10 Pregnancy Treadmill Workout Tips

The treadmill is not off limits while you're pregnant. Just follow these guidelines for staying safe while fitting in your prenatal cardio workouts.

The last thing you need to do when you're pregnant is worry yourself right out of a fitness routine. Sure, you want to keep yourself and your growing baby as safe as possible during pregnancy. But there's no need to put your gym membership on "suspend" status while your bun is baking. Plus, daily exercise is good for both you and your baby—as long as you don't overdo it.

Barring medical conditions that prevent you from exercising, you can, and should, maintain a prenatal fitness routine for the duration of your pregnancy—as long as your doctor or midwife agrees. And there's no easier piece of equipment to use or customize to your fitness level, than the treadmill.

Whether you end up running or walking, the goal of the treadmill workout is to help you get stronger for yourself and your baby, says Kirsten Higgins, a personal trainer and group instructor specializing in prenatal fitness at Prestige Fitness in Chicago. It comes down to feeling good and boosting energy levels as a mommy-to-be.

Running during pregnancy is definitely safe for many people, says Erica Ziel, a personal trainer and founder of Knocked-Up Fitness prenatal DVDs. But if running doesn't feel right, it's time to walk instead. You are your own best monitor, so if your pace starts to feel like too much, then lower the intensity to something more comfortable for your body. No matter what the speed, walking is great exercise!

Here are some tips and tricks on how to get the most from the treadmill while you are pregnant.

Tip #1: Use the Talk Test

Say a few words out loud to measure your exertion. Yes, you might look like the crazy pregnant lady at the gym, but people will probably just assume you're singing along with your music. The important this is that you'll be monitoring yours, and the baby's, safety.

"The best way to figure out if you aren't working hard enough, or if you are working too hard, is to imagine someone running or walking next to you," Ziel says. "Ask yourself if you would be able to converse with a few words." If you can't, then you are short of oxygen, which means baby is too. Or, if you can stroll around and converse with ease, then you probably need to pick up the pace. The results of this type of assessment vary day to day for every woman, so always check in with yourself via your breathing.

Tip #2: Choose Incline Over Speed

Boost your intensity by increasing strength, not endurance.

If you are that runner or walker who misses the intensity of your pre-pregnancy workouts, try increasing the incline of the treadmill instead of the speed. Ziel says that you will not only be getting cardiovascular benefits, but you will also be strengthening your legs. Even better, you shouldn't feel as much of a pull on your ligaments around the hip flexor area if you use the incline more.

Tip #3: Support Your Bump

When aches and pains ensue, turn to the belt solution.

"Wear a belly band to help take some weight off around the ligaments and give the back and belly more support," Ziel says. You can find maternity belly bands at many retail stores like Target. The bands may not be the most fashionable items, but your body will thank you.

Tip #4: Scale Back Your Pre-Pregnancy Workout

Because treadmill exercise is different for every pregnant person, it helps to use your past fitness levels to gauge your new plan.

You most likely won't want to power through a long treadmill session the way you used to now that you have your baby bump, so it's best to recalibrate how you use your time. Ziel recommends you scale back the length of your actual workout, yet increase your warm-up and cool-down time. That way, you can fit in a good amount of movement, but without the exhaustion of too much intensity.

Tip #5: Hang on to the Railings

They offer support for women trying to balance a baby bump.

The incline is fine as long as women hold on to the railings of the treadmill, says Samantha Barrionuevo, a personal trainer at Miami Total Fitness. The combination of the frontloading baby weight and the incline could lead to imbalances while walking or running. The bars are meant to help keep your stead; if you are hanging on for dear life, it's time to lower the incline and speed to safer levels.

Tip #6: Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Rate different levels of exertion on a scale to keep yourself on track.

"If you have a scale from one to 20 with 20 being the most intense and one being nothing at all, you want to be between 12 to 14," Barrioneuvo says. You have to know yourself and how your body feels at each stage for the RPE to work correctly.

Tip #7: Keep a Water Bottle Handy

Hydrate throughout your workout to avoid overheating. It's important to keep your body temperature cool during pregnancy, and water definitely helps accomplish this goal.

"Dehydration is the number one cause of premature labor, so make sure to keep drinking while you're on the treadmill," Barrioneuvo says. "If you can't walk while you drink (no shame there), then just step off the treadmill or slow down your pace."

Tip #8: Stretch, Gently

Stretch after your warm-up and again after your cool-down.

It's always a good idea to stretch but do so with care and awareness. While you are pregnant, your system produces a hormone called relaxin, whose job is to prepare your body for birth by loosening some of your muscles, ligaments, and joints. This can make it easy to overstretch, so be aware of your limits.

Tip #9: Hug Baby While You Run or Walk

Strengthen your abs with a simple breathing exercise.

Take your hands to your belly and exhale deeply and "hug" the baby with your abs (transverse abdominis). Higgins says you can literally say "Ha!" to feel the muscle contracting up and in. "See if you can find that hug with baby while you are walking," Higgins says. "Simultaneously strengthening the core will make for an easier delivery with less back pain."

Tip #10: Try an Interval Treadmill Workout

Barrionuevo says that the focus of this workout is on overall health, not pushing yourself to lose weight or train for an athletic competition. The key is to start slow and avoid injury — in order to keep yourself fit throughout pregnancy. Here's a workout she recommends:

Warm-up Minutes 0 to 5: Set the pace at 2.5-3 mph and a 0-3% incline, depending on fitness level

First half of workout (changes the speed of workout while keeping the incline fairly consistent)

  • Minutes 5 to 8: Increase speed by 1 mph, increase the incline by 2-3%
  • Minutes 8 to 10: Decrease speed by 1 mph
  • Minutes 10 to 13: Increase speed by 1.5 mph
  • Minutes 13 to 15: Decrease speed by 1 mph

Second half of the workout (changes the incline and keeps the speed fairly consistent)

  • Minutes 15 to 18: Decrease speed to starting mph, increase incline by 2%
  • Minutes 18 to 20: Decrease incline by 2%
  • Minutes 20 to 23: Increase incline by 3%
  • Minutes 23 to 25: Decrease incline by 2%

Cool down Minutes 25 to 30: Decrease incline to starting %

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