What kind of exercises can I do during pregnancy?

Exercising during your pregnancy is safe and healthy. You can do most types of exercise in pregnancy, including running, Pilates, weights, yoga and swimming.

If you exercised before you became pregnant, you can continue doing the same exercise now. The aim should be to keep your current level of fitness rather than trying to reach peak fitness.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is any activity that makes your heart beat faster. This includes brisk walking, swimming and various classes that you do to music.

If you’re new to aerobic exercise, start off slowly and gradually build up to a maximum of four half-hour sessions a week. 

Read more about aerobic exercise in pregnancy.

Cycling

Cycling is a great low-impact aerobic exercise. However, as your bump grows, your balance will change, which could mean you are more likely to fall off.

If you’re used to cycling, you should be safe to carry on, but if you begin to feel less stable than usual it may be best to stay off your bike or switch to a stationary bike until after your baby is born.

Using a stationary exercise bike in the gym or as part of a group session is fine.

Pilates

The aim of Pilates is to improve balance, strength, flexibility and posture. It could help your body cope with carrying the extra weight of your growing baby, as well as preparing you for childbirth and recovering afterwards.

Read more about Pilates in pregnancy.

Running

If you were a runner or jogger before you got pregnant, it’s safe and healthy to continue during your pregnancy as long as you feel okay. Your baby will not be harmed by the impact or the movement. Running is a great aerobic workout.

Read more about running in pregnancy.

Strength exercises

Strength training exercises are exercises that make your muscles stronger. They include swimming, working with weights, walking uphill and digging the garden.

It’s a good way to keep your muscles toned during pregnancy.

Read more about strength training in pregnancy.

Swimming

Exercising in water supports your bump and won’t strain your back. It’s a great way to get your heart rate up without putting extra stress on your joints and ligaments.

Aquanatal classes are popular and can be a fun way to meet other mums-to-be. 

Be aware

You may need to avoid breast stroke because it can cause back pain if your spine is not aligned correctly. It can also be uncomfortable for women with symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD)/pelvic girdle pain (PGP).

More about exercising with SPD/PGP

Read more about swimming in pregnancy.

Walking

Walking is a great basis for pregnancy fitness and you can do it for the whole nine months if you feel comfortable.

Walking is free and it’s available on your doorstep. If you’re not used to exercising, walking is a great place to start.

Read more about walking in pregnancy.

Yoga

Yoga is an activity that focuses on mental and physical wellbeing. It uses a series of body positions (called postures) and breathing exercises. Pregnancy yoga uses relaxation and breathing techniques with postures that are adapted for pregnancy.

Read more about yoga in pregnancy.

Download and print your weekly exercise goal plan

Can I work out at home while I’m pregnant?

If you can’t get out or you’re short of time, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home or at work that you can fit around your daily activities.

Look for pregnancy workout DVDs or try our easy home or office workout. You could always look at ways that you can be more active around the house – putting extra energy into the housework or gardening, for example.

If you work, can you use your commute to exercise by getting of the bus or train a stop early and walking the rest of the way?

What are pelvic floor exercises?

Pregnancy and birth weaken your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are located in your pelvis and go from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the back. They are shaped like a hammock and protect your bowels, womb and bladder.

Your pelvic floor muscles support these organs when you jump, sneeze or cough, lift heavy things, and push your baby out in the second stage of labour.

When you’re pregnant you should make sure you exercise the muscles of your pelvic floor. By keeping them strong you can help decrease the risk of becoming incontinent (when wee leaks out accidentally).

You can exercise them at any time of day, wherever you are, without anybody knowing you’re doing the exercises.

Try these pelvic floor exercises

Where can I find pregnancy exercise classes?

It’s not always easy to find a suitable session or instructor while you are pregnant, so here are some tips on how to find one:

  1. Ask your midwife, GP or the receptionist at your surgery or antenatal clinic.
  2. Join Facebook groups or online forums specifically for mums in your local area and ask for recommendations about local classes or instructors.
  3. Ask the instructors at your usual class or gym if they can refer you to someone.
  4. Contact your local council or leisure centre and ask about local services. Even if you can’t see anything on their website, give them a call and they might know somewhere nearby that offers sessions.
  5. Look for posters in local maternity/baby stores or at community centres, and ask other pregnant women or mums you bump into.
  6. Many instructors are members of the Register of Exercise Professionals, and you can search for those who are qualified to teach pregnant women.
  7. Always make sure you tell your instructor about your pregnancy, including any complications or medical conditions.

If you join a general class rather than a pregnancy-specific class, ask the instructor if they are able to advise you on any exercises that you shouldn’t do or ways to adapt exercises for you. If they aren’t able to do this, you should look for a different session.

Things to be aware of

There are a few things to be aware of:

  • Be careful if you are doing exercises where you could lose your balance, such as cycling, horse riding or skiing.
  • Avoid contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, football, judo or squash (though if you’re in a team you can still continue to do any non-contact training).
  • Don’t exercise at high altitudes without acclimatising.
  • Don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time.
  • If you have any unusual symptoms, stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife immediately.
  • Don’t let yourself get too hot – drink lots of water, don’t over-exercise (see below) and don’t exercise in a very hot, humid climate without giving your body a few days to get used to it.
  • Don’t do exercises in which you lie flat on your back after 16 weeks.

Read about exercises to avoid in pregnancy.

If you take care with these points you can safely continue to stay fit through your pregnancy and beyond.

If you did not exercise before getting pregnant, it is safe and healthy to start now. Start with 15 minutes of exercise 3 times a week and increase it gradually to 30-minute sessions 4 days a week or every day.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean planned sessions – there are some ideas here for everyday activity that can help boost your health and that of your baby.

Don’t overdo it

Avoid pushing yourself too hard as this can make you overheat, which is not good for your baby. You should aim to work hard enough so that you breathe more deeply and your heart beats faster, but not so hard that you can’t pass the talk test. You should be able to hold a conversation without gasping for breath.

If you’re doing an exercise class or working out in the gym, tell the teacher or gym instructor you’re pregnant and ask their advice about checking your heart rate.

Heart rate to aim for when doing aerobic exercise in pregnancy

Your age Heart rate (beats/minute)
Less than 20 years 140-155
20-29 years 135-150
30-39 years 130-145
Over 40 years 125-140

Download our guide to staying active in pregnancy

More about exercise

Sources

  1. RCOG (2006). Exercise in Pregnancy: Statement No. 4, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/statements/statement-no-4.pdf
  2.  NHS Choices. Exercise in pregnancy. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-exercise.aspx (Page last reviewed: 14/01/2017. Next review due: 14/01/2020)
  3.  NHS Choices. A guide to pilates. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/pilates.aspx (Page last reviewed: 11/05/2018. Next review due: 11/05/2021)
  4.  Nascimento SL, Surita FG, Cecatti JG (2012). Physical exercise during pregnancy: a systematic review. Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 24 (6): 387–94: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23014142 
  5. Katz VL (1996). Water exercise in pregnancy. Seminars in Perinatology, 20 (4): 285–91: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8888454 
  6. NHS Choices. A guide to yoga. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/yoga.aspx (Page last reviewed: 11/06/2018. Next review due: 11/06/2021)
  7. NHS Choices. What are pelvic floor exercises. http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1063.aspx?categoryid=52 (Page last reviewed: 30/04/2017. Next review due: 30/04/2020)
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Last reviewed on July 31st, 2018. Next review date July 31st, 2021.

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