Safe Pregnancy Exercises

One of the best things you can do during late pregnancy is to keep moving.

While pregnant women were once advised to take it easy, avoid lifting weights, and keep their heart rate below 140, those recommendations are no longer supported by medical findings and the recommendations of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Should You Exercise During Pregnancy?

Yes!

Exercise reduces back pain, improves digestion, promotes a healthy level of weight gain during pregnancy, and may decrease risks of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery. Prior to beginning or changing your existing workout program, you should definitely get an evaluation and clearance from your doctor, and know that there are conditions that preclude exercise during pregnancy (you can learn more about those conditions in the guidelines above).

If You’re New To Exercise:

Start gradually with low impact movements such as walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine or indoor cycle. Start by keeping the intensity of your workout at 60% to 70% of your maximal heart rate. You should also avoid elevating your body temperature excessively, which is unlikely if you are working in a climate controlled environment and stick to workouts of 20 to 30 minutes.

Using home fitness equipment to build an aerobic base during the final months of your pregnancy will benefit you and your baby through increasing circulation, preventing or managing issues related to blood sugar, and improving your energy and concentration. If you’ve been exercising and strength training regularly prior to this point in your pregnancy, the following workout is a great way to provide mom and baby with the best possible final trimester while preparing for the demands of labor and the postpartum period.

The Late Pregnancy Cardio Workout:

Begin with 20-30 minutes of intervals on the home fitness equipment of your choice. You can increase the intensity of your workout on any elliptical, treadmill, or indoor cycle by increasing the resistance for 45 seconds at a time (for a treadmill, simply increase the incline) while recovering for up to twice that duration.

Treadmill Workout

Treadmill Workout

These intervals are short enough to ensure that baby continues to receive sufficient oxygen during the peaks, while still providing an effective training demand. A study of exercise and pregnancy demonstrated no adverse effects with exercise intensities of 81% of heart rate maximum; however, late in pregnancy, using a perceived exertion scale and keeping your effort level to approximately a 6 or 7 out of 10 (somewhat hard), will probably be more useful.

Additionally, ACOG recommendations recognize that women who have been very active prior to pregnancy (including running and other impact activities), should be able to continue those programs without adverse effects.

Follow your cardio workout with the strength training program below, or alternate strength training with cardio training on different days.

Strength Training For The Third Trimester:

Alternate upper and lower body, equipment will include a band and a dumbbell at a weight that allows 12 reps with good form emphasizing activation of the abdominals and a stable posture. Complete up to three sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise unless otherwise noted.

Warm-up:

Kneeling Arm Leg Raise

From an all fours position, lengthen your right arm in front of your body, bringing it parallel to the floor. Raise your left leg behind you in the same way. Hold for two breaths, feeling yourself draw your right shoulder towards your left hip. Repeat on the other side, completing three sets total. This encourages activation of the muscles of the posterior chain, improves posture, and stabilizes hips and shoulders.

Kneeling Arm Raise, Step 1

Kneeling Arm Raise, Step 1

Kneeling Arm Raise, Step 2

Kneeling Arm Raise, Step 2

Strength Workout:

1. Squats

Squats can be bodyweight or with a bar. This will strengthen the core and the legs for labor and post-partum. Also helps baby get into a good delivery position.

Squat, Step 1

Squat, Step 1

Squat, Step 2

Squat, Step 2

 

2. Pallof Press

Using a resistance band secured to an object at chest height, stand next to the attachment point (a couple feet away), holding the band in both hands. Press that arm forward while maintaining stability in the waist and shoulders, working the core and the muscles of each side of the chest independently. Repeat for 12 reps on each side.

Pallof Press, Step 1

Pallof Press, Step 1

Pallof Press, Step 2

Pallof Press, Step 2

 

3. Dumbbell Suitcase

Holding a 10 to 20 pound dumbbell in one hand, carry the dumbbell across the floor for 12 steps while maintaining an upright torso and engaged core. Switch to the other arm and walk back. Repeat three times. Strengthens the legs and stabilizes the core preparing for the demands of returning to activity after pregnancy and alleviating low back pain

Dumbbell Suitcase

Dumbbell Suitcase

 

4. Standing Row

Using the band at sternum height face towards the attachment point this time. Holding the band in one hand, pull it in towards your body at the level of the rib cage while drawing the shoulders down and keeping the torso stable. Strengthens core, improves posture, shoulder and arm strength.

Standing Row, Step 1

Standing Row, Step 1

Standing Row, Step 2

Standing Row, Step 2

 

5. Glute Bridge

Lying on your back, bring heels close to your bottom, knees towards the sky. Press heels down and as you exhale raise your bottom up into a bridge position. Repeat. Late in pregnancy, you may want to elevate the shoulders slightly by bringing them up onto a step or using two yoga blocks. This will alleviate compression of the vascular system, as well as reduce dizziness.

Glute Bridge, Step 1

Glute Bridge, Step 1

Glute Bridge, Step 2

Glute Bridge, Step 2

 

6. Tricep Dip

Works the back of the arms while maintaining core strength. Place hands slightly wider than shoulders while seated on a chair or bench. Lower bottom towards the floor using arm strength while maintaining elbows and hands at approximately hip distance.

Tricep Dip, Step 1

Tricep Dip, Step 1

Tricep Dip, Step 2

Tricep Dip, Step 2

 

7. Bicep Curl

Standing on the band (or using an appropriate dumbbell weight), keep torso stable and still while raising and lowering arms through full range of motion.

Bicep Curl, Step 1

Bicep Curl, Step 1

Bicep Curl, Step 2

Bicep Curl, Step 2

 

Cool Down:

Cat Cow

Kneeling, as you inhale, allow tummy to drop and spine to curve towards the floor. Do not over flex the spine, work only within a comfortable range of motion. As you exhale, press the spine towards the ceiling into a c-curve (cat). The posterior tilt that this creates is especially helpful in reducing low back pain.

Cat Pose

Cat Pose

Cow Pose

Cow Pose


As a pregnant mom, you’ll want to take a few precautions to make sure you and baby have a comfortable workout. Avoid working out in very warm places and drink plenty of water.

Pay extra attention to your sports bra and consider a maternity support belt for your belly. Avoid remaining on your back for extended periods of time and let yourself come up to standing positions slowly to accommodate sudden changes in blood pressure that can happen as a result of changes in your vascular system that occur during pregnancy.

You should avoid exercises that might cause impact or push on the baby or your belly and you may need to give yourself a wider stance for stability as you balance, run, or walk. As you take extra care of yourself during these final months, you’ll finish your final trimester with plenty of strength and energy to meet your new family member!


About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.

About the model: Melissa Pitney is in her third trimester at 32 weeks at the time of these photographs. She is the digital project coordinator for Johnson Health Tech North America. She truly believes that exercising and eating right has helped her to have a relatively easy time with her first pregnancy.

About Melissa’s clothes: Melissa surprisingly found it difficult to find maternity workout clothes. She was excited to find this black tank and colorful, belly supported active pants at Motherhood Maternity. She also paired this with one of their nursing sports bras, which she says is super comfortable.



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