Wondering where to get started in your prenatal exercise adventure?
Optimal pregnancy exercise guidelines will differ for every mom, depending on your pre-pregnancy activity level and how your pregnancy is progressing. For most uncomplicated pregnancies, prenatal exercise is extremely beneficial and can help you look and feel your best throughout pregnancy and after baby. We reviewed guidelines from all over the world to find out what physicians (and moms!) do to achieve optimal health in pregnancy.
A collective study by 10 physicians in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine analyzed the prenatal exercise guidelines of 9 countries, eleven different plans in total, to better understand what are widely considered optimal exercise guidelines for the pregnant mom. Many countries had some interesting and individual additions to their pregnancy exercise guidelines. Japan, for example, recommends exercising only between 10 am and 2 pm, while Norway specifically states the importance of wearing light clothing.
While all the general recommendations presented by the participating countries have some value to moms, the advice specifically related to the FITT exercise principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time, & Type) are how we determine what the optimal exercise guidelines are. All the participating countries recommenced starting an exercise program in pregnancy (with your doctors ok), even if you were inactive before, so let’s have a look at the optimal exercise guidelines for prenatal exercise.
Across the eleven proposals, frequency recommendations differed for almost every guide. How often you should be exercising is partly determined by your pre-pregnancy activity level, among other health factors. 3/4 of the guidelines recommended a goal of gradually building up to more frequent exercises, on most days of the week.
For moms who were active before pregnancy, it’s generally considered safe to continue to exercise as often as you were before, especially in the first trimester, so long as the intensity (see below) is within range, and the exercises are safe & feel good. If you’re just starting out, get clearance from your doctor, and begin with 2-3 days per week of low-intensity exercise, gradually working up to most days of the week for optimal results. Exercising each day can help to improve your endurance, strength, and muscle memory, giving you results more quickly and safely than trying to pack a week’s worth in one day.
So rather than trying to set aside a day or two a week to squeeze in a gym-marathon, try fitting in shorter bursts (see Time, below), of prenatal exercises daily– your body and baby will thank you!
Determining how hard you’re working during an exercise can be challenging, especially if you are new to an exercise program and are concerned about overexerting yourself.
Many exercise guidelines traditionally advise tracking heart rate. Heart rate monitoring involves tracking resting heart rate, and calculating a safe range to exercise within (usually 60-80% of maximum aerobic capacity) or around 140 beats per minute. This measurement, however, varies significantly based on your individual cardiovascular strength and pre-pregnancy activity level. Using heart rate monitoring is not considered the most effective way to determine what’s safe, or whether you’re getting a great workout.
Recently updated healthcare recommendations suggest moms use the ‘Talk Test‘ to help achieve optimal prenatal exercise. This easy-to-use intensity indicator requires no equipment (and no math!). You should be able to carry on a conversation with your workout buddy, sing along to a song, or say a few words to your growing baby bump. Use the talk test to determine if you’re workouts are too intense (not getting enough air), or if it’s time to ramp up your efforts!
It’s most important to remember that the best indicator for safe prenatal exercise is how you feel. So breathe easy, do what feels good, and challenge yourself where you can to make the most of every workout.
Several studies now show that shorter workouts, (10-15 minutes at a moderate intensity) performed more frequently can actually be more effective than one long sweat-session. These shorter workouts also have longer-lasting benefits, including long term cardiovascular and muscular response improvement.
Frequent, shorter exercises, performed at your maximum intensity works to:
- Regulate blood sugar
- Keep blood pressure in check
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Increase your metabolism and improve digestion (which can often be sluggish in pregnancy– thanks, hormones!)
- Improve your sleep quality
As busy mamas, an hour or more at the gym might be impossible to come by, but fifteen minutes to perform some exercises at home that don’t require a gym full of equipment can be a very realistic goal. By performing exercises for shorter periods of time, you are more likely do them accurately– so you can reduce your risk of injury, and get more out of each move.
Rather than exercising to exhaustion once or twice a week (not recommended in pregnancy!), you can try 10-30 minutes of well-performed workouts, each day. You’ll see more benefits from breaking up 2-3 hours of exercise over 7 days, versus one long day spent at the gym!
Activities considered beneficial for prenatal health promotion across most of the guidelines in the study include: aerobic, strengthening, walking, and water exercises. Other examples of safe and effective prenatal exercises suggested in many of the included samples include; yoga, Pilates, and pelvic floor exercises (incorporated in the Prenatal + Postnatal Membership)!
The safest and most effective prenatal exercises for each individual pregnant mom vary, based on your pre-pregnancy exercise routines and how your pregnancy is progressing. We see moms doing CrossFit, lifting and competing in athletics, all within their own range of physical capability. You can safely continue any pre-pregnancy exercises into the first trimester, so long as there is no risk for impact or falling. Into your second and third trimester, start including the workouts from my Prenatal + Postnatal Membership. Introducing these pregnancy-specific exercises can help prepare your growing body for late pregnancy, delivery and life as a busy mom.
Remember, only perform exercises that are comfortable for you. You can alleviate many common discomforts of pregnancy with light stretching, walking, or mindful breathing exercises, but it’s important to talk to your doctor before exercising.
So What's Right For Me?
Always discuss with your healthcare provider before changing your health plan during pregnancy. Your doctors can provide insight into how your pregnancy is progressing, and if there might be concerns or limitations specific to your body and baby.
Once you have the green light, and if you’re new to exercising, begin with 10-15 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercises, then you can gradually work up to 30 minutes per day, on most days of the week. Research indicates that 150 minutes of exercise per week is the minimum to strive for, which works out to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Breaking up that 150 minutes in any manageable slices (fifteen minutes in the morning, and fifteen after work) can help you achieve the ultimate objective: improving your health and endurance in pregnancy, without having to overhaul your schedule!
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Begin Your Optimal Prenatal Fitness Journey Today! Try Some of These Knocked-Up Fitness Exercise Tutorials:
- Modified Down Dog to Plank
- Foam Rolling Glute Release
- 7 Pregnancy Pilates Leg Exercises
- 5 Exercises to Help Get Rid of Back Pain During Pregnancy