The Best (and Worst) Exercises for Pregnant Women
A guide to what's safe—and what's not—for moms-to-be and their babies.
It's important to keep moving when you're expecting, experts say, because moderate exercise is good for you and baby too. For mom, the perks include a lower risk of pregnancy-related diabetes; for baby, a reduced risk of obesity and a boost in brain development. But because every pregnant woman is different, it's best to run your fitness plans by your doc, says ob-gyn Melissa Walsh, MD, an attending physician in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Women's Health at Montefiore Health System in New York. She also suggests taking it slow, especially as you enter the third trimester, so you don't overexert.
Another good rule of thumb: Skip any movement that makes you feel off-balance, says Dr. Walsh. "Your body's sense of the center of gravity changes during pregnancy," she explains.
Here, we've found up six exercises that are considered safe for moms-to-be—plus, a few activities you should put on hold during pregnancy.
It's okay to do...
Gentle yoga is a-okay for pregnancy, according to research and experts. In a recent study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers concluded that yoga poses do not place undue stress on mom or baby. "Yoga will help with joint flexibility, limit your chances of injuries, and work on total body toning," adds personal trainer Jenn Mathis, a regional fitness director at Gold's Gym. "Not to mention, it will help mental clarity and focus."
However, Dr. Walsh recommends that pregnant women avoid hot yoga classes. And for any poses that require putting your head upside down, ask the instructor about modifications, she says, since "the normal changes the body undergoes for pregnancy will make you more prone to dizziness." You can also check if your local studio offers prenatal classes, which include sequences specifically for moms-to-be.
The quadruped move
For this exercise, start out on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Raise your right arm in front of you and your left leg behind you (while keeping them both straight). Pause, then lower and switch to lift your left arm and right leg. "This move is great for getting a total body stretch, while activating your back muscles and controlling your breathing," says Mathis.
With your elbows on the floor, directly beneath your shoulders, hold your body in a straight line. If that's too difficult, try moving onto your hands, in push-up position. Focus on your breathing, squeezing your glutes, and pulling your shoulder blades toward your back pockets. (Watch this video to see How to Do a Perfect Plank.)
"This will work on total body endurance, while toning your core, upper body, and legs—which you'll need throughout your pregnancy and delivery," says Mathis. "Just make sure to keep your belly from sagging to the floor by keeping your spine in a straight line."
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Whether it's a few laps in the pool or a low-intensity water aerobics class, "water is great for adding resistance to a full-body workout or cardio session," says Mathis. Another perk: Because your weight is supported by the water, your joints are protected from impact.
Now's the time to become BFFs with the elliptical: This machine offers full range of motion for your legs, sans the heavy impact that comes with running on pavement or a treadmill, making it a great cardio workout for moms-to-be. No gym membership? Dr. Walsh recommends going for a brisk walk to get your heart pumping.
Body weight exercises
Good news: You can continue to do basic strength training moves—such as squats, push-ups, rows, raises, and curls—during pregnancy. "Strength training will make it easier for you to lose the baby weight and get back into shape after pregnancy," Mathis points out. However, Dr. Walsh recommends using a lighter set of free weights (no heavier than 20 lbs.), especially for women who are new to strength training.
It's probably better to skip...
Overhead weight-training moves
Because your balance can be off during pregnancy, you should stay away from any moves that require you to push weights up over your head. "This puts you at a fall risk and there's also the potential for dropping [the weights]," says Mathis. "Plus, your core isn't as strong, and neck and back injuries happen more frequently when your arms are in the overhead position."
When you're in the second and third trimester, it's common sense not to lie on your stomach. But you also should avoid laying on your back, according to Mathis. "The additional weight in your belly can compress organs and vessels that could cut off blood flow to parts of you and baby," she explains. Instead of laying on a bench or the floor, she recommends choosing alternative exercises that let you stand or sit down. This way, you can "keep your core engaged without overdoing it," Mathis says.
Needless to say, Dr. Walsh suggests skipping sports that involve a risk of getting hit in the belly, like soccer, baseball, volleyball, and basketball.
Anything too adventurous
Same goes for sports where there's a good chance of falling. Save the skiing and surfing until after your little one has arrived.