Hitting the gym may not be your first priority during pregnancy, especially if your hormones leave you craving a cheeseburger and a nap on the couch. But your doctor might actually encourage you to workout since exercising can have several mental and physical benefits.
"Exercise during pregnancy helps reduce stress, prevents perinatal depression, and alleviates anxiety," says Kristina Pinto, Ed.D., a fitness expert and author of Fit and Healthy Pregnancy: How to Stay Strong and in Shape for You and Your Baby. "It also allows you to improve your cardiovascular health and build strength for labor, delivery, and recovery from childbirth." Plus, a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy is associated with excessive weight gain that could result in gestational diabetes and other complications, says Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman emeritus in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health at St. Louis University School of Medicine, Mo., and the main contributor to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' guidelines for exercise and pregnancy.
To spur motivation, sign up for group classes that add variety to your routine – and actually make you look forward to pulling on a sports bra. Which pregnancy fitness classes get the preggo thumbs up? We spoke to the experts and got the rundown on the safest exercise classes for pregnancy, along with modifications that make them even more pregnancy-friendly.
Yoga eases tension, boosts your mood, and can even make for an easier delivery. "The benefits of prenatal yoga are exceptional because it relaxes your mind and stretches your body," Pinto says. It can be an excellent way for an expectant mom to clear her head and deal with any anxiety she might have about her pregnancy or getting ready for the new baby.
However, it's important to take some precautions when practicing prenatal yoga. "Be mindful of the risk of overstretching in the second and third trimesters, when the hormone relaxin surges in your system to open your joints for childbirth, making strains more likely," Pinto says. Of course, avoid inverted poses like headstands and also lying on your back, especially if doing so makes you dizzy. As your uterus grows, lying on your back can put extra pressure on the blood vessels that bring blood back to the heart, causing your blood pressure to drop.
Spinning and cycling classes get a major green light: Peddling is good for circulation, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients your baby receives. "A spin class is a great option for a no-impact workout in a climate-controlled space that you can do at various levels of intensity, depending on how your body is responding," Pinto says. "You can engage in a high level of effort as long as you don't experience any warning signs such as dizziness, a racing heart rate, or blurred vision."
When spinning, however you have to take several things into account. For instance, make sure you don't become overheated. "When your core temperature exceeds 102 or 103 degrees, that can lead to birth defects during the first eight to ten weeks and can also lead to premature labor throughout pregnancy," Dr. Artal says. "Dehydration can also lead to premature labor." The key is to stay hydrated, avoid overheating, and use a lot of common sense.
Even if you're a regular in spin class, show up early to get a quick bike fit evaluation from your instructor. Set up the bike safely by lowering the handlebars to decrease the stress on your lower back. And avoid any jumps or movements that require leaving the saddle. If spinning classes are too intense or uncomfortable, try the recumbent bikes on the gym floor – they're a less taxing workout.
The ballet-inspired classes include legwork with minimal jumping, making it a great option for pregnant women. Plus, most classes are low-impact and include plenty of squats or pliés, which prepare you for labor, delivery, and picking up your baby. "I recommend against turns, jumps, and leaps after the first trimester due to your changing equilibrium and center of gravity, which makes a fall more likely, but slow-tempo exercises in the center and at the barre are perfectly safe,” says Pinto. “Even simple small jumps are okay when you are landing on both feet at the same time and you don't need to change your center of gravity." In other words, as long as you maintain your balance and stay close to the barre to grab onto and avoid falling, these classes can be a safe bet.
Water aerobics may reduce pain during labor, according to a study published in Reproductive Health, finding that women who did water aerobics three times a week were less likely to ask for pain relief during labor, compared to those who didn't exercise. "Swimming puts no pressure on your joints and ligaments, while the buoyancy of the water helps a pregnant woman not only exercise but also feel lighter while doing it," Dr. Artal says. You can certainly get a great workout and torch tons of calories without any impact. That's what makes this exercise one of the best bets for pregnant women. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll want to keep the amount of time you're treading water to a minimum: Only take classes that are in the shallow end of the pool.
Similar to yoga, Pilates elongates your muscles while you coordinate your breathing to your body's movements. "Pilates is safe given that that you don't overstretch or, if you're using a reformer (specialized Pilates equipment), that you don't increase the level of resistance beyond what you could comfortably do before you were pregnant," Pinto says. Again, avoid lying on your back – you may need to ask your instructor for modifications.
"TRX is great because you can take the resistance off your joints and change the intensity to suit your body and needs," says Carla Zeitlin, a fitness pregnancy specialist and CORE Personal Fitness Trainer. Plus, it's perfect for squatting motions because the pulley system takes a lot of the pressure off of your knees and joints. To be safe, "don't do any suspended core exercises in your third trimester," says Zeitlin.
Pregnant or not, circuit training is a multitasker's dream because it's a great way to squeeze both cardio and strength training into one hour. You'll experience the body strengthening benefits of a strength training class, the heart-health benefits of a cardio class, and the weight and stress-management benefits of both. "I would consider using weight machines rather than free weights later in pregnancy due to joint laxity and balance issues," says says Dr. Alyssa Dweck M.D., Ob-Gyn in New York and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V.
Trampoline: "While the cardio exertion of a trampoline workout is safe, the risk of a fall or stumble that sends you flying is something to seriously consider," Pinto says.
Hot yoga: While yoga can be an excellent option for pregnant women, hot yoga or Bikrham yoga is a definite no-no for now. "Exposing a fetus to high temperatures can cause a condition called hyperthermia which, in turn, can lead to birth defects and premature labor. Dehydration can also lead to premature labor,” Dr. Artal explains.
Contact sports: "Contact sports carry a risk for injury not only to the mother but also to the fetus such as a premature separation of the placenta and other complications," Dr. Artal says.
Heavy-lifting classes: Some classes focus on heavy lifting at a very fast pace and experts are very wary of such workouts. "During pregnancy, a woman's joints and ligaments can relax considerably, and lifting very heavy weights can cause permanent damage to such joints and ligaments," Dr. Artal says.
High-intensity training: Some classes focus on keeping your heart rate elevated for as long as possible, which is definitely not safe during pregnancy. "Very high intensity workouts divert the blood flow from the internal organs, such as the uterus, to the working muscles," Dr. Artal says. "In effect, you are depriving your fetus of the proper exchange of oxygen and nutrients during these activities. Having your heart rate elevated for a few minutes at a time might be fine, but it's certainly not okay for a full hour."