Do you feel too much pressure on your baby during pregnancy? Is there a risk of miscarriage if you carry heavy objects? Should pregnant women rest more and move less? This is a cultural misconception. If you reduce your activity during pregnancy and become overweight, you are at risk for gestational diabetes due to obesity. However, it is best to start exercising and eating well before you are ready to conceive, which will not only increase your chances of conceiving but also give your body enough strength to support your growing belly.
Exercise should be considered as a way to develop a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy. There are many benefits to proper exercise before and during pregnancy. If your doctor thinks you have a healthy pregnancy, you should consider exercise as a way to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Benefits of exercise before and during pregnancy:
- Reducing the incidence of gestational diabetes
- Controlling the rate of pregnancy weight gain
- Reducing the incidence of high blood pressure during pregnancy
- Reducing the incidence of preterm birth and cesarean delivery
However, exercise during pregnancy is not recommended if you have any of the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Restrictive