While it may be tempting to totally chill out during pregnancy, experts recommend mothers-to-be incorporate regular exercise into their routine. It’s good for both baby and mama. For women experiencing healthy, normal pregnancies and who have doctor clearance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends about 150 minutes of aerobic activity weekly.
Studies show there are various benefits for women who workout while pregnant including reduced back pain, improved strength and decreased risk of cesarean delivery (C-section). “By preparing your body for what you are going to do — not only the shifts that are going to happen during pregnancy — it can help keep you out of a lot of aches and pains,” says Caitlin Ritt, founder and CEO of The Lotus Method and pre/postnatal exercise specialist. “If you have the strength and endurance for [motherhood] you’re just going to have a much better recovery postpartum.”
Whether you’re just getting started or you’re a fitness queen, here are the top workouts recommended for pregnant women:
Generally, mamas want to turn to low impact workouts. That’s why swimming is a good option. “Swimming, water aerobics and water running are some of the best exercise options because they are easy on your joints, which are especially sensitive to injury during pregnancy,” says Kristina Pinto, developmental psychologist.
Lifting weights is a full body workout that comes with tons of benefits. For expecting mothers those benefits are twofold. “We are a big fan of strength training because if you think about it, pregnancy is a weight bearing exercise,” says Ritt. “You are gaining weight continually, and you have weight growing on the front of your abdomen.” Motherhood is all about carrying your bundle of joy and eventually chasing him or her around the house, so the more strength the better, Ritt adds.
Using a stationary bike to workout while pregnant is great because the bike will support your weight. This can help alleviate the impact on your joints and ease some back pain. Remember to make any necessary adjustments to avoid overheating, drink plenty of water and avoid standing positions if you are further along in your pregnancy.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to get moving. All you really need is a good pair of sneakers. Running is also an option if you were a runner prior to pregnancy or feel comfortable enough to give it a try. “Running is fine because it offers great cardio in a shorter amount of time, and you’re probably very busy,” says Pinto.
Barre class is another low impact option that can be good for pregnant women. Just remember to make modifications when necessary, says Erica Ziel, CPT, B.S., core exercise specialist, pre/postnatal exercise specialist, Pilates instructor, nutrition coach, owner of Core Athletica, and creator of The Core Rehab Program, and Knocked-Up Fitness Pre+Postnatal Membership. For example, Ziel recommends not to tuck your butt as is typically done with lots of barre movements.
Practicing Pilates can help fight a number of common problems women face during pregnancy. For instance, Pilates can help lengthen and strengthen the muscles that will be needed throughout pregnancy and labor. Ziel says to be careful of certain common core exercises. “Really make sure in any class that you’re modifying and doing other abdominal exercises besides crunch style exercises,” says Ziel. “That can actually lead to back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti.”
Yoga is known for its ability to decrease stress and reduce anxiety. Studies show it can also improve heart health, reduce pain and increase strength — all of which can be incredibly beneficial for pregnant women. As with any exercise, be conscious of modifications, like avoiding movements on your back. Ziel recommends checking if there are any prenatal yoga classes near you, as these instructors are specially trained to work with expecting mothers. “Across the board, I would say the most important thing, no matter what class someone is taking, is that the instructor knows how to tailor it toward a pregnant woman.”