Exercising during pregnancy can have big benefits for both you and baby. Here's what to do—and what to avoid.
Swollen ankles, a sore back and fatigue that easily matches that of a hormonal teenager—although these pregnancy symptoms might discourage you from working out while pregnant, they might actually be a great reason to start.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), exercising while pregnant increases the likelihood of a vaginal delivery while lowering your risk of negative side effects like excessive gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders.
As your navigate all the changes over the next 10 months, exercise can help you get back to your body. Try these simple, safe and effective exercises for every trimester.
First-trimester pregnancy exercises
As an exercise that targets your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, squats are great to start in your first trimester—and keep doing throughout your pregnancy. Squatting during labor expands your pelvic outlet, allowing more room for your baby to descend.
To start, stand in front of a couch or chair, or use a wall if you feel comfortable and balanced. Keep your knees shoulder-width apart and try to squat down until your knees reach a 90-degree angle before slowly righting yourself again, focusing your attention on your glutes and legs. Repeat 10-15 times per set.
Babies might not seem heavy, but when you're holding them for hours at a time, it takes a surprising amount of arm strength. In order to build that muscle now and avoid soreness later, use bicep curls to tone your arms.
Grab dumbbells you can comfortably hold for multiple reps (somewhere in the 3 to 5 lbs range). Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips with your knees slightly bent.
Take a few seconds to bring the dumbbells toward your shoulders as you bend your elbows, then slowly lower the weights again. Repeat 10 to 15 times and build up to multiple sets per day.
Melting heart pose
The first trimester tends to be a rollercoaster for many, with symptoms such as headaches and round-the-clock nausea that can make you feel exhausted. To counteract this, look for yoga positions that emphasize relaxation, such as corpse pose, bridge pose, or melting heart pose.
To practice melting heart pose, or Anahatasana, get on your hands and knees, then walk your hands forward until your arms are almost fully outstretched while keeping your chin tilted up. Try to push your heart close to the floor as you keep your hips above your knees. You can place a yoga block on the ground under your forehead and rest your head there if it's comfortable. Breathe, holding the pose for three to five minutes.
Second-trimester pregnancy exercises
With the arrival of the second trimester, you're likely to develop increased back pain as your baby begins to grow. Good posture will help to alleviate back aches—and you can work on strengthening your core with an exercise called bird-dog.
While on your hands and knees, slowly extend your left leg while stretching out your right arm and holding for several seconds when you're fully extended. Engage your core and continue to breathe. Alternate between your opposite arm and legs and try for 15 reps.
The middle of your pregnancy is really when stretching and strengthening exercises start to become more important as you begin to gain weight, shift your center of gravity and probably develop some soreness as your muscles become more stretched out.
One especially helpful pose is bridge pose. To do bridge pose, lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You may need to place a folded blanket under your shoulders for comfort. Then, walk your heels in toward your hips until your hands can touch the back of them (or even just get close). Push your tailbone toward the pubis and lift your buttocks off the floor while keeping your thighs and inner feet parallel. Lengthen the tailbone and lift your chin away from the sternum. Firm your outer arms and broaden your shoulder blades to hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds.
The pilé squat is similar to a normal squat, but it is done with more of a rotation that strengthens your quadriceps, hamstrings, and butt while improving your balance.
To do a pilé, stand next to the back of a kitchen chair with your hand resting upon the chair. Your feet should be parallel and hip-distance apart. Pull your belly button up and in while keeping your toes and knees turned out to about 45 degrees. Bend your knees, lowering your torso while keeping your back as straight as if you were against a wall.
Third-trimester pregnancy exercises
Curl and lift
Think bicep curls, but with more sitting to help ward off that third trimester fatigue.
To do a curl and lift, sit on a sturdy chair with your feet on the floor and your back straight. Start with your arms straight down at your sides and hold a weight in each hand with your palms turned toward your body.
Then, bend your elbows to form a 90-degree angle and lift the weights to shoulder height. To release, slowly lower your arms to your sides before returning to the starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
To do a supported V-sit, you'll need a balance trainer since you might not be able to do the position without assistance.
Lean your back against the balance trainer with feet flat on the floor and your arms extended in front of you. Begin by lifting one foot off the floor until it's parallel with the floor. Hold it in that position for several seconds before returning to the starting position. Work up to 10 repetitions and then alternate your legs to build strength on both sides.
Standard wall push-up
During the third trimester, aim to focus on low-weight or bodyweight-only strength exercises. A standard wall push-up allows you to control your balance more easily and is adjustable to your strength level.
To begin, start with your feet and legs together as you face a wall. To adjust the strength needed for the wall push up, adjust the distance between you and the wall. (The closer you are, the easier it will be!) Your palms will lay flat against the wall at about shoulder level.
Then, you can bend your elbows as you lean your body towards the wall. Keep your back straight as you lower yourself and then push back into the starting position. Aim for 10 to 15 reps.
Exercises to avoid in pregnancy
Although you should always speak with your doctor about your exercise plan, ACOG has cited walking, stationary cycling, aerobic exercises, dancing, stretching, water aerobics, and resistance exercises during pregnancy as extensively studied and found to be both safe and beneficial.
It's important to note that any exercises you'll be doing should only be making you feel good. If you're experiencing dizziness or pain in places such as your abdomen, chest, or head, stop your exercise and contact your doctor. You should avoid any exercise that causes trauma to the abdomen, any exercise that keeps you lying on your back for too long, and any exercise that can easily cause you to lose your balance. Additionally, pregnant people should not scuba dive as the fetus's pulmonary circulation cannot filter bubble formation.
And if you didn't exercise before pregnancy, it's not too late to start. Just make sure you ease into it and don't push yourself too hard. Pregnant people should stay well hydrated, wear loose-fitting clothing, and avoid high heat and humidity.
Sources:American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period: ACOG committee opinion summary, number 804. Published April 2020.
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