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The Best Pregnancy Exercises for a Fit and Fabulous You (and Baby!)

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The Best Pregnancy Exercises for a Fit and Fabulous You (and Baby!)

If you want to know the best pregnancy exercises for staying healthy and fit while pregnant, then you want to read this article.

Congratulations! You’re pregnant!

You’re about to start an amazing life-changing journey. But one thing that shouldn’t change is your fitness!

In fact, your exercise routine is more important now than ever.

An active, healthy pregnancy will help reduce stress, improve your baby’s health in utero and well into life, and dramatically speed up your post-delivery recovery.

But you need to look at your workouts a little differently now that you’re exercising for two, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.

Specifically, we’re going to look at the adjustments you need to make to your exercise routine while your mini-me is growing so you can have a healthy and straightforward pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery.

We’re also going to talk about how to avoid common post-pregnancy problems like diastasis recti, leakage, prolapse, and more.

(Many women think their health and fitness has to fall apart after having kids, but they’re most definitely wrong!)

So, if you’re ready to have a happy, healthy pregnancy, let’s get started!

Think “Fit and Healthy” and Not “Lean and Ripped”

pregnancy workout plan

There’s nothing wrong with being lean and ripped.

But when you’re pregnant, it’s time to shelve the vanity and shift your focus to being fit and healthy, instead.

And yes, I’m talking about weight gain.

You see, there are good reasons that women gain weight during pregnancy.

Some of the extra pounds come from the weight of the baby, the placenta, the amniotic fluid and the expanded uterus, of course, but some of it is simply fat.

And that fat is important!

Think of it as an insurance policy for you and your baby should unexpected problems occur during pregnancy, not an unsightly layer of flab that needs to be dieted away.

[Read: How to Prevent Unhealthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy]

So, here’s what you’re really looking to achieve during your pregnancy:

Preserving Bone Density

Your body will make sure the baby gets what it needs, but what about you?

Growing a human being depletes your body of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, which can weaken your bones.

Resistance training will help prevent this from happening.

Preserving Muscle

Preserving your muscle during your pregnancy will make you feel good and give you the strength to carry baby comfortably, as well as help you recover after delivery.

Lean mass also helps you burn more calories, so the more muscle you have, the faster you’ll be able to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Raising Your Heart Rate

As you increase your heart rate during exercise, your baby’s heart rate will rise as well, and that means better cardiovascular systems for both of you.

This is why studies show that moms who exercise regularly during pregnancy raise children with healthier hearts.

Make sure you’re don’t go overboard on the intensity, though. You should be able to carry on a conversation during your workout.

[Read: The Easiest Cardio Workout You Can Do (That Actually Works)]

Strengthening Your Core

Your core is the hardest-working part of the body during pregnancy and childbirth.

So the more you do to prepare it for what’s to come, the better you’ll do.

As us ladies at Bellies Inc. say, “Prepare rather than repair!”

Now, there’s more to the core than you may think, so let’s take a closer look at the major muscles that play the most important roles during pregnancy.

Pelvic Floor

This is comprised of the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that support the spine and pelvis and keep your internal organs in place.

Here’s what it looks like:

pelvic floor

We generally don’t think of training the pelvic floor because we can’t see it, but it’s heavily taxed by pregnancy.

First, it’s weakened by months of carrying baby weight on top of it, but there’s also the release of relaxin, a pregnancy hormone that relaxes your joints, muscles, tendons and tissues and helps your pelvis widen to deliver your baby, as well as the stretching caused by giving birth and possibly scar tissue from C-section incisions.

The bottom line is the stronger your pelvic floor is, the better you’re going to do in every phase of your pregnancy.

Transverse Abdominis

This is the “rubber band” that keeps everything in your core tight and supports your internal organs.

Think of it as your body’s own little corset that wraps around your torso.

Here’s how it looks (when viewed from the side):

Transverse Abdominis

During childbirth, this muscle gets stretched out, leaving us with a pooch instead of the six-pack abs we’ve been dreaming about for so many months.

