Everything you need to know about exercising while pregnant

There’s always been mixed messages about exactly what you can and can’t do when it comes to training during pregnancy. Is it safe to start exercising if you don’t regularly train already? Should you stop doing weight training? What core exercises, if any, are still advisable? 

There’s no one answer fits all, and it’s best to get a personal trainer to help you through your pregnancy training if you can, even better, start training with a PT while you’re trying to get pregnant so he or she is already aware of your fitness levels. But there is some good general advice to get you on your way to safe training during pregnancy and Fit Squad DXB trainer Devinder Bains, who has trained both pre and post-natal clients, answers some of the questions she gets most frequently asked…


If I don’t train already is it too late to start?

No, it certainly isn’t. In fact it’s a great time to start exercising as remaining sedentary during these nine months can lead to excess weight gain, high blood pressure and aches and pains. In more extreme cases it could also lead to gestational diabetes and even pose a higher risk for caesarean section. A study carried out at the end of last year by experts from Camilo José Cela University in Spain confirmed that there is strong scientific evidence showing that moderate exercise during pregnancy is safe and beneficial for both mother and baby and that there is no risk of premature birth, low birth weight or foetal distress. 

However, If you are new to exercise it’s a good idea to get the ok from your doctor which can simply be done at any of your routine appointments and then maybe think about taking on a personal trainer to be sure you’re doing the right sort of exercises. Start off gently by going for short walks and work up to an hour of walking a day, add in swimming sessions and light weights. Always make sure you’re well hydrated, stay out of the heat and are eating enough.


Can I still do intense cardio?

Yes, if cardio is already part of your training regime then you can continue as normal for the first trimester without too much change (sickness and tiredness may have an impact on this) and actually even into your second trimester. If you’re used to running, you’re fine to continue but you may need to start slowing down your pace and reduce the effort level of your session, the same goes for spin classes (think about adjusting your seat to release pressure on your back too). It’s always best to be sensible and follow your instincts about how you feel. If you’re feeling unsure, try the talk test: if you can still hold a conversation during the exercise you’re probably ok but if you’re ever in doubt it’s best to avoid the exercise. Heading into the end of the second trimester and into the third you will need to reduce intensity. HIIT sessions involving exercises such as skipping, squat jumps and jump lunges will not only become more difficult because of the additional weight, they will also put pressure on your pelvic floor and are best avoided. And the good news is that you’ll finally have an excuse to avoid burpees and in fact any exercise that involves getting up and down quickly to avoid getting light-headed. As with all exercise, if you feel sick or dizzy then stop immediately.


Should I be training more abs or less abs?

You will need to make some changes to the core training that you’re doing to avoid being in a supine position and to prevent over-separating of the abdominal muscles (Diastasis Recti). Crunches, sit ups and most ab exercises on your back are out after the first trimester, earlier if you feel any discomfort. Swap in regular and side planks which are ok throughout the pregnancy for most women but avoid if they become uncomfortable due to weight gain. It’s important to still train the core so think about adding in some standing breathing exercises and also upright exercises using resistance bands and compound exercises such as wall sits that engage the lower abs as well as glute and leg muscles.


Is it time to stop the weight training? 

Absolutely not! If you’re new to exercise then start light and maybe call on a personal trainer to give you at least a few sessions to show you good technique. If you’re used to weight training then there’s no reason why you can’t carry on doing so until the end of your pregnancy. You may need to start lowering your weights during your final trimester maybe even reducing to bodyweight only, add resistance bands to mix things up. If you’re starting to feel the weight of the bump then remove exercises such as push ups and plank holds from your workout. Also think about modifying exercises to a seated position where possible, such as lateral shoulder raises and bicep curls. Also, avoid spending too long in a supine position (on your back) during training, especially towards the third trimester as it can affect blood flow to the baby. Bodyweight exercises such as hip thrusts and lunges are great throughout the pregnancy and moves like squats can be modified by widening your stance and holding the bump from underneath as time goes on.


Will the hormone relaxin affect my training?

Relaxin is a hormone that is present in both men and women but during pregnancy the levels of relaxin can increase by up to ten times. The hormone has many roles right from the start of pregnancy but it’s mainly associated with relaxing ligaments around the pelvis to help with the delivery. One of the side affects of having an increased amount of relaxin in the body is the loosening of other ligaments: those in the spine can become elastic and lead to back pain and relaxed ligaments in the legs can cause instability. It’s easy to see how this could affect your training during pregnancy, so it’s important to be extra vigilant about staying stable, also be careful to not overstretch as muscles may feel more elastic than normal.


When do I stop training?

There is no strict answer, it depends on how you feel and this is another time when it pays off to have a personal trainer. I’ve trained clients up until their due date because they felt strong and healthy and others I’ve advised to stop a couple of months before because I could see they were getting very tired early on during a session. I would say if you feel well then you can continue right to the due date, just be cautious of what exercises you can and can’t do at that late stage. 


Interested in finding out more? Fit Squad DXB trainers are here to help you with you pre and post-natal fitness needs. Book your free consultation now by calling or WhatsApping us on +971 55 542 7231 or emailing us at info@fitsquaddxb.com

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Devinder Bains