Exercising During Pregnancy: Recommendations, Safety and Modifications

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

This can be an interesting topic during pregnancy. Many healthcare providers suggest low impact exercises, walking, prenatal yoga and not lifting over 20 pounds. Some of those suggestions may be appropriate, but who has another child who weighs over 20 pounds? I'm sure more than one of the women reading this blog does. Women tend to be most concerned about what is safe and what is not. Today we are going to discuss some recommendations, the safety of exercising during pregnancy and some great modifications that you can try.


First and foremost, the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy are as follows:

  • All women without contraindication should be physically active throughout pregnancy. Specific subgroups were examined: women who were previously active, women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus and women categorized as overweight or obsese

  • Pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week to achieve clinically meaningful health benefits and reductions in pregnancy complications.

  • Physical activity should be accumulated over a minimum of three days per week, however being active everyday is encouraged.

  • Pregnant women should incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities to achieve greater benefits. Adding yoga and/or gentle stretching may also be beneficial.

  • Pelvic floor muscle training may be performed on a daily basis to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence. Instruction in the proper techniques is recommended to obtain optimal benefits.

  • Pregnant women who experience light-headedness, nausea or feel unwell when they exercise flat on their backs should modify their exercise position to avoid the supine position.


Exercising during pregnancy is not only safe, but should be encouraged by your healthcare providers. There was a previous belief that exercising during your first trimester could increase your risk of miscarriage and this has since been debunked. There is no evidence for risk of miscarriage, fetal mortality or infant mortality for active women. When it comes to safety, the most important thing to remember is SHOULD you do it, even though you know you CAN do it. Fatigue will also play a big role during your first trimester. As you move into your second trimester your core is beginning to be compromised, your mobility may be improving and you will want to be cautious with your breathing patterns. If you are used to lifting heavy and creating a solid abdominal brace, you will want to begin to avoid breath holding and the downward pressure/barring down created by a valsalva. A valsalva breath/brace will create an increase in IAP and at this point there is not any research discussing how this transient increase in blood pressure can affect the baby. No matter the exercise you are performing, always remember to breathe. Exhaling on the "work" will be helpful, as it will also help reduce stress on the pelvic floor. This also brings up the topic of not lifting more than 20 pounds. Pregnant women can continue to lift heavy as long as they are being cautious with their breath. If they can't lift a weight without a valsalva breath, then it is too heavy. As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, working on your mindset will be important. Making informed decisions during your pregnancy will help set you up for a better postpartum recovery. We want you to be healthy during pregnancy, without pushing yourself!

As a side note, heart rate is a big buzz word when it comes to exercising during pregnancy. Women were once told that keeping your HR below 140 was required, however this is not the case. Everyone's heart rate is different, so 140 will not be an appropriate number for you. Consider keeping your HR between 70-80% of your VO2 max...or in simpler terms make sure that you can always have a casual conversation while exercising (The Talk Test).


Your body is ever changing during pregnancy. The effects of hormones, your biomechanics and your activities of daily living all play a role in the necessity for modifications as you continue through pregnancy. Mainly you do not want to experience any type of abnormal symptom while exercising, including: pain in the low back, hips or pelvis, pelvic fullness, urinary incontinence, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness. These types of triggers for regression may occur faster in subsequent pregnancies and if you are pregnant with twins. Listening to your body is always crucial.


  • Runners may begin to experience low back pain or urinary incontinence when running longer distances while pregnant. If this happens, modifying speed and distance will be beneficial. Speed walking at an incline on a treadmill may also be a nice alternative.

  • Women who deadlift with a barbell will eventually notice that their belly will get in the way while using a conventional stance. Modifying your stance to a sumo stance will help with comfort. Occasionally pulling from the floor can also aggravate low back complaints, so pulling from blocks will be more comfortable. Feel free to also modify a conventional deadlift to a KB deadlift from the floor or from a box.

  • Women who experience urinary incontinence with jumping jacks or jumping rope can continue to get their heart rate up by performing ball taps instead. This is a lower impact exercise that will protect your pelvic floor and reduce the risk of incontinence. Kettlebells swings are also a nice way to increase your heart rate while reducing impact on the body.

  • Weightlifters will want to remove the barbell from their movement patterns once they begin to develop a bump. Eventually your bar path will be impeded by your belly and you don't want to reinforce poor movement patterns. Switching to dumbbells at this time

If you are pregnant and are looking for some more information, feel free to reach out. We are here as a resource for moms across the city.

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