Don’t worry, though.

If you come into birth with strong transverse abs, you can get the post-pregnancy stomach you really want faster than you might think.

Multifidus

This is a muscle that fills the depression on either side of the spinous processes—the pointed ends of the vertebrae— and stabilizes the joints.

It looks pretty cool, too:

Multifidus

Diaphragm

This is the sheet of muscles and tendons that separates the abdominal cavity from the thoracic cavity, which contains the heart and lungs, and that helps with core breathing.

As the diaphragm contracts, the thoracic cavity expands to draw more air into the lungs.

Here’s how it works:

The Best Exercises to Do While Pregnant

pregnancy workout routine

The most basic rule of exercising during pregnancy is pretty simple:

Do what feels right.

If there was ever a time to listen to your body, it’s now. If it feels good, chances are it’s okay. If something doesn’t feel right or seems to be causing discomfort, it’s time to stop.

If you were a hardcore lifter before pregnancy, it’s okay to lift heavy-ish during pregnancy, but you shouldn’t be trying to set PRs because you can hurt both yourself and your baby.

If you’re having to “dig deep” to finish a rep, you’re trying too hard.

Instead, you should shift into a less intense maintenance mode so you can focus on growing a healthy baby while preserving, but not maximizing, your fitness.

You should also know that you can expect quite a bit of fatigue and nausea in your first trimester.

Don’t try to power through it with all-out training. Instead, just do what you can with low-intensity cardiovascular and core work (which we’ll talk about soon).

Avoid high-impact workouts in the first trimester even if you feel up to them, because this is when relaxin levels are at their highest and the higher-impact your exercise is during this crucial period, the higher your chances are of bladder leaks and prolapse.

Despite what some people think, you can continue with compound movements like the squat, deadlift, and bench press while pregnant, but you want to ensure you’re not putting too much downward pressure on the baby (pressing him/her onto your pelvic floor).

[Read: Are Compound Exercises Better Than Isolation Exercises?]

This is why it’s a bad idea to lift at maximum intensity while pregnant (the more weight you try to lift and the more you strain to lift it, the more downward pressure you can put on your baby.)

Thus, the best way to minimize this risk is to use lighter weights and, in some cases, reduce range of motion on exercises that involve hinging at the hips, like the squat, deadlift, and lunge.

I also recommend that you pay attention to your breathing while you train, ensuring you forcefully exhale and contract your core muscles during the hardest portions of your lifts (as this helps mitigate some of the downward pressure).

It’s a good idea to take longer rest periods in between sets as well.

Another important point: If you love you some cardio, it’s time to cut back.

As I mentioned earlier, doing something to elevate your heart rate every day is a good idea, but that doesn’t mean you should still hit up your two-hour spin classes.

You should avoid long cardio sessions and high-intensity interval training and opt for something less stressful instead.

I generally recommend walking.

I also highly recommend yoga for easing tension in the lower back and the hips, calming the nervous system, improving digestion and sleep, and boosting the immune system.

Now, you know how important a strong core is for a smooth birth and recovery, so let’s take a minute to talk about core training specifically…

The Best and Worst Core Exercises to Do While Pregnant

pregnancy ab workout

A strong set of core muscles significantly reduces your chances of some major post-delivery woes:

  • Diastasis recti

This is a condition in which the connective tissue between the two vertical walls of the rectus abdominis becomes over-stretched, causing an abnormal amount of separation in between them.

  • Leakage

This is the inability to properly control urination.

  • Prolapse

This is a condition in which an organ in your pelvis (uterus, bladder, and/or bowel) slips into the vaginal canal and feels like it’s going to “fall out.”

  • Back Pain

The pain in the lower back that can be caused by the physical changes you’ve experienced or by a difficult labor.

Now, the first thing you need to know about core training while pregnant is most traditional core exercises are a no-no after your first trimester.

And that means no exercises that have you lying flat on your back or up on all fours for extended periods of time, no crunches, and no planks.

