How to exercise safely when pregnant

Done correctly, exercise can benefit you and your baby.

April 23, 2020


Pregnancy is an ideal time to start or keep doing healthy lifestyle habits like exercise. Years ago, exercise during pregnancy was thought to be dangerous. Women were advised not to do anything strenuous.

Thankfully, much has changed. We now know that in a healthy pregnancy, exercise benefits mom and baby. It doesn’t raise the chances of injury, miscarriage, premature birth or poor fetal growth. These suggestions can help you exercise safely before or during pregnancy.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy:

  • Increased fitness for labor, delivery and carrying around a new baby
  • Lower chances of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure)
  • Lower chances of cesarean section and vacuum-assisted delivery
  • Lower chances of varicose veins
  • Faster return to prepregnancy fitness and weight
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep

Bodily changes in pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body changes to support the growing fetus and prepare you for delivery. Changes may include loosening joints, weight gain and major shifts in your center of gravity. To stay healthy, change your workouts as your body changes.

How much exercise is recommended?

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Moderate means being able to talk — but not sing — easily when exercising.

Tips for exercising during pregnancy

If you were very active before pregnancy, you should be able to keep doing high-intensity workouts as long as you follow these tips:

  • Adjust your goals. Instead of focusing on gaining muscle and losing weight, work on maintaining fitness and gaining a healthy amount of weight.
  • Keep your body temperature under 100.4° F, especially in the third trimester. Drink two to five cups of water for every hour of exercise. And don’t exercise or do activities in hot and/or humid conditions. No hot yoga, hot tubs or saunas.
  • Track your heart rate. You should be able to talk without getting short of breath. This is less than 70–75% of your maximum heart rate, which is 220 minus your age. If you already exercise a lot, you can do up to nine hours per week.
  • Change your workouts as your body changes. Choose activities that are comfortable and don’t stress your joints. These include swimming, stair climbing, walking and stationary bikes.

Also, not only is weight training OK, it can be very helpful. Just be sure to follow some guidelines:

  • Breathe naturally. Don’t breathe out (exhale) without letting air out (the Valsalva maneuver). This can temporarily decrease blood and oxygen flow to the baby.
  • Work your core. This can help lower the back and hip pain that often happen during pregnancy. Core work includes stabilizing muscles from your lowest rib to your knees. These muscles are on the front, sides and back of your body, not just your abs.
  • Use your muscles rather than momentum. Try not to “jerk” weights up. Instead, lift in a controlled way, being mindful of using your core.
  • Decrease the weights you use but increase reps. A good goal is 10–15 reps at 65–75% of your maximum lifting potential. This helps maintain natural breathing and lowers stress on joints.

Don’t do the following when pregnant

  • High-impact activities, such as contact sports, skiing and plyometrics
  • Scuba diving
  • Altitudes greater than 6,000 feet if you’re not used to it
  • Pressure on your stomach or lying on your back (during bench pressing, for example) after the first trimester
  • Biking in the second and third trimesters; a stationary bike is a safer choice

What if I’m new to exercising?

It’s safe to start an exercise program during most pregnancies. Talk to your doctor about the types of exercise you can do, including intensity, length of activity and how many times a week.

Exercise is one of the best medicines for you and your baby. A daily dose of 20 to 30 minutes of exercise can keep you fit and ready for delivery and beyond.


By Jeremy D. Johnson, MD, MPH, RMSK

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.