bb-animExercising regularly under normal conditions can be confusing enough, so what about when you become pregnant? An original article by Carolyne Anthony, founder of the Center for Women’s Fitness in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Do you continue because you’re told that pregnancy is a natural state and that you should be able to do what you would do normally? Or do you stop everything because you’ve been told you should be careful now that you’re pregnant?  Before you do anything, find out the facts, try to decipher them and then apply them to yourself. Remember everyone is different and what may be good for your friend during her pregnancy may be detrimental to you. It is your responsibility to find out what suits you and then make your own decisions.

First, the facts. Yes, you can exercise when you’re pregnant. It is both safe and beneficial. Studies show that women who keep up their exercise routine or who start one while pregnant, recover more quickly from the birth. Exercising does not guarantee a fast and easy labor, but will help you cope with the stresses and strains of being a new mother. If your exercise routine before pregnancy included aerobic and other cardio-vascular activities, you may continue this but bear in mind a few of the guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.

Vigorous exercise should be limited to 15 minutes. This speaks for itself- you should never overdo anything while you’re pregnant. Remember, your body is already working twice as hard growing this new life inside of you. Listen to your body and rest when you need it. A 20 minute walk three times a week is quite sufficient to keep you healthy and strong.

Maternal heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute. Your heart rate at rest will increase by about 20bpm when you are pregnant. This alone will make any numbers on a heart rate chart nonsense. Checking your heart rate while exercising is therefore not a very reliable way of keeping track of how intensely you are working. What you need to keep in mind is how you feel. Can you carry on a conversation? If not, you are working too hard. Are you short of breath? If you are then you are working at too high an intensity. Most importantly, do you feel like you are working too hard? Your own perception of your work rate is a more reliable indication of the intensity of the workout.

Women should not exercise in the supine position after the third month. This means you should not lie flat on your back for extended periods of time while working out. If you choose to keep up with your abdominal curls while pregnant (see chapter on the proper way to keep the abdominals strong during pregnancy) make sure you lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Placing a rolled up towel under your right hip will lessen the pressure on the vena cava (a main vein that circulates blood back to your heart) It is thought that lying on your back compresses this vein and eventually prevents circulation to the baby. Bear in mind that you will feel dizzy and short of breath, if this happens and will instinctively roll onto your side thus relieving the pressure.

Your temperature should not exceed 101 degrees fahrenheit when taken under the arm. Don’t get too hot and sweaty! Wear loose, comfortable clothes and exercise in a cool room or at a cool time of day. Drink plenty of water before, during and after you{mosimage} exercise. The concern here is that your baby will not be able to dissipate the heat, and some studies show an increase in neural tube defects when this happens. However, it takes a lot to get that overheated. Again, if it doesn’t feel good, stop.

Women who exercise should eat up to 300 more calories a day than those who do not exercise. You should eat to appetite everyday, making sure that what you eat is of the highest nutritional quality. A pregnant woman, whether she likes it or not, will store up to 45,000 calories of fat during her pregnancy. This is natures way of making sure the baby’s milk supply will be available whether the mother is nourished or not. Hence the ability of famine stricken women to breast feed their infants. The old adage “eating for two” is true!

Pregnancy can be a great time to try gentler and less intense types of exercise. Yoga classes geared towards pregnancy are always a good bet. The breathing and stretching techniques you learn in these classes are highly recommended. Remember though that your ligaments are looser during pregnancy, due to the hormone relaxin. Be careful not to overdo stretching exercises since a ligament, once stretched will not regain its former length and this could lead to joint instability later on. Aquatics are a great form of exercise for the pregnant woman as is swimming. It has the benefit of no impact plus buoyancy.

With The Center For Women’s Fitness “Pregnancy Program” the guess work is taken out of exercising safely during your pregnancy. The program is so specifically designed for pregnant women that you may do it right up until labor starts! The program incorporates strength training with stretching, breathing and relaxation techniques. It concentrates on the specific muscles needed for preparing for the birth of your child. It will keep you strong and supple and will address the needs of your rapidly changing body. We hope you enjoy these exercises and reap the benefits for years to come.

One of the most frequently asked questions about exercising during pregnancy is whether or not to perform abdominal work. Strong abdominals are a must during pregnancy to prevent excessive curvature of the lumber spine (lordosis) and also to help expel the baby during the pushing stage of labor. Ideally these muscles should be strong to start with but many of us today are inactive and out of shape.

