Exercise Trends During Pregnancy: What's Safe?

Wondering how to get in your pregnancy exercise? Here's a look at which popular workout classes to try while you're expecting a baby and which ones to avoid.

Exercise Trends During Pregnancy: What's Safe Halfpoint/Shutterstock

You've probably heard that it's important to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy—with your doctor's approval, of course. "Doctors used to tell pregnant women to rest as much as possible, but now we know that's incorrect—a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy is associated with excessive weight gain that could result in gestational diabetes and other complications," says Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman emeritus in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health at St. Louis University School of Medicine, Mo., and the main contributor to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' guidelines for exercise and pregnancy. Plus, there are so many other benefits. "Exercise during pregnancy helps reduce stress, prevents perinatal depression, and alleviates anxiety," says Kristina Pinto, Ed.D., a fitness expert and author of Fit and Healthy Pregnancy: How to Stay Strong and in Shape for You and Your Baby. "It also allows you to improve your cardiovascular health and build strength for labor, delivery, and recovery from childbirth."

However, the key is knowing which exercises are safe during pregnancy and which ones aren't. The good news is that we did the research for you so you can know which popular workouts you can take part in.

SAFE

Barre class

"Barre classes are a wonderful, mostly low-impact form of exercise for elongating your muscles," Pinto says. "I recommend against turns, jumps, and leaps after the first trimester due to your changing equilibrium and center of gravity, which makes a fall more likely, but slow-tempo exercises in the center and at the barre are perfectly safe. Even simple small jumps are okay when you are landing on both feet at the same time and you don't need to change your center of gravity." In other words, as long as you maintain your balance and stay close to the barre to grab onto and avoid falling, these classes can be a safe bet.

Swimming

Hands-down, swimming wins the award for one of the safest exercises for pregnant women, experts say. "Swimming puts no pressure on your joints and ligaments, while the buoyancy of the water helps a pregnant woman not only exercise but also feel lighter while doing it," Artal says. You can certainly get a great workout and torch tons of calories without any impact. That's what makes this exercise one of the best bets for pregnant women. Also, look for classes in your area that combine, say, strength training and cardio in the water. Running and walking in the water are great, too.

Yoga

"The benefits of yoga are exceptional because it relaxes your mind and stretches your body," Pinto says. It can be an excellent way for an expectant mom to clear her head and deal with any anxiety she might have about her pregnancy or getting ready for the new baby. However, it's important to take some precautions. "Be mindful of the risk of overstretching in the second and third trimesters, when the hormone relaxin surges in your system to open your joints for childbirth, making strains more likely," Pinto says. Of course, avoid inverted poses like headstands and also lying on your back, especially if doing so makes you dizzy. As your uterus grows, lying on your back can put extra pressure on the blood vessels that bring blood back to the heart, causing your blood pressure to drop, Artal explains.

Spinning

"A spin class is a great option for a no-impact workout in a climate-controlled space that you can do at various levels of intensity, depending on how your body is responding," Pinto says. "You can engage in a high level of effort as long as you don't experience any warning signs such as dizziness, a racing heart rate, or blurred vision." However, you have to take several things into account, Artal says. For instance, make sure you don't become overheated. "When your core temperature exceeds 102 or 103 degrees, that can lead to birth defects during the first eight to ten weeks and can also lead to premature labor throughout pregnancy," he says. "Dehydration can also lead to premature labor." The key is to stay hydrated, avoid overheating, and use a lot of common sense.

Pilates

Similar to yoga, Pilates elongates your muscles while you coordinate your breathing to your body's movements. "Pilates is safe given that that you don't overstretch or, if you're using a reformer [specialized Pilates equipment], that you don't increase the level of resistance beyond what you could comfortably do before you were pregnant," Pinto says. Again, avoid lying on your back—you may need to ask your instructor for modifications.

NOT SAFE

Trampoline

"While the cardio exertion of a trampoline workout is safe, the risk of a fall or stumble that sends you flying is something to seriously consider," Pinto says. "Weigh your desire to do this kind of workout against the risk of a fall when your equilibrium and center of gravity are off balance due to pregnancy, and you'll probably decide it's not worth it." Artal adds: "Every single jump up and down can end up in a fall and result in an injury. It's such an unnecessary risk."

Hot yoga

While yoga can be an excellent option for pregnant women, hot yoga or Bikrham yoga is a definite no-no for now. Such yoga classes involve doing poses in a room heated to 100 degrees or higher. "Any activity that leads to overheating is not good during pregnancy," Artal explains. "Exposing a fetus to high temperatures can cause a condition called hyperthermia which, in turn, can lead to birth defects and premature labor. Dehydration can also lead to premature labor."

Contact sports

"Contact sports carry a risk for injury not only to the mother but also to the fetus such as a premature separation of the placenta and other complications," Artal says. "For instance, any boxing classes that involve actual contact with another person come with an unwarranted risk." Same goes for other contact sports, such as basketball, soccer, and hockey. Skip them for now.

Heavy-lifting classes

Some classes focus on heavy lifting at a very fast pace and experts are very wary of such workouts. "During pregnancy, a woman's joints and ligaments can relax considerably, and lifting very heavy weights can cause permanent damage to such joints and ligaments," Artal says. There's also higher odds of various risks to both you and your baby. If you still want to engage in such workouts, first run it by your doctor to see what she says. Then, work with the fitness instructor to tailor your workout based on your particular pregnancy (including how far along you are). Better yet, Pinto says, focus on weight training that uses your own body weight for resistance, not added weight.

High-intensity training

Some classes focus on keeping your heart rate elevated for as long as possible, which is definitely not safe during pregnancy. "Very high intensity workouts divert the blood flow from the internal organs, such as the uterus to the working muscles," Artal says. "In effect, you are depriving your fetus of the proper exchange of oxygen and nutrients during these activities. Having your heart rate elevated for a few minutes at a time might be fine, but it's certainly not okay for a full hour."

Obstacle races

Electric shocks, Army crawls, and polar plunges are not what the doctor ordered. Any activity that ups your risk of falling or incurring a hard hit to the belly is a definite don't.

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