Pregnancy-Safe Walking Workout

Here's a trimester-by-trimester guide to the perfect walking workout for pregnant women of all sizes, shapes and fitness levels.

pregnancy-safe-walking-workout_700x700_corbis-42-29118769.jpg Photo: corbisimages.com

Walking is the one workout that suits pregnant women of all different fitness levels. It's as gentle or as challenging as you need it to be. It requires no investment (all you really need is a good pair of shoes and a water bottle). Plus, you can do it nearly anywhere, anytime. Excuses like "I hate the gym" or "I've never exercised before" just won't fly.

"I recommend walking to most of my patients who are pregnant," says Tanya Ghatan, M.D., an OB-GYN at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "It's easy entry for women who've never exercised and gives athletic women a way to stay active without the high impact of other activities they've participated in." This program is designed to be started in the first trimester. However, you can jump in at the appropriate level no matter how pregnant you are. (If you were inactive before your pregnancy, however, start at the first trimester program for beginners.)

Regardless of your fitness level, keep in mind that it's not only fine but smart to swap days, shorten your walks or even skip them occasionally according to how you feel. It's also perfectly OK to break up a day's total walking time into two or more shorter sessions.

Get your doctor's approval before starting this (or any other) exercise program, and remember to warm up first by doing arm and ankle circles and leg swings for a couple of minutes (also take five minutes to stretch after each walk). Now, get out there and just start putting one foot in front of the other.

Keep it safe

Take the talk: During the hardest part of your workout, you should be able to converse without gasping for breath, though not with complete ease, either.

Use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale: On a scale of 1-10, most of your walks should fall between a 3 (slow walk) and a 7 (fast enough that you couldn't keep it up for more than 30-40 minutes).

Watch for danger signs: Stop if you experience pain, bleeding, dizziness, faintness, sudden swelling, lack of normal fetal movement, an abnormally rapid heartbeat or extreme fatigue.

What's your fitness level?

Beginner: You've never exercised or you do so only rarely.

Intermediate: You're active, but exercise may be sporadic.

Advanced: You're fit and exercise four or more times per week.

Trimester 1 (up to 13 weeks)

Beginner

Approach this program gradually and focus primarily on sticking with it. Increases in intensity and duration will come over time.

  • Start by walking 10-15 minutes a day, three days a week, taking at least one day off between walks.
  • When you feel ready, add another day of walking and increase each walk by 5 minutes.
  • After a few weeks, add a fifth day of walking.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 10-20 minutes a day, five days a week.

Intermediate

The fitter you were before you became pregnant, the sooner you can ramp up to six days of walking a week.

  • Start by walking 20 minutes a day, four days a week.
  • When you feel ready (after four to five weeks), add a fifth day, then a sixth. Also, increase the length of each walk by a few minutes.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 20-40 minutes a day, six days a week.

Advanced

Even if you're fit and a faithful exerciser, changing to a low-impact walking program might be just what you need to continue staying active and feeling good.

  • Start by walking 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • When you feel ready, add a sixth day and increase the length of each walk by a few minutes each day.
  • If you feel up to it, also add hills, stairs and/or bursts of increased speed (intervals), but don't push beyond an RPE of 7 (see "Keep It Safe," at top).

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 30-60 minutes a day, six days a week.

Trimester 2 (13-25 weeks)

Beginner

During this "honeymoon" trimester, energy peaks and nausea should be history—the perfect time to exercise.

  • If you are beginning this program in your second trimester, start by walking 10 minutes a day, four to five days a week.
  • When you're ready, pick two days that will become your longer-walk days (15-30 minutes) and add another day of walking.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 15-30 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

Intermediate

You're ready to gradually lengthen your walks and pick up the pace at certain points. Just be sure not to push if you're feeling tired or get overheated.

  • If you are beginning in your second trimester, start by walking 20 minutes a day, four to six days a week.
  • Gradually add minutes every other day so that your total on those days is at least 30-40 minutes.
  • Once or twice a week, if you're feeling up to it, increase your RPE by one level (see "Keep It Safe," at top) for 10-15 minutes during the middle of the workout.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 25-40 minutes a day, five to six days a week, increasing your speed during one or two walks.

Advanced

Provided you're feeling good, it's fine to continue increasing the length of your walks and picking up the pace a couple of times a week.

  • If you are beginning in your second trimester, start by walking 30-40 minutes a day, six days a week.
  • Choose at least one day when you aim for 50 minutes, incorporating hills, stairs and/or intervals, but don't push beyond an RPE of 7.
  • Lengthen your shorter walks until your total is at least 40-50 minutes on each of the remaining five days.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 40-50 minutes a day, five or six days a week; and 60 minutes a day, one day a week.

Trimester 3 (26-40 weeks)

Beginner

Try to stick with the five- to six-days-a-week goal, but be prepared to slow down as your belly gets bigger.

  • If you are beginning this program in your third trimester, start by walking 10 minutes a day, four to six days a week.
  • If your energy slumps, decrease the length of your walks or break them down into shorter sessions.
  • Aim to maintain the same total minutes of walking per week as at the end of the second trimester, but know that your pace—and thus the distance you cover—will naturally decrease.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 15-30 minutes a day, five to six days a week.

Intermediate

Speed and distance take a back seat to consistency now. The goal is to keep walking for the same number of minutes whenever you feel you can.

  • If you are beginning this program in your third trimester, start by walking 10-20 minutes a day, four to six days a week.
  • Be ready to reduce the speed and distance of your walks as your pregnancy progresses. You may also want to drop a day.
  • Break up your longer walks into shorter sessions if that's more comfortable for you.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 20-45 minutes a day, five to six days a week.

Advanced

This trimester is all about staying comfortable, so keep the focus on simply remaining active.

  • If you are starting in your third trimester, begin by walking 20-50 minutes a day, four to six days a week.
  • Forget about speed and distance, and don't push beyond an RPE of 7.
  • Divide your walks into shorter sessions if that's more comfortable for you.

Your Goal: Toward the end of the trimester, try walking 25-50 minutes a day, five to six days a week.

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