Pregnancy is definitely NOT the time to begin a vigorous exercise program. There are many ways to stay in shape or get in shape that are safe and gentle enough for all pregnant women. For those of you who are used to exercising now is the time to try out new ways in which to keep the body strong and supple. Abdominal crunches have been the mainstay of the fitness world when it comes to strengthening the stomach muscles. This particular exercise works the most superficial of the abdominal muscles- the rectus abdominus. This is a band of muscle that runs from the ribs to the pubic bone. Their function is to flex the torso. During pregnancy these muscles loosen and stretch to accommodate a growing uterus. In some women these muscles can separate, opening like a zipper, allowing the intestines to protrude. This is called a diastasis. In these cases, abdominal crunches are contraindicated as they can exacerbate the problem. This is when alternative abdominal work comes into play.

Simple exercises like deep abdominal breathing and pelvic tilts are all that is needed to keep the abdominals toned. Exercise need not be aggressive and violent in order to be effective. Even standing up straight and holding the tummy in works wonders! Try these exercises for a change of pace:

Deep abdominal breathing

To begin learning how to execute this breath,

  • Sit comfortably cross legged on the floor or in a chair. The position must be a relaxing one.
  • Place the hands in the groin area and relax the tummy muscles into the hands.
  • Inhale through your nose and try to pull the air into the lower part of the tummy. The tummy will fill up like a balloon. Try not to let the shoulders rise and the chest fill with air.
  • When you exhale (through your mouth) begin the movement from the lower part of the abdominals, contracting the muscles and pushing the air up and out of the body. Some people like to make an “aah” sound as they exhale.
  • In the beginning it is a good idea to count the breaths in and out. 1,2,3,4 out 2,3,4. Add more numbers as the strength and control increase.
  • Stop if dizziness is experienced. It takes awhile to get used to the extra oxygen that is taken in.

This exercise has the added benefit of calming and focusing the mind, a good tool to have during labor and delivery.

The stability exercise may be performed on the Swiss Gymnic ball or a chair. Benefits include the following:

  • Strengthens the whole torso area thus helping maintain good posture
  • Helps maintain a sense of balance
  • Trains the mind to focus.

To perform the exercise,

  • Sit on the ball or chair, pull the spine up nice and long, shoulders are down and relaxed and the tummy is pulled in.
  • Keep the legs slightly apart with feet firmly planted in the floor.
  • Take the arms out to the side at shoulder height.
  • Breathe in relaxing the stomach muscles.
  • Exhale and pull all the muscles around the torso into the center. Keep the spine long. Do not collapse in the tummy
  • While exhaling, lift one foot off the floor just a little, trying not to shift around on the ball. Press the other foot into the floor for more stability.
  • Breathe in to replace the foot.
  • Breathe out, lift the other foot off the floor.
  • Feel how the body is trying to stabilize. This is a good exercise to keep doing throughout pregnancy as it will keep all the torso muscles toned. Repeat up to 8 times.

Pelvic tilts may be performed in a variety of positions. Benefits include the following:

  • Stretch the lower back
  • Decrease tension in the sacro-iliac joint
  • Tone the tummy muscles
  • Increase flexibility in the pelvic area
  • Improve posture

Pelvic tilts on the ball:

  • To start, sit on the ball. Make sure the body alignment is correct.
  • Breathe in.
  • Exhale, squeeze the buttocks and pull your pubic bone up toward the chest.
  • Breathe in and release back. Try and put the pubic bone on the ball.
  • Watch that there is no collapsing in the center.
  • Repeat 4-6 times.

Pelvic tilts on all fours:

  • To start, position yourself on your hands and knees.
  • Pull the shoulder blades down the spine to stabilize the shoulder girdle.
  • Make sure the elbows are not locked into position.
  • Keep the neck in line with the spine, tucking the chin to the chest.
  • Knees and feet are hip width apart.
  • Breathe in.
  • Exhale and draw the pubic bone towards the chest.
  • Inhale and release to a flat back.
  • Do not let the back hollow as the weight of the uterus will strain the lower back. The tummy muscles must be held to support the lower back.

These exercises are simple and easy to do and the best thing is, they work! They are all included in the Pregnancy Program from the Center for Women’s Fitness.


Midwifeinfo recomends the Fitball exercise ball. These are the same balls we sold in the Midwifeinfo store, because they are the sturdiest and safest balls we could find.

55 cm FitBALL® Exercise Ball (For those under 5’2″)

65 cm FitBALL® Exercise Ball (For those over 5’2″)