All of these types of movements will put unnecessary pressure on your pelvic floor.

Instead, all you need for your core are the basic lifts discussed earlier (compound movements) and a proper breathing technique that encourages upward movement of the pelvic floor and inward movement of the deep abdominal muscles.

Here’s how to do it:

I recommend that you practice this style of breathing throughout the entire day because it not only helps strengthen your core–it promotes proper posture and spinal alignment as well.

One other simple core exercise that I recommend you do every day or every other day is the bridge.

And although it’s not an exercise per se, here’s a great way to relieve tension that builds up in your hips and eventually ripples throughout your body.

A Note on Diastasis Recti

A common reason that so many women that worked out while pregnant have “mummy tummy” years after birth is doing crunches and typical ab exercises aggravates the condition.

This is why I recommend you avoid doing planks and crunches and being on all fours for long periods of time while pregnant.

If you have a minor case of DR without realizing it, these things can increase the separation in your ab muscles, and this will only become apparent after you give birth.

The Bottom Line on Pregnancy Exercises

pregnancy workouts

Your primary goal during pregnancy should be gaining a healthy amount of weight while maintaining your strength and cardiovascular endurance, not dramatically transforming your body.

You should give special attention to exercise form and breathing technique, and you should always listen to your body and avoid anything that doesn’t feel right.

And if you want to get back to a flat stomach after delivering your munchkin, you want to make sure you have a strong core!

If you do all of this, your chances for having an uncomplicated pregnancy and childbirth go way, way up.

 

What’s your take on pregnancy exercises? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

StephanieMackid-Laurendeau Stephanie is an Online Nutrition/Personal Training Coach who works exclusively with women!

She's helps 1000's of women reach their potential in health and fitness through training, social media, blogging, writing, speaking engagements and more.

Join her blog, Operation Lean, for free tips, tools, recipes, and more. And don't forget to follow her on Facebook. or Instagram.

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Lea

    Hey, Mike! I have been doing Thinner, Leaner Stronger for 3 weeks now (maintenance plan since I’m still nursing, cutting cals decreases my supply). I’m loving my results except for my belly is getting bigger. Not gaining any weight, nor do I feel like I’m gaining any fat, my abdomen is just protruding more. I’m thinking I must have some diastasis recti from having 4 children. Are there other ab exercises you recommend or should I skip abs all together aside from keeping them tight during compound exercises?

    • Cool you’re rolling on TLS!

      I’ve actually worked with quite a few women that breastfeed and so long as you account for the calories burned (500 to 700 per day) and don’t be too aggressive with your calorie deficit (20% is fine), it shouldn’t impact your milk production.

      Hmm. Regarding the belly protruding and ab exercises, I’d check with the doc.

      Also, it could be a bloating issue. Take a look at this:

      https://legionathletics.com/bloated-stomach/

      Hope this helps! Talk soon.

      • Lea

        Thanks, Mike! Do you know if your products (specifically the fat burners) are compatible with breast feeding?

        • Welcome! Hmm. You can check with the doc to be sure, but I’d stay away from stimulants while breastfeeding.

      • Becky

        I’m interested in trying your program but I am interested and nervous about my weak core (diastasis recti after 3 close births). After 3 years of not knowing why my stomach was big but the rest of me was thin I realized that I had diastasis recti about a 6 finger spread (yikes!). I have gotten it down to 1 1/2-2 fingers by learning core breathing as well as the blow before you go (breathe out and contract abs/pelvic floor before doing any lifting) and wearing a wrap. I feel it’s so much better but still very weak and I don’t want to go backwards. The above poster Lea sounds like she has diastasis recti and I find that it is hard to find exercises that will help close that gap and not put undue pressure against the weak connective tissue?

  • J. Blanchfield

    I’ve been doing TLS and just found out I am expecting. I think I understand during pregnancy, if you feel good, you can continue the TLS weightlifting but move to a 10-12 rep range, monitor intensity, and engage in steady state cardio (vs. HIIT) – right? With ab exercises, is it correct that you can still do the TLS recommend ab circuits during the 1st trimester but should discard those exercises and move to core breathing after the 1st trimester?

