Benefits of Doing Physical Exercise during Pregnancy

Benefits of Doing Physical Exercise during Pregnancy

When it comes to doing exercise during pregnancy: “I am pregnant, not sick” is probably what we will hear many women who are passionate about sport say when they become pregnant. That is absolutely right. If you are pregnant, you do not have to stop doing exercise. That is, as long as you are not experiencing a risky pregnancy and you have the permission of a physician.

If your pregnancy is normal and there is no risk, then go ahead!

Is it good to do Exercise during Pregnancy?

Doing physical exercise improves the cardiovascular system and the muscles. Therefore, it improves the posture and avoids an excessive weight gain. All this will improve the physical condition of the woman in order to face a pregnancy and labor with less risks. Moreover, it also improves the psychological well-being, reducing the anxiety, increasing the self-esteem, dealing with insomnia, improving the blood pressure and preventing gestational diabetes.

Pregnant woman walking

There are two important diseases that can be dealt with thanks to physical exercise during pregnancy: Pre-eclampsia (hypertension caused by the pregnancy) and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus

Women who did physical exercise regularly before the pregnancy can keep on doing so by adjusting the activities. As long as there are no risks, they will be able to improve their physical condition, cardiovascular system and muscles during the pregnancy and after giving birth.

Why do Exercise during Pregnancy?

The main reason why women should keep on doing exercise during pregnancy is to improve their health. For instance, they will be able to lower the risk of suffering diseases related to the pregnancy. Thus, they will be able to avoid pre-eclampsia thanks to the physiological and psychological benefits of going physical exercise regularly. Moreover, it can also improve the insulin release and sensitivity as well as the metabolism of glucose. Consequently, this will help to lower the chances of suffering gestational diabetes mellitus.

Pregnant woman stretching on the floor

In addition, doing exercise can prevent or treat other disorders like lumbago, urinary incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction and/or muscle-skeletal diseases

Can you do any Exercise while being Pregnant?

You need to be careful with some exercises, since the center of gravity changes and it also has to lift more weight. That is why it is advisable to avoid balance exercise or static positions for long periods of time. Moreover, avoid sudden position changes and contact sports too. All of this will help you avoid falling and injuring yourself (specially when the pregnancy is in an advanced stage).

Pregnant woman drinking water at the beach

Do not forget to always stay hydrated and avoid doing exercise when it is really hot.

How does Exercise affect the Fetus?

According to some studies, the babies of women who do high intensity exercise weigh around 300-350g less. The main reason could be the lower amount of sub-dermal fat of newborns. That is why it would probably be better to do a more moderate type of exercise. Intense physical exercise increases the fetal heart rate in 5-15 heartbeats/minute, without negative effects.

Pregnant woman doing exercise with her child

Premature labor: exercise does not increase the activity of the uterus nor the contractions or premature labor in healthy pregnant women without risk factors.

Physiological changes during Pregnancy

Due to the series of changes that take place in the body of a pregnant woman, we have to follow some advice:

Cardiovascular Response

The pregnancy alters the relation between the heart rate and the consumption of oxygen. Therefore, we will need to take this into account when it comes to doing exercise. Women of 20-29 years of age should have a heart rate of 135-150 heartbeats/minute, while those who are 30-39 should be 130-145. Another way could be using the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) in order to determine the intensity. In general, it should be between 12-14, which would equal having a conversation during the workout.

Pregnant woman holding a stability ball

Respiratory Response

The ventilation can increase up to a 50%, so that we will use between a 10-20% more oxygen while resting. Therefore, there will be less oxygen for the physical activity. As time goes by, the uterus will grow, interfering with the movement of the diaphragm. In turn, it is harder to breathe which will hinder the performance during the workout. At this point, it is important to adjust the routine in order to avoid fatigue or physical exhaustion.

Mechanical Response

The mass center of a woman changes as she gains weight, as well as the size of her breasts and uterus. Consequently, this can negatively alter the balance, posture control and movement mechanics in some exercises. Therefore, we need to be very careful when it comes to choosing the exercises that involve this variable. In addition, the joints become stiff during the pregnancy. That is why you should do the movements slowly in order to avoid damaging the joints.

Pregnant woman doing yoga with help

Metabolic Response

The need for more oxygen is due to the higher energy requirements. In general, pregnant women tend to need around 300 extra kcals in order to meet their metabolic needs. During the workout, pregnant women use more carbohydrates.

Thermoregulatory Response

The pregnancy increases the metabolic basal temperature and produces heat, which increases even more during the workout. This effect is stronger during the first trimester. Therefore, it is extremely important to stay hydrated and to do exercise with proper clothing and an optimal environment.

After the First Trimester

Avoid lying upside down since it hinders the blood flow to the heart due to the growing size of the uterus. Moreover, this position reduces the heart rate, which can trigger supine hypotension syndrome. Obviously, we would need to eliminate any exercise that relies on that position: abs, bench press or stretching on the ground.

Three pregnant women sitting down on the floor

Recommended Exercises

We should focus on the abdominal strength and pelvic floor. Above all, these muscles are the base of our posture and they are involved in the labor. Therefore, strengthening the transverse abdominis (deepest abdominal muscle) will help to support the vertebral column and to give birth.

