Other activities that strengthen your muscles include using the stairs, working with resistance bands and using free weights or weight machines.
Using weights and doing other kinds of strength exercise during your pregnancy will help you avoid aches and pains as your bump grows. It will also help strengthen your body for labour and for all the lifting, carrying and pram-pushing you’ll be doing after your baby is born.
If you can, include body weight exercises in which your weight provides the resistance, such as push-ups, pull-ups, as well as squats and lunges.
How should I use weights safely during my pregnancy?
There are some weight exercises that are not recommended when you’re pregnant, so it’s very important to talk to an expert at your gym or fitness centre before you get started. For example, you should avoid:
- cross-fit type training, which encourages the use of lifting heavy weights in a timed circuit.
- general circuit classes using bar bells and fast movements
- exercises that use heavy bar bells behind your neck after 12 weeks (you can use dumbbells instead).
- deadlifts, clean and press, and upright rows as there is a risk of the bar touching the baby bump - these exercises need control correct technique, correct knee and shoulder alignment – but in pregnancy this is difficult.
- weighted sit-up exercises after 12 weeks
- rotation abdominal machines.
Whether you’re used to weight exercises or not, always remember to tell the instructor you’re pregnant.
There is no specific guidance about the weights you should use while you’re pregnant – one person’s light weight can feel heavy to another person. To avoid straining your joints, use weights that feel light to moderate to you rather than heavy. A good rule of thumb is that you should do more repetitions with lighter weights. Ask your instructor or the gym staff if you’re not sure which weights or machines you should use.
Follow these tips:
- Don’t over-exert yourself or strain too much.
- Avoid lifting weights while lying on your back after the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy (exercises to strengthen the chest and arms, such as the chest press and chest fly, can be performed on an incline bench from 12 weeks and with a further incline from 20 weeks.
- Be careful lifting weights over your head in the last three months. Don’t use heavy weights, don’t hold your breath (Valsalva manoeuvre) and consult gym staff about technique. Swapping to front shoulder raises and lateral raises to shoulder height is preferable.
- It’s common sense but be careful with free weights. You don’t want them hitting your stomach by accident.
Which areas should I concentrate on?
The areas to concentrate on strengthening in pregnancy include:
- your hamstrings
- your quadriceps (front thigh)
- your gluteal muscles (buttocks)
- your ankles
- your upper back (rhomboids, trapezius and posterior deltoids)
- the deep abdominal muscles of the transverse abdominis.
- Your pelvic floor
Make sure you don’t hold your breath when you’re lifting weights – your body needs oxygen while you’re working out. Holding your breath can also lead to an increase in blood pressure, which is not good for you or your baby. This is known as the Valsalva maneuver. It disrupts blood flow to the uterus. It also raises intra-abdominal pressure causing undue pressure on the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.
What are resistance bands?
Resistance bands are stretchy bands that you pull in various positions to exercise different muscle groups. There’s no chance that they will fall on your bump so they are a safe alternative to free weights. They come in different strengths – some are easier to pull against, some are harder. As with weights, always seek advice from a trainer before doing exercises using resistance bands and tell the gym staff or class teacher that you’re pregnant.
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Many people find it helps to set exercise goals to help them stay fit during pregnancy.
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Most types of exercise are fine even if you are overweight. Being active during your pregnancy is safe and healthy for you and your baby.
Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) is a fairly common pregnancy condition. It is caused by the way pelvic joints move during pregnancy.
Yes it is. In fact, if your pregnancy is uncomplicated, it is safer to exercise than not to as it brings down the risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
Questions about exercise in pregnancy
Doing pelvic floor exercises regularly will help prevent you accidentally leaking wee when you cough or strain, both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.
These simple exercises don’t take very long to do and you can fit them into your everyday life, whether you’re at work or at home.
If you're having a normal pregnancy you are safe to stay active comfortably right up to the end of your pregnancy.
Being active during your pregnancy is safe and healthy for you and your baby.
Walking is a safe and simple way to stay active during pregnancy. It’s the perfect activity to start with if you’re not used to exercise.
Yoga is an activity that focuses on mental and physical wellbeing. It uses a series of body positions (called postures) and breathing exercises.
Swimming and doing other exercises in water is a particularly good way to stay active during pregnancy.
If you ran or jogged regularly before your pregnancy, you can carry on for as long as you feel comfortable – it’s a great aerobic exercise and can help you to have a fit and healthy pregnancy.
Pilates is a type of exercise that will work your muscles and improve your flexibility without putting too much strain on your joints.
Exercising during your pregnancy is safe and healthy. You can do most types of exercise in pregnancy, including running, pilates, weights, yoga and swimming.
There are a small amount of exercises and activities that may cause injury or other problems for you or your unborn baby. Because of this, it’s best to avoid them until after your baby is born.
- NHS Choices [accessed 23 February 2015] ‘What are strength exercises?’, NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/strength-and-flexibility/Pages/strength-flexibility-training.aspx
- 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
- ACPWH (2013) Advice for Physiotherapists and Other Health Professionals: Fit and Safe to Exercise in the Childbearing Year, London, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy/Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health: http://pogp.csp.org.uk/publications/fit-safe-physiotherapists-exercise-childbearing-year
ℹLast reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.