Firstly, I’d like to express my excitement and joy at the thought of what this precious time of your life means and will become. It is my honour to help advise and guide you towards optimizing your fitness during this sometimes challenging and yet very rewarding chapter of your life.

Guidelines for exercising during pregnancy are as follows:

A pregnancy is divided into 3 trimesters: the first trimester is from week 1 to the end of week 12; the second trimester is from week 13 to the end of week 26; and the third trimester is from week 27 to the end of the pregnancy.

During your first Trimester: if you were previously living an active lifestyle, then you can continue as per normal. If, however, you were sedentary prior to falling pregnant, then start slowly with your exercise routine and build up gradually.

There are no specific exercises that must be avoided during the first trimester, so just use your common sense and be gentle and kind to your body – do what feels good.

From the start of the second trimester onwards: For some women, pregnancy can cause abdominal separation, also called diastasis recti. It is a condition where the right and left sides of the rectus abdominis, the so called ‘six-pack’ muscles, spread apart at the stomach midline (the linea alba). During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles will separate anyway in order to make space for the growing foetus, and usually these muscles knit back together post birth. Over-exercising the abdominal muscles during the second and third trimesters can increase your chance of developing diastasis recti (in some cases, the muscles do not knit back together), therefore, we recommend avoiding the following exercises during this period:

Avoid loaded flexion exercises, for example “crunches”, sit-ups, “V-sit” or yoga Boat Pose, Pilates Roll- ups, Pilates Teasers, certain inverted exercises such as yoga Shoulder stand, Pilates Roll-Over, etc. Anything that bends the spine forwards (spinal flexion) by contracting the abdominals, especially with speed and load (added resistance or weights).

View my pregnancy workouts

DO NOT PERFORM THESE EXERCISES WHILST PREGNANT

However it is safe to do unloaded flexion exercises, in other words gentle spine bending that does not involve strong abdominal contraction. For example cat stretch, roll downs, childs pose with knees open, etc.

Cat Stretch
Cat Stretch

So, you can follow any of my classes listed on our website, except you’d replace the abdominal exercises as follows:

Keep spine in neutral position, for example an elbow plank, plank on knees, push-ups, side plank on knees, all of these are safe right until birth, provided you listen to your body and take it easy.

Elbow Plank
Elbow Plank
Plank
Plank
Push Ups
Push Ups
Side Plank
Side Plank
Side Plank on Knees
Side Plank on Knees

You can also do all the supine (laying on your back, facing upwards) exercises that don’t involve flexion (no crunches), example toe taps, knee drops, hip circles, star fish. Basically keeping your spine in neutral while training your core will be perfectly safe. I’d recommend using the stability ball to sit on, it’s very comfortable and soft, and you automatically strengthen your core just by sitting on it. Then you can add: slowly lifting one leg (knee fold), alternating sides, excellent for strengthening core stability and pelvic stability.

View my pregnancy workouts

Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor is like a hammock of muscles at the base of your pelvis that is now supporting the weight of your abdominal viscera, as well as growing foetus. As your baby grows, so does the pressure on these supporting muscles and other important connective tissues.

You want to gently strengthen your pelvic floor, without overdoing it either, as we need your pelvic floor to be able to open sufficiently for the birth. When you exercise, engage your pelvic floor at 25% effort and continuous contraction whilst breathing. To imagine this, think of 0% as complete relaxation and 100% as maximum voluntary contraction.

Practice contracting your pelvic floor at 25% effort and then let it rest at full relaxation (back to zero = 0%). You only need to exercise these muscles a few times per week, or only as often as you exercise.

Positioning your Body Safely

Naturally, you’ll want to avoid lying on your stomach after it becomes uncomfortable.  This means that instead of skipping the spinal extension exercises (back exercises), you can in fact replicate them in a seated and slanted forwards position. By leaning forwards, you activate the spinal extensor muscles, which run parallel along either side your spinal column, all the way from the base of the skull down across the sacrum.

Spinal Extension for Pregnancy
Spinal Extension for Pregnancy

Another option is to replace the abdominal exercises or back exercises shown in my videos (that are not appropriate for pregnancy) with other exercises, as follows:

4 point kneeling and lifting one leg to the side (fire hydrant exercise), superman exercise (lift opposite arm and leg) , use resistance band and work your arms(seated or standing), and squats/lunges.

Fire Hydrant
Fire Hydrant
Superman
Superman
Resistance Band
Resistance Band
Squats
Squats
Sumo Squats
Sumo Squats
Lunges
Lunges
Pilates Back Support (modified version)
Pilates Back Support (modified version)

From the start of third trimester onwards, avoid lying flat on your back for longer than 2 minutes; this is to avoid blocking blood flow to the baby. You can prop yourself up with many pillows to create a 45 degree slope under your back; this would allow you to lay down for longer and still be safe. Otherwise simply change position after 2 minutes.

Prop yourself up with pillows

Your focus needs to be on strengthening your arms, back muscles and legs to prepare you for carrying and nursing your baby/babies.

Safe stretching: during your pregnancy as well as up to five months post birth, your body produces the hormone called Relaxin. This causes the ligaments to be more lax than normal, in order to assist with the opening of the birth canal. Because of this, you must be especially cautious not to overstretch, which could lead to accidentally pulling or tearing a muscle/joint. Simply avoid stretching your body more than you normally would have before pregnancy, you’re looking for a 6-7 out of 10 intensity on stretching (on a scale of 0 being no stretch, and 10 being a painful, intense stretch).

Blood pressure: it is advised to regularly monitor your blood pressure and should it suddenly rise, immediately visit your doctor to check for a condition called pre-eclampsia, which is a form of pregnancy related hypertension. Pregnant women who have high blood pressure need to be careful with certain types of exercise, such as weight lifting, resistance training, squatting down then quickly and suddenly standing up – these kinds of activities can cause an increase in blood pressure as the contraction of the muscles affects blood pressure. The recommendation is to keep your movements steady, calm and flowing so as not to overstimulate the already high blood pressure.

The advice here is provided by Fitpro – The Institute of Fitness Professionals, and is not intended to replace the advice of your chosen registered medical professional. Naturally, always consult your doctor for specific recommendations related to your personal health requirements.

Article written by Lauren Sale.

View my pregnancy workouts