Training in pregnancy

Author: Grow Team
Date: 08/04/2019
Category: Grow

It was Mother’s Day recently, which got us thinking about some of the amazing mums and mums-to-be that train with us here at Grow. We get quite a few questions about training during pregnancy, so we thought we’d put together a blog with some of your most common queries.


So, first things first: what does the NHS say? Their guidelines state that staying active during pregnancy not only makes it easier for the female body to adapt to its new shape and weight gain, but that crucially it helps women to cope during labour. This is in addition to the obvious fact that if you exercise during pregnancy, you’re likely to find it easier to keep going to the gym once you’ve had the baby, which makes it easier for you to stay fit and healthy going forwards.


The authors of “Exercise During the Childbearing Year” explain that until relatively recently, there has been a tendency to treat pregnant women as though they are ill and fragile. They were often told to completely relax, avoid all exertion and even minimise stretching and bending for fear of somehow harming the baby. Thankfully, science has since shown us that this is utterly unnecessary.


Unless you have specific medical advice, you definitely don’t need to avoid exercise for 9 months! Pregnant women CAN exercise – and in fact, research shows that doing so can have a number of benefits. You just need to make sure that you are doing the right exercises for your body and level of experience pre-pregnancy.


Benefits of exercising during pregnancy

  • Studies have shown that staying active during your pregnancy can help women to cope during labour (research also suggests that it can minimise the risk of complications and medical interventions such as caeserians)
  • Can help to reduce high blood pressure
  • Can help to prevent and manage gestational diabetes
  • Lowers the risk of pre-eclampsia (a condition whereby the blood supply between mother and baby is inefficient)
  • Lowers the risk of low birth weight
  • Helps to reduce backache – gaining 5-10kg in such a short period of time puts a big strain on the lower back, triggering an increase in lordosis (excess inward curvature of the spine).
  • Encourages better posture – as well as lordosis, women may experience kyphosis, a term that refers to rounding of the upper back, due to the growth in breast tissue
  • Helps to reduce common discomforts experienced during pregnancy (e.g. constipation, swelling, bloating)
  • By improving blood flow, it can help to reduce the risk of varicose veins, back pain and swelling around the ankles and wrists
  • Exercising promotes the use of controlled, deep breathing. Practicing this can be extremely helpful during labour and can help women to stay calm during the birth
  • Active women are more likely to have a shorter labour than women who don’t exercise
  • Helps to manage stress and improve mood
  • Can help with both energy levels and sleep
  • Promotes a quicker recovery after labour


What exercise should you do?

There is no one concrete list of “safe pregnancy exercises”, because everybody and every pregnancy is different – the key thing is to listen to your body, get clearance from your doctor and do everything at a pace that you are comfortable with.


If you regularly exercised before getting pregnant, you should be fine to carry on doing what you were doing, but you may want to lower the intensity a little. The key thing is to listen to your body and stop straight away if anything feels uncomfortable, weird or painful.


One thing you should be sure to include when training in pregnancy is pelvic floor exercises (often referred to as Kegel exercises). These are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which is key to prevent urinary incontinence, a common problem after childbirth. The first step is identifying where your pelvic floor muscles are. This is quite simple to do – next time you go to the loo, stop the flow of urine briefly. The muscles that you feel contracting to do this are your pelvic floor muscles. Try holding for 10 seconds, breathing normally and then slowly releasing them.


Strengthening these muscles is important not just for preventing incontinence after birth, but will also help to make the labour process easier and promote a quicker recovery after the birth.


In terms of aerobic exercises, walking and swimming are both good low-impact options that have proven to be hugely beneficial during pregnancy. Swimming is often recommended because of the feeling of weightlessness that it invokes, which is often very welcomed in the later stages of pregnancy! It can also ease swelling and back pain.


Rowing is also a great way to train during pregnancy. Not only is it low impact, but it helps to strengthen your posterior chain and core muscles, to support your spine as it bears the extra weight of the baby, helping to avoid back pain. You can find more info about the posterior chain here.


When it comes to strength training – if you regularly lifted weights pre-pregnancy, then you can continue, but it would be a good idea to lower the weights and avoid heavy lifting or pushing movements that require you to hold your breath forcefully, as this can affect your blood pressure. It goes without saying that pregnancy is NOT a time to chase PBs.

Pre-natal yoga and pilates are also both great options, as they do an amazing job of strengthening the muscles around the pelvis and spine to help the body cope during both pregnancy and labour. Opting for a class designed specifically for pregnant women is a good idea – if there are none available then be sure to tell your instructor you are pregnant. They will then be able to make modifications to make sure the practice is safe for you. These modifications might include: no back bends or strong twists, avoiding lying on your back after 16 weeks, no breath-holding or strenuous stretches and no poses that involve lying on your abdomen.


What exercise shouldn’t you do?

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all rule that applies here. It really depends on what your fitness habits were before you got pregnant and how you feel during your pregnancy.


It may however be a good idea to avoid:

  • Very high intensity exercise
  • Activities that challenge your balance
  • Activities where you are more likely to fall
  • Exercise that may cause any abdominal trauma, e.g. contact sports or activities that involve jarring motions and rapid changes in direction
  • Certain abdominal exercises that cause discomfort due to muscle weakness and the development of abdominal separation caused by the growing uterus (called diastasis recti)
  • Extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing
  • Severe twisting at the waist while standing
  • Intense bursts of exercise followed by long periods of no activity
  • Exercising in hot, humid weather
  • Breath-holding
  • Exercising to exhaustion
  • Exercises that require you to lay on your back after 16 weeks


Pregnancy hormones and their impact on exercise



During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is released. Its role is to soften the tissues of the cervix and birth canal in preparation for labour, however it also has a wider impact on the ligaments and joints across the rest of the body, which can cause joint instability and pain. It’s therefore important to stabilise the pelvis with core exercises and avoid unilateral leg exercises that challenge your balance.



Rising levels of this hormone in pregnancy can cause weight gain in the breasts, which in turn puts pressure on the upper spine. Strengthening the postural muscles found in the core and the thoracic and lumbar spine is key to avoid pain and discomfort. At the same time, the chest muscles should be stretched to avoid tightness, and the spine should be kept mobile to prevent stiffness.



Increasing levels of this hormone during pregnancy, combined with water retention, can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. To avoid wrist pain when pregnant, avoid exercises that require you to be on all fours, bearing your weight on your wrists. Forearm and wrist stretching can also help.


Human chorionic gonadotropin (HcG)

High HcG levels in the first trimester is what causes women to feel nauseous and suffer from morning sickness. Gentle exercise can help, but if feeling ill it’s best to stay upright and avoid vigorous spurts of activity.


Key takeaways

  • There is no one rule to fit everyone – talk to your doctor and personal trainer to determine what exercise is suitable for you and your pregnancy. Also, book an appointment with a women’s health physio who can advise you specifically on pelvic floor exercises
  • Moving during your pregnancy is generally good for you and your baby, unless you’ve been told otherwise by your doctor
  • Keep doing what you were doing but the goal during a pregnancy is to maintain fitness, not reach any new personal bests!
  • Listen to your body and adapt your training accordingly – only do what feels comfortable and good for you
  • Reduce the intensity of your workouts and the amount of load lifted
  • Focus on exercises that will benefit your posture, considering the added weight to abdominals and breasts


Want some more advice on training in pregnancy? Chat to a Personal Trainer at Grow – ping an email to the team at hello@growfitness.co.uk to arrange a free consultation.


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