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Pregnancy and Exercise: The Do’s and Don’ts

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

When it comes to the topic of exercising during pregnancy, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Although the advice coming from friends and family may be well-intended, and although they likely have the best interests of yourself and your baby at heart, their advice may not always reflect the most current research, leading to the continuation of many misconceptions. It is my intention with this article to help clear up some of the common misconceptions, advise you on what exercises are safe and recommended during pregnancy, and inform you as to which exercises should be avoided. To do this, I will first introduce you to the ACOG and then talk about their take on the three most common prenatal exercise misconceptions.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also known as the ACOG, is a professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in the United States. As the leading experts in their field, they provide guidelines for doctors, midwives, and other medical professionals on a wide range of topics related to pregnancy and the postpartum period. As part of their work, the ACOG also provides guidance and recommendations for exercise and fitness during the prenatal and postpartum period. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions and check them against the current guidelines of the ACOG.

#1: “You should only perform low-intensity aerobic exercise during pregnancy."

Years ago, the ACOG recommended that pregnant women perform only aerobic exercise at a low intensity, keeping their heart rate under 120 beats per minute (bpm). However, with additional research on the benefits of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory training during pregnancy, the ACOG has since dropped the 120bpm limit. At the present time, there are no longer heart-rate regulations for pregnant women. Instead, it is suggested that women use the “talk test” to gauge their exercise intensity. At the upper limits of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, you will be breathing heavily and will be able to hold a short conversation. A sign that you have progressed from moderate intensity into vigorous intensity is that you are beginning to become uncomfortable and can only speak approximately one sentence before needing to pause to take a breath. In addition to their revised guidance on exercise intensity, the ACOG also recommends that pregnant women exercise on most, if not all, days of the week, aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Some excellent aerobic exercise choices include walking, swimming, and stationary cycling.

#2: “You should not lift weights during pregnancy.”

According to the ACOG, the evidence suggests that strength training exercises should be encouraged before, during, and after pregnancy. Strength training using weights, resistance bands, and body weight are all suitable during the prenatal period. With that being said, women should take care to avoid any exercise that could cause impact to the abdomen or result in a fall. As well, pregnant women should avoid lying directly on their back when they are performing weight training exercises as the weight of the uterus can compress the large blood vessels in a woman’s abdomen and decrease blood flow to both mom and baby.

#3: “You should not do abdominal workouts during pregnancy.”

Okay, so I get why this one would seem believable. You have a growing baby inside you and maybe you are thinking that abdominal work will restrict their area to grow or cause them discomfort in some way. But, this one is truly one of the biggest misconceptions out there. According to the ACOG, more than 60% of pregnant women experience low back pain during their pregnancy. Strengthening of the abdominal and back muscles can help to reduce this risk. In addition to helping to reduce your discomfort during your pregnancy, training the abdominal area, specifically the transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis can lead to a quicker pushing phase of labor because these are the muscles that are responsible for helping move the baby out. Finally, training the abdominal area during pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing diastasis recti, the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis muscles.

In Close:

Pregnancy is an ideal time for maintaining or adopting a healthy lifestyle through aerobic exercise and strength training. Studies show that women who exercise during pregnancy have a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and hypertension. They have a lower rate of having a preterm birth and delivering via cesarean section. As well, exercising during pregnancy is associated with shorter pushing times during labor and may also be a factor in preventing depressive disorders in the postpartum period. With that being said, women looking to start or continue exercise during their pregnancy should make sure to communicate the details of their exercise program with their healthcare provider to ensure that they do not have a medical reason to avoid exercise.

If you are pregnant and would like the assurance that comes from working with a certified fitness professional to design a program that keeps you and your baby healthy, reach out to me via phone, email, Facebook, or Instagram. I would love to help!

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To further explore the ACOG’s guidance on physical activity and exercise during pregnancy, you can click on the links below.

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