Exercise During Pregnancy: Low Impact Options To Stay Active

Working out was and is a big part of my life – just prior to pregnancy, I had been lifting pretty heavy and was easily the healthiest and fittest I had ever been. I was tracking macros and staying on top of my nutrition. I knew when I got pregnant I didn’t want to just stop working out.

I wanted to stay active and I wanted to reap the benefits of exercise during pregnancy.

*Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The information on this blog should not be used as a substitute to medical advice or medical treatment. As always, your Primary Care Provider, a doctor, or another health professional is your best resource for specific questions and medical advice. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact 911.*

What are the risks and benefits of exercising during pregnancy?

Well first off – each person and pregnancy is different. Before talking about any benefits, or beginning to exercise during pregnancy, you should talk to your healthcare provider. Low risk, healthy pregnancies are usually a “go” for exercise – but it’s always good to discuss any concerns you might have beforehand – and anything you should maybe avoid. What worked for me during pregnancy may not work for you, but I’m going to share what I did so that you have ideas and can ask questions as needed to your care provider(s) about what type of exercise is appropriate and safe for you.

I will tell you that there are a lot of old wives tales surrounding exercise during pregnancy. For example – that exercise increases the risk of miscarriage or preterm labor – which it does not. Again though, I’d speak to your healthcare provider if you have a pregnancy that is not considered low-risk and before you start any exercise anyways (some examples of when you should speak to your doctor are well – always to be honest – before exercising, but also if you have cervical insufficiency, placenta prevue at 26 weeks gestation or later, pre-eclampsia, or severe anemia – among other conditions).

I also had people tell me that I should avoid lifting my arms over my head because it could cause my baby to be strangled, in utero, by their umbilical cord…. this is also a myth.

There are many benefits to exercising during pregnancy though – that one is not a myth! Some include:

  • It makes you feel physically better and reduces some less-enjoyed symptoms such as back pain and constipation
  • It could contribute to a reduced risk of pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes
  • It helps to regulate your weight gain during pregnancy (as it does in your day-to-day non-pregnant life) and postpartum
  • It’s just good for you – as always; the cardiovascular benefits continue into pregnancy

If you get the green light from your provider to exercise, just remember that pregnancy does change your body – so some adjustments need to be made, especially as you enter the second and third trimester. For example, your balance may not be as good, your joints are more relaxed (and therefore more at risk for injury so some movements should be avoided), and you have increased oxygen needs (so keep exercise to a moderate level).

Additionally you should (as always) make sure to stay hydrated and try to exercise where it is not too hot, in breathable clothing.

So what worked for me?

Brittany Lesser’s old pregnancy program – Now replaced by 1Hera!

I have talked about 1Hera a lot but that’s because it’s so amazing (this is #notsponsored, just my true feelings and an endorsement for a friend). It is a workout program for all women – yes, you do not have to be pregnant or ever have been. However it has the added bonus of having pregnancy-specific programming. Best part about it: it’s super affordable and it’s available on your phone. It also has both home and gym options – you don’t have to just buy one or the other like many plans – you have them both available to you as needed.

Brittany is actually a CPT too (specialized in Pre and Postnatal), with a B.S. in Health Education – so it’s not just some person trying to sell you a workout plan who knows nothing about working out (she’s also a mom!!).

I did her old plan, but 1Hera is even better – I actually cannot wait to use it for my next pregnancy because I definitely will be using it! Even with her previous program though I felt that I was challenged, able to do everything (and if not, modifications were easy to make) and I used it until I was about 33 weeks pregnant and started to get more uncomfortable. In second trimester, I was going up to 4-5 times a week still (it is advised that pregnant women get ~150 mins of moderate exercise per week)! But you can do as much or as little as you want (and of course, whatever your healthcare provider advises).

I should mention that if you weren’t lifting weights prior to pregnancy, it’s not advised that you start a heavy weight regimen in pregnancy. I personally dropped my weight maxes down a lot as I got larger – just based on what I could handle. I also didn’t do anything that put my bump at risk (Brittany keeps this in mind in her program) or that involved laying flat on my back.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t exercise if you didn’t before though – there are lots of low impact options during pregnancy that you can ease into. This topic warrants a discussion with your provider to make sure whatever you’re deciding to start is safe for you and baby! Walking is usually a safe option too, if you are low risk, and it is so great for your cardiovascular system!

Walking a lot – At work, on lunch breaks, and with the dog and husband!

I just mentioned how great walking is for your body, and it’s low impact and generally something that is okay for most pregnant women to do (but always check…).

I did a ton of walking when I was pregnant – until I went into labor! Early on, it was pretty easy – I was not carrying too much extra weight yet so it made me feel good. I do admit that into the third trimester, too much walking did become uncomfortable for my pelvis. You’ll see in my post later this week and my upcoming IGTV interview with a pelvic physiotherapist (Sept 30th at 8pm EST!) that there are ways to ease the heaviness in your pelvis during pregnancy – such as pelvic physiotherapy which can help you work on things like good posture.

I walked at every opportunity I had, though in third trimester I generally avoided doing large flights of stairs (however, I couldn’t avoid the large flight I had going up to my apartment) – I would get so out of breath haha!

Overall it’s a good low impact option to get exercise in daily – especially when the weather is nice. Take your dog, take your husband, take your friend – or go alone and get some me-time in!

I did a prenatal yoga class from 16 weeks to 38 weeks!

I recently talked about how I made connections in the postpartum period – using a local women’s fitness centre. Well, I started my journey there doing their prenatal yoga class from early on. I wanted to try something “new” during pregnancy, that got me out and around other pregnant women. It’s nice to be around people going through a similar stage of life as you, or having similar aches and pains (which we talked about at the beginning of each class so they could be addressed!).

I did one class and I was hooked! I went almost every Saturday from 16 weeks to 38 weeks and I only missed a few classes here and there. It was also a low impact option but the stretching and movements did wonders for my back and hips (which were very achy in second trimester, even when I was sleeping!), and the teacher always incorporated squat holds to help prepare us for the length of a contraction – so it was actually pretty challenging too!

My favourite part of the class was the last couple of minutes where we got to lay down (haha – I swear I’m not lazy) and connect with our little babes. I can honestly say that having those moments to build a connection helped me bond with Maggie so much before I even had her!

Now I know not everyone has a women’s fitness centre around them, or even a place that offers prenatal yoga (though if you look, many regular yoga centres do offer these classes or series of classes). The weeks I had to miss class I used Youtube – specifically, Yoga with Adriene, who has prenatal yoga videos; or the site Do Yoga With Me – Fiji McAlpine is my girl and she offers a challenging vinyasa prenatal series that is free to access. Both online instructions also offer modifications as needed.

Bonus of yoga, as per the pelvic physiotherapist I saw in third trimester: it helps teach you belly breathing which is really important during pushing! She said a lot of women struggle with it, and told me that I did great right from the start probably because of yoga! Pretty cool, right?

Why can’t I just do regular yoga? You certainly could, but prenatal yoga takes into consideration your pregnant body and the needed adjustments for balance, belly, and safety! It just makes your life easier when you don’t have to worry about thinking of modifications and adjustments yourself.

Note: you should not do any forms of hot yoga though, because of the whole overheating risk I mentioned earlier.

In the summer, I went swimming!

Swimming is a great option for pregnant exercise! First of all – you become ‘weightless’ which is an amazing feeling after you’ve been carrying around a baby bump all day! Secondly, it also helps to protect your relaxed joints from injury because of this.

Also – if you are one of those who suffer from hot flashes during pregnancy, swimming can be a nice way to cool down and get in some light exercise. I personally didn’t have hot flashes in pregnancy, but it was still nice in the disgusting humidity to jump in the pool or the lake. It doesn’t have to be all about exercise either – it can be about relaxation, which is also important and necessary during pregnancy.

No scuba diving though ladies! 😉

I hit the gym (pre-COVID).

I took my B. Lesser workout program to the gym, but I also went to use the machines. I have always used a treadmill so I continued to do so in pregnancy but I just did it at a brisk walk (however, if you were a runner/jogger pre-pregnancy, it’s possible to continue doing this during as well – talk to your provider – also keep in mind the whole balance issue).

My favourite machine during pregnancy was the stationary bike. Again, this was something I used frequently pre-pregnancy but there isn’t much to it. I certainly didn’t cycle as hard as I would pre-pregnancy, but that was because I listened to my body and knew what I could/could not handle.

Stationary bikes are a safer option than a ‘real’ bike during pregnancy just due to the fact that you are balanced and well… stationary, and therefore less likely to get injured. Also they are a great cardio workout option with less strain and stress on your knees. It’s also easy to cycle at whatever speed or resistance you are comfortable with. If you have a stationary bike at home right now then that is a huge bonus, especially in the current times we live in.

There are lots of other options too…

There are many fitness classes geared towards pregnant women that have modifications to support your needs. Additionally, you can often continue doing many of the things you did before with some adjustments as you progress through your pregnancy, and again – with the ok from your provider. You obviously want to avoid anything like contact sports, or anything where there is a high risk for falls or injury.

If you are exercising and you notice that something doesn’t feel quite right, stop and call your provider, especially if you notice any vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina; chest pain; swelling or pain in your calf; or uterine contractions (among several other symptoms).

As always, my parting message is to discuss with your provider what is best for you! They are there to help and support you through pregnancy – don’t be afraid to tap into that resource. Is asking about exercise wasting their time? No! Because it has to do with you, your pregnancy, and your baby. Stay healthy and safe ladies!

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