Pregnancy Exercises: 7 Safe Options to Stay Active

Updated in March 2024

The safest pregnancy exercises are stretching and walking. These can help reduce stress, combat anxiety and increase self-esteem. However, exercising during pregnancy should only be done as approved by your OB, as exercise may be contraindicated for high-risk pregnancies and with conditions like placental abruption, for example. 

Exercises can be started at any stage of pregnancy and can be carried out until the end of pregnancy, as long as they are approved by your OB. Exercising can be useful for facilitating normal labor and returning to an ideal weight after childbirth.

Women who had a more sedentary lifestyle prior to pregnancy should opt lighter exercises, and preferably in water. Women who were exercising previous to pregnancy may need to lighten the intensity of workouts, as directed by their OB. 

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Exercises safe for pregnancy

Great examples of exercises to practice during pregnancy are:

1. Walking

Walking is ideal for women who were sedentary before becoming pregnant. You should opt for light, elastic clothing and sneakers with adequate cushioning to prevent injuries. Be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. You can walk 3 to 5 times a week at times of the day  when the sun is not too strong. 

2. Light jogging

Light jogging is recommended for those who already exercised before becoming pregnant. It can be performed throughout the 9 months of pregnancy, 3 times a week, for 30 minutes. Be sure to run at low intensity, and to respect your pace and limits.

3. Pilates

Pilates can improve breathing, heart rate, flexibility, muscle strength and posture. It can be performed 2 or 3 times a week, ideally with an instructor who is qualified to guide pregnancy pilates.

4. Water aerobics

Water aerobics is recommended for all women, even those who were sedentary before becoming pregnant. It can be performed throughout the 9 months of pregnancy. It reduces lower back pain, as well as discomfort and swelling in the legs and feet. It can be performed 2 to 4 times a week.

5. Exercise bike

You can ride an exercise bike during the first 2 trimesters of pregnancy, 3 to 5 days a week. You should pay attention to your heart rate, not allowing it to exceed 140 bpm, and monitor for excessive sweating. A growing belly at the end of pregnancy can make this activity more difficult, and you should perform it at your discretion and pace.

6. Stretching

Both sedentary and active women can stretch daily until birth. You can start with lighter stretches and increase the difficulty of stretches and your flexibility improves.

7. Light strength training

Pregnant women who were already strength training before becoming pregnant and are in good physical condition can continue to strength train. However, exercise intensity should be overall reduced by decreasing weights by at least half. This will help to avoid overloading the spine, knees, ankles and pelvic floor.

To ensure safe physical activity, it is important to obtain guidance and continue ongoing monitoring by a qualified fitness professional. Exercise should also be approved by your OB. If you experience any symptoms like abdominal pain, discharge or vaginal blood loss while exercising or within a few hours of being active, you should seek urgent medical attention.

Exercises not recommended during pregnancy

High-impact exercises should not be performed during pregnancy because they can cause pain or even harm the baby. Some examples of exercises that are contraindicated during pregnancy are:

  • Abdominal exercises
  • Exercising at high altitudes
  • Combat fighting (e.g. jiu-jitsu) or jumping, such as jump classes
  • Ball games such as football, volleyball or basketball
  • Strenuous running
  • Cycling, in the last months of pregnancy
  • Heavy bodybuilding

Exercising is also not recommended for women who have been prescribed total bedrest. If you are in doubt if you are safe to exercise, speak to your OB.