How to Stay Fit During Pregnancy Like a Pro

Prenatal fitness expert Sara Haley shares her exercise tips for pregnancy and new motherhood.

pregnant women working out
Photo: Kamil Macniak/Shutterstock

As a certified pre/post-natal exercise specialist, the brains and talent behind a best-selling prenatal workout DVD, and one of SHAPE's Hottest Female Trainers in America, Sara Haley knows a thing or two about working out while preggo. But as she's learning while carrying her second baby, no two pregnancies are the same.

We picked her brain to get tips for staying fit no matter what your pregnancy is like.

RELATED: 5 Simple Pregnancy Exercises for Every Trimester

How is your second pregnancy compared to your first?

Haley: My second pregnancy has been more challenging in almost every way: I felt more nauseous in my first trimester, I started showing sooner, I have signs of diastasis recti, and now that I'm in my third trimester, I have some SI joint pain. Plus, since I have a three-year-old to take care of, I can't rest when I'm tired. I need to be a lot more efficient in my workouts.

If you could only do one workout during pregnancy, what would it be and why?

Haley: Dance cardio has definitely been my go-to this pregnancy. Not only is it a great low-impact form of cardio, it simply makes me happy. As much as I believe workouts should keep you healthy and strong during your pregnancy, I also think fitness should be fun.

But if I could pick just one specific exercise to do during pregnancy, it would be rows or reverse flies. A strong back is key in supporting all the weight you're gaining in front.

Do you ever feel too tired to exercise?

Haley: Here's the crazy thing: Exercise gives you more energy! If you feel too exhausted at the end of the day, try to work out earlier. Focus on doing what you can, when you can. Go for a walk, stretch, or do short prenatal workout, like my 20-minute Expecting More®: Sweat Strong Down. If you like it, you can move on to some of the other DVDs.

What advice do you have for women who are worried about not being able to do their favorite workouts when they're pregnant?

Haley: Educate yourself about the do's and don'ts, and you won't be so scared. More often than not, if it feels wrong (meaning uncomfortable, unsafe, or too challenging), it probably is. You need to listen to your body. Still, unless your favorite workouts are skiing, horseback riding, or playing football, you can find a way to do them at a moderate level during pregnancy.

There are some basic rules though: Don't go breathless (always be able to talk out loud), avoid twisting, and stop doing crunches after 20 weeks (or in my opinion, right away).

RELATED: Is It Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

You've been open about fellow gym-goers judging you for working out while pregnant. (What?!) What advice do you have for women who are self-conscious about working out during pregnancy?

Haley: Do what keeps you healthy and happy, and if that's working out in the gym, forget about the "haters." Remember that most of the people who judge, haven't been through pregnancy, and have no idea what you're feeling. I've decided that any unfiltered comments are really just ignorance. If you can't laugh it off, which I do most of the time, then find your safe place. Prenatal classes, where you can work out with women like yourself, are great. So, too, are at-home prenatal workouts.

How did you get back in shape after your first pregnancy, and what do you think will be similar and different about your postpartum fitness regimen this time around?

Haley: After my first pregnancy, I did a lot of boxing and strength-training, and I used the Ultraslide® (it's a low impact form of cardio, which I plan to do again). This time, I'll cut back on a couple things: I plan to lift lighter weights and hold off on boxing for a while (all the twisting could exacerbate diastasis). My main focus will be healing my diastasis recti, and making sure I don't do anything to make it worse.

What surprised you the most when you started working out again after your first birth?

Haley: You'll be worse off if you start working out too hard or too soon. You need to treat yourself like you're recovering from an injury (basically, you are). Be patient, and when you're really struggling, take a look at the remarkable human being you just created.

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