Backaches, swollen feet and low energy — pregnancy seems like the perfect time to take it easy. But unless you're experiencing complications, being idle likely won't do you any good. In fact, when you have a bun in the oven, physical activity is important for you and your baby.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), regular exercise during pregnancy reduces your risk of excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, hypertension and preeclampsia as well as premature births and lower birth weights.
Plus, breaking a sweat can also soothe some of the less-than-ideal side effects of pregnancy including constipation, bloating, swelling and the aforementioned backaches while improving your energy, posture and sleep quality, per the American Pregnancy Association.
What's more, working out while pregnant may even offer big benefits for your labor and delivery. Exercise during pregnancy helps you "train both mentally and physically for the birth marathon," says pre and postnatal corrective exercise specialist Brooke Cates, CEO and founder of The Bloom Method and Studio Bloom Online.
Specifically, Cates notes that certain core, pelvic floor and muscle fatiguing exercises can mimic contractions, prepping your mind and body for the rigors of labor. "The benefits of training for birth are quite profound and provide women with an unparalleled level of empowerment and an 'I can do this' attitude when it comes to their birth," she says.
Check with your healthcare provider before you begin any exercise program. Although working out while pregnant is generally safe, your doctor might advise against it if you suffer from certain medical conditions including heart disease or if you experience persistent vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimester.
Try This 20-Minute At-Home Prenatal Workout
To get you started, Cates has created this 20-minute workout that's perfectly safe to do during an uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy. Best part? You can do it at home in your jammies.
Do: each of the exercises listed below for 2 rounds, resting 45 seconds between each circuit.
“If experiencing any type of pelvic pain with single-leg exercises, try to narrow your stance and maintain core and pelvic floor engagement to provide more pelvic stability,” Cates says.
Move 1: Bird Dog With Hold
- Position yourself on all fours, joints stacked.
- Exhale and engage your deep core as you extend opposite arm and leg straight out.
- Inhale as you return to starting position.
- Continue alternating sides for 1 minute.
- At the end of the minute, again extend opposite arm and leg straight out but hold for 15 seconds, maintaining deep core engagement as you would in a plank.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Move 2: Lunge and Biceps Curl With Pulses
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand tall with a neutral spine.
- Step back into a reverse lunge getting as close to a 90-degree bend in the front leg as possible, keeping the knee stacked above your ankle.
- As you lunge down, curl the weights up toward your shoulders into a biceps curl.
- Drive through the front heel to rise and extend your arms down.
- Continue for 1 minute.
- On the last rep, stay in a low lunge, pulsing slowly up and down for 15 seconds.
- Then, hold a static lunge right above 90 degrees for a second before moving back into the full range lunge and biceps curls for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the right leg.
Move 3: Banded Single-Leg Deadlift
- Stand and place a light resistance loop around the foot of your left leg, grabbing the other end with both hands.
- With a slight bend in the knees and chest up, hinge forward at the hips to get your torso parallel to the floor.
- Begin to drive against the resistance and stand up, squeezing your glutes at the top (right toes can press gently into the ground for extra stability).
- Repeat on the right leg.
You should feel this in your glutes and hamstrings, not your lower back.
Move 4: Rocket Squats With Curl and Press
- Holding a pair of dumbbells with arms long by your side, lower your hips back and sit down into a squat.
- As you drive up through the heels to rise, shift your weight to your toes and come up to a calf raise.
- As you come out of the squat, curl the weights toward your shoulders, then push up into a shoulder press as you shift to straight legs on the balls of your feet.
Move 5: Side Plank
- On the floor, start on your side with your feet together and one forearm directly below your shoulder.
- Engage your core and pelvic floor as you lift your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to feet.
- Hold the position while maintaining your core engagement and without letting your hips drop.
- Repeat on the right side
If this move is too challenging, you can modify by dropping down to your knees instead.
Move 6: Bear Raises
- Position yourself on all fours, joints stacked. Roll your shoulders down your back and engage your deep core (including pelvic floor).
- With your core engaged, lift your knees 1 to 2 inches off the floor (the closer to the floor, the harder it’ll be).
- Hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then guide the knees back to the floor.
Tips for Exercising Safely During Pregnancy
With all the benefits listed above, it's no wonder the ACOG recommends women with uncomplicated pregnancies aim to do at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily. If you've been inactive for a while, start slowly (say, 10 minutes a day) and gradually build up to a half hour, the Mayo Clinic recommends.
For highly active moms-to-be, you can continue to work out as often as you like as long as you feel good and your doctor gives you the green light. That said, you'll likely need to modify some of your regular movements as your pregnancy progresses.
"When it comes to changing up the way you move during pregnancy, most women simply need to adjust the way they recruit their deep core muscles and pelvic floor in both exercise and daily movements," Cates says. She recommends working with a professional who can educate you on how to scale back on certain exercises or how to replace certain moves with more supportive ones.
For instance, Cates suggests swapping out traditional core exercises like planks and crunches for deep core and pelvic floor techniques and shifting from high-impact exercises like jump squats and jumping jacks to more pelvic floor-supported, low-impact moves.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should keep high-impact, high-intensity workouts to a minimum while pregnant, since they increase oxygen and blood flow to your muscles and away from your uterus.
If you're a cardio enthusiast, challenge yourself with low-impact compound exercises that work multiple muscles like single-leg reverse lunges with a knee drive and biceps curl, Cates says.
And if pull-ups are your thing, you can keep them in your weekly workouts, too. Just tweak the traditional pull-up by standing on a resistance band for support (the bigger your belly grows, the heavier the resistance should be).
"Supported pull-ups are a great option for women who don't want to lose their pull-up strength and form but also want to do their best in preventing injury-based diastasis recti or pelvic floor injuries like incontinence," Cates says.
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