

When you're ready, pick two days that will become your longer-walk days (15-30 minutes) and add another day of walking.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 15-30 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

Intermediate

You're ready to gradually lengthen your walks and pick up the pace at certain points. Just be sure not to push if you're feeling tired or get overheated.

  • If you are beginning in your second trimester, start by walking 20 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

  • Gradually add minutes every other day so that your total on those days is at least 30-40 minutes.

  • Once or twice a week, if you're feeling up to it, increase your RPE by one level for 10-15 minutes during the middle of the workout.

If you are beginning in your second trimester, start by walking 20 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

Gradually add minutes every other day so that your total on those days is at least 30-40 minutes.

Once or twice a week, if you're feeling up to it, increase your RPE by one level for 10-15 minutes during the middle of the workout.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 25-40 minutes a day, five to six days a week, increasing your speed during one or two walks.

Advanced

Provided you're feeling good, it's fine to continue increasing the length of your walks and picking up the pace a couple of times a week.

  • If you are beginning in your second trimester, start by walking 30-40 minutes a day, six days a week.

  • Choose at least one day when you aim for 50 minutes, incorporating hills, stairs and/or intervals, but don't push beyond an RPE of 7.

  • Lengthen your shorter walks until your total is at least 40-50 minutes on each of the remaining five days.

If you are beginning in your second trimester, start by walking 30-40 minutes a day, six days a week.

Choose at least one day when you aim for 50 minutes, incorporating hills, stairs and/or intervals, but don't push beyond an RPE of 7.

Lengthen your shorter walks until your total is at least 40-50 minutes on each of the remaining five days.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 40-50 minutes a day, five or six days a week; and 60 minutes a day, one day a week.

Third Trimester Walking Workout (26-40 weeks)

Beginner

Try to stick with the five- to six-days-a-week goal, but be prepared to slow down as your belly gets bigger.

  • If you are beginning this program in your third trimester, start by walking 10 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

  • If your energy slumps, decrease the length of your walks or break them down into shorter sessions.

  • Aim to maintain the same total minutes of walking per week as at the end of the second trimester, but know that your pace—and thus the distance you cover—will naturally decrease.

If you are beginning this program in your third trimester, start by walking 10 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

If your energy slumps, decrease the length of your walks or break them down into shorter sessions.

Aim to maintain the same total minutes of walking per week as at the end of the second trimester, but know that your pace—and thus the distance you cover—will naturally decrease.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 15-30 minutes a day, five to six days a week.

Intermediate

Speed and distance take a back seat to consistency now. The goal is to keep walking for the same number of minutes whenever you feel you can.

  • If you are beginning this program in your third trimester, start by walking 10-20 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

  • Be ready to reduce the speed and distance of your walks as your pregnancy progresses. You may also want to drop a day.

  • Break up your longer walks into shorter sessions if that's more comfortable for you.

If you are beginning this program in your third trimester, start by walking 10-20 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

Be ready to reduce the speed and distance of your walks as your pregnancy progresses. You may also want to drop a day.

Break up your longer walks into shorter sessions if that's more comfortable for you.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 20-45 minutes a day, five to six days a week.

Advanced

This trimester is all about staying comfortable, so keep the focus on simply remaining active.

  • If you are starting in your third trimester, begin by walking 20-50 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

  • Forget about speed and distance, and don't push beyond an RPE of 7.

  • Divide your walks into shorter sessions if that's more comfortable for you.

If you are starting in your third trimester, begin by walking 20-50 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

Forget about speed and distance, and don't push beyond an RPE of 7.

Divide your walks into shorter sessions if that's more comfortable for you.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 25-50 minutes a day, five to six days a week.

Strength Training Moves

Core and upper-body exercises can help counter the poor posture (rounded shoulders and upper back, exaggerated lower-back curve) that is often associated with pregnancy. Here are 4 great moves that require no equipment and easily can be incorporated into your exercise program. You can even modify some of the exercises as your pregnancy progresses.

For each exercise, do 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps, resting 30–60 seconds between sets. Do them on the days that you run or walk. (You can do Cat Backs and Back Presses daily.)

1. Push-ups

Face a support, feet hip-width apart, hands slightly wider than shoulders, arms straight. Press hips forward so your body forms a straight line (A). Bend elbows and lean chest toward the support until elbows are about in line with shoulders (B). Push back to starting position and repeat. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps. trimester tip You can do a traditional push-up, with your hands on the ground, during the first trimester. In your second trimester, do push-ups while kneeling, with hands on a bench.

2. Tricep Dips

Stand with your back to a ledge offering horizontal support, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on the edge of the support close to your buttocks, fingertips pointing forward, arms straight. Lift your buttocks using your arms; squeeze shoulder blades down and together (A). Without changing position, bend your elbows, lowering your torso until elbows are about in line with shoulders (B). Straighten arms without locking and repeat. Strengthens triceps. trimester tip If you’re strong enough during your first trimester, keep your legs straight and feet flexed so you’re supported on your heels.

3. Cat Backs

Kneel on the ground with your wrists just in front of your shoulders and knees in line with your hips. Keeping arms straight, inhale, lifting up head and tailbone (A). Using your abdominals, exhale, letting your head relax and rounding your spine like a cat (B). Continue for reps in a rhythmic pattern. Strengthens abdominals and back.

4. Back Presses

Lean your entire back and buttocks against a vertical support with your feet slightly forward, knees slightly bent and arms crossed in front of your chest or hanging by your sides (A). Use your abs to pull your navel toward your spine and tilt the bottom of your pelvis upward (B). Hold for 20 seconds, then release and repeat. Continue to breathe, still using your abs, for the entire 20 seconds. Strengthens abs.

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