  • Tanya

    I am on a bulking phase and gained some muscle and found out I am pregnant. (about 3 weeks now). Morning sickness hit me, and I can’t make myself eat much, especially any kinds of meat or dairy.. (pretty much just fruit/veggies) I am worried about losing all that muscle I worked on so hard. Is there any way to prevent this or will I lose them anyway during the course of pregnancy and delivery recovery?

    • Hey Tanya! Have you considered using protein supplements? There are whey and even vegan options to help you hit your protein target.

      • Tanya

        But on days I feel sick, I can’t even stand the smell of protein. I do usually use them, but the days when morning sickness lasts most of the day and gets bad, I’m only able to keep down a couple fruit/veggies. .. will I lose the muscle due to this? And how rare does this bed to happen for me not to lose any muscle?

        • Hmmm. I’d Google around for different protein options to see what kinds you’d be okay with having. Even though some protein is better than others, what’s most important is that you’re hitting your target protein goal regardless of quality.

          If you don’t end up finding anything workable for you. I recommend supplementing with BCAAs, leucine or HMB to help prevent muscle loss.

          Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • ernestgrimes

    Hey,

    Can you please do an article for moms who didn’t have this info prior to pregnancy and now have DR?
    My wife had twins in 2013 but her pregnancy was a bit more complicated. In addition to the higher risk of having identical twins, a dermoid cyst grew rapidly, due to the hormones, and she had it surgically removed 1/3 into pregnancy. Then C-Section to remove twins because 1 breech. 2015 had another C-Section for our 3rd son, who was gonna need heart surgery (doin great now), because natural process was getting to stressful for him.
    My wife now has DR with about a 4 finger gap. We now know exercises not to do and she is going to start MuTu http://mutumamas.com (what do you think of this system?).

    Do you have any recommendations on exercises and even pros and cons on MuTu (if you can check it out)? They talk about wearing flat shoes, and a bunch of other stuff. Seems legit but not fully sure.

    Also, supplements and diet recommendations for repairing/loosening tissue at the gap? (More balenced diet with a lot of protein, collagen and other supplements, etc.) I’ve heard collagen supplements are good for skin, tissue, etc. but this article seems to say otherwise: http://motherfigure.com/diastasis-recti-nutrition-myths-put-bone-broth/.

    I’m sure a lot of moms could benefit from a “post-birth” exercise/repair blog post. If you have advice that you can put in a reply, that would be great too.

    P.S. can’t men also benefit from core exercises that target the transverse abdominus, pelvic floor, etc?

    • Hey, great question, and honestly this isn’t something I’ve looked into much yet. I’ll do some more research and I’ll certainly consider doing an article on it. I haven’t looked into MuTu either, and their website didn’t have much information.

      That said, these women generally know what they’re talking about, and they have more experience with this topic than I do: https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/blog/pregnancy/healing-diastasis-recti/

      Hope that helps. I think doing some core exercises for guys is helpful, but not for the same reasons.

  • Co

    Hi Mike,

    thank you for the article. I am looking for a good diet during pregnancy so that the baby can grow well and I am not gaining unnecessary fat. My Doctor told me that protein shakes were not suitable and the sweeteners neither I guess. What are your advises about a proper diet? What did your wife do during her’s? What is the exercising frequency per week?

    Thank you for all your work, it’s a real help!
    Co.

    • Hey Co, this would be a good primer on diet: https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-eating/

      For exercise, anything that keeps you active is great. Ideally, you’d get some activity every day.

      There’s no evidence that protein shakes, per say, are problematic during pregnancy. That said, there are some concerns with artificial sweeteners and some of the other ingredients that are in many sports supplements, so I’d stick with a product that doesn’t have a bunch of artificial sweeteners, like WHEY+: https://legionathletics.com/products/supplements/whey/

      But, you also don’t need protein powder during pregnancy, either.

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