How to strengthen the transverse abdominis? Breathe out through your mouth while squeezing the abdomen. Imagine that you have to shorten the distance between the navel and the column.

Kegel Exercises will help you work your pelvic floor. These exercises consist of tensing and relaxing the muscle groups from the pelvic area. Above all, this will help women to have more control on those muscles to give birth more easily.

Abdominal Exercises
Bend your trunk lightly while protecting the abdomen with your arms. Moreover, you can also do abdominal exercises crawling or lying on one side. Or seated strength exercises to work the lower and upper body.

Contraindications of Exercise during Pregnancy

If you suffer one of the following problems, you will not be able to do exercise at all:

  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Premature contractions
  • Persistent hemorrhage after 12 weeks
  • Premature dilation of the uterine cervix
  • Cardiopathy
  • Multiple pregnancy

But if you suffer one of the following, you will have to consult a physician who will tell you what to do:

  • Type I Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Very low body weight
  • Sedentarism
  • Serious anemia
  • Orthopedic limitations
  • Smoking
Symptoms to stop doing Exercise during Pregnancy

If you suffer any of the following during the pregnancy, stop immediately and consult a physician:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dyspnea before the effort
  • Headaches without apparent cause
  • Breast/Chest pain
  • Calf Pain and Swelling
  • Premature contractions
  • Less fetal motility
  • Loss of amniotic liquid

Guidelines for Exercise during Pregnancy

  • It is advisable to do at least 15 minutes of moderate physical exercise at least 3 days a week. Increase it gradually until you reach 30 minutes daily.
  • Go for rhythmic and dynamic activities like static bike or walking.
  • Avoid any activity with risk of suffering an abdominal injury or of losing your balance.
  • For weightlifting, use machines instead of free weight in order to gain more stability.
  • Avoid the Valsalva maneuver (holding your breath during the effort). Advice: breathe when you lift in each repetition.
  • Forbidden activities: football, basketball, horse riding, diving, rollerblading, cycling or plyometric training.
  • After the third trimester, avoid lying upside down.

Pregnant woman running and listening to music

CrossFit and Pregnancy

CrossFit has become quite popular nowadays. We know that it is quite demanding, so, can pregnant women keep on doing it? A few years ago, a group of future mothers who did CrossFit decided to continue doing exercise after becoming pregnant. Everything went smoothly since they always followed professional advice and did adjusted exercises. If you are interested in this story, check the following video:

Exercise during Pregnancy

It is important to make a distinction between women who already did exercise before the pregnancy and those who started after becoming pregnant. Those women who do exercise regularly should continue to do so during the pregnancy. In fact, several studies have proven how pregnant women instinctively reduce the time and intensity of the workout.

A group of pregnant women stretching

However, those who start doing exercise after becoming pregnant need medical permission to do so and it has to be of a low intensity.

Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy

Several studies have proven how women who do exercise regularly go back to the weight, strength and flexibility that they had before faster than sedentary women. In general, a reasonable amount of exercise is good, although a lot of exercise could compromise the health of the fetus.

Pregnant woman lifting weights

Here you have a list of the benefit of doing exercise during pregnancy:
  • Reducing the severity and frequency of back pain associated with pregnancy because it improves the body posture.
  • Improving the self-esteem and helping to counter feelings of anxiety and/or depression which tend to occur during pregnancy.
  • Helping to control the weight gain.
  • Improving the digestion and relieving the constipation.
  • Producing more energy to perform daily tasks.
  • Reducing the “postpartum” belly.

Pregnant woman meditating

Doing exercise outdoors during the pregnancy

Exercise Tips during Pregnancy

Why is it advisable?
All healthy pregnant women should do physical exercise due to its positive effects on the cardiovascular, metabolic and biomechanical system.

How much exercise?
It is better to do exercise regularly rather than occasionally. In fact, it is advisable to do 3 to 5 workout sessions per week. Previously trained women can do more intense exercises than a beginner.

Pregnant woman doing a yoga posture

Every physical exercise program needs to be safe and pleasant.

How much intensity?

The intensity of the exercise needs to be limited: do not exceed 140 heartbeats per minute. Above all, this will help to avoid an excessive temperature increase. Moreover, the most intense part of the workout should not last more than 15-20 minutes.

How should each workout be?

It should be made up of a warm up and stretching period, followed by a cool down and relaxation period. The exercises that you choose need to be safe in order to lower the risk of injury.

Pregnant woman with dumbbells

You can do strength exercises in order to tone up the muscles. However, do not do this more than twice per week and the dumbbells should not weigh more than three kilos.

Bear in mind

Above all, you need to pay attention to the intensity and duration of the activity. Be careful with environmental conditions (temperature and humidity), the hydration as well as the pre and post-workout calorie supply. In addition, you should avoid exercises that involve overexertion and excessive tension. For instance, the Valsalva maneuver, high body temperature over 38ºC and sudden movements.

Pregnant woman resting on a stability ball drinking water


  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:  Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period (Technical Bulletin # 189). Washington. DC. ACOG, 1994.
  • Cowlin, A.F. 2002. Women’s Fitness Program Development. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics
  • Jared W. Coburn, Moh H. Malek. Manual NSCA. Fundamentos del Entrenamiento Personal

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David has been linked to the world of strength since he was very young, as he says, his first contacts were with a pull-up bar in a park.
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