Important note: All information given are just guidelines and prevention options may vary to treatment options. You must consult a medical practitioner before altering, adding to or influencing current treatment or individual practices in any way shape or form.

Exercise During Pregnancy

First trimester – 0-13.
Second trimester – 14-28.
Third trimester – 29-42.

Any female who is pregnant or has given birth within the last 8 weeks must gain medical approval prior to commencing or resuming their exercise program. It is recommended that exercise should not be commenced prior to the 15th week of pregnancy for previously sedentary (non active) females. Duration should not exceed 25 minutes with a frequency of no more than 3-4 times per week. Heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute (used as a general guideline as heart rate is measured against age. As most females these days are giving birth at a later stage in life this figure may indeed be a lower number).


Things to avoid:

  • Avoid sit ups from supine position after the 16th week of pregnancy
  • Avoid exercises that include asymmetrically loading on the hip
  • Avoid weight work involving standing
  • Avoid high impact exercises
  • Avoid twisting movements
  • Avoid sudden changes in direction
  • Avoid ballistic movements
  • Avoid deep squatting
  • Avoid unilateral leg exercises
  • Avoid exercises that may involve loss of balance (stepping), especially in last trimester
  • Avoid deep flexion or extension of joints because of connective tissue laxity.
  • Avoid spurts of high intensity aerobic exercise
  • Avoid exercising on hot or humid days
  • Avoid exercise if still bleeding, experiencing pain or discomfort
  • If had a caesarean section – minimal exercise prior to 6 week check up
  • Avoid sit-ups/obliques until 12 weeks
  • Avoid overhead exercises where possible


Things to recommend:

  • Encourage seated exercises
  • Encourage controlled water exercises
  • Include regular rest breaks
  • Use fans
  • Liquids should be taken liberally before and after exercise to prevent dehydration
  • “Talk test” – ensure not short of breath, able to talk comfortably
  • Carbohydrate rich snack about one hour prior to exercise program
  • Use light weights (10-15 reps – 2-3 sets)
  • Slow controlled movements
  • Avoid Valsalva manoeuvre (holding breath)
  • Use machines over free weights
  • Pelvic Floor exercises – are a MUST! (Pilates)
  • Slow gradual stretching – hold 20-30sec
  • Include low impact aerobics. E.g. Walking, Stationary cycling
  • Swimming (avoid breaststroke) – pool temp 29-31 degrees
  • Rest if fatigued
  • Advise arch support of females with high arched feet as the additional body weight may place extra strain on the ligaments holding the arch
  • Postural awareness is essential at all times. Ensure back is in good alignment and knees slightly bent
  • Maximum 4 sessions per week
  • Listen to Body – do not expect too much too soon
  • Keep the cardiovascular/aerobic component to 15 minutes maximum
  • Advise cool cotton clothing, loose fitting
  • Avoid saunas and steam rooms and high temperature pools. Pool temp recommended 29-31degrees
  • Upper back pain can be experienced especially in the 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Implications: Encourage upper back strengthening exercises, stretch pectoral muscles, encourage use of supportive bra.


Good general exercises:

  • Upper back exercise – Shrugs, seated row
  • Lower back – Pelvic tilts, Swiss ball exercises
  • Abdomen (prevention of lower back pain, strengthen muscles of labour) – Swiss ball exercises
  • Pelvic floor – (Promotion of bladder control, prevention of incontinence) – Squeeze muscles of pelvic floor and hold for 10 seconds (to teach a beginner this exercise ask them to try and stop the flow of urine next time they go to the bathroom)
  • Upper body – Pectoral stretches
  • Lower limbs – (Prevention of varicose veins) – Calf raises (seated), leg work from side lying position


For your Knowledge:

  • Valves in the veins and blood vessels are affected by relaxin thus making them less elastic as a result. Blood can pool in the veins causing varicose veins. Use the “calf muscle pump” in the warm down/cool down phase. It is said that the contractions of lower leg muscles will assist blood flow back to the heart. Include walking, calf raises (seated), stepping.
  • Supine Position – From the 16th week into pregnancy, lying in supine position is said to place pressure on vane cava which effects blood flow back to the heart and therefore around the body. Normal sit ups from supine position not recommended after the 16th week of pregnancy. If absolutely necessary to lie in supping position place padding under right buttocks region to shift any pressure away from this region.
  • As a guideline a mother should increase her body weight by approximately 20 – 25% during pregnancy. Extra fat stores should account for only 20% of weight gain. Blood flow can increase by up to 40% in the third trimester – can result in blood pooling – Avoid prolonged standing exercises.
  • The most dangerous complications are overheating (1st trimester) and premature labour (3rd trimester)
  • The hormonal and physical changes of pregnancy will readjust after the first 6 – 8 weeks. It may take up to 9 months for stretched muscles to return to shape.
  • Catecholamines mediate blood flow distribution. During exercise, blood flow is directed to working muscles and away from the uterus. Implications: Limit aerobic exercise to 15 minutes, no more than 25, limit intensity to mild.
  • Relaxin is at its peak at about 12 weeks into pregnancy. The function of relaxin is to soften the structures of the musculoskeletal system, particularly around the pelvis. This means that ligaments, tendons and muscles are softer and less elastic – therefore more susceptible to injury. Implications: Avoid twisting and rotation exercises, avoid ballistic, stretching, avoid deep knee bends, control stretching, avoid high impact exercises.

Filed under: Useful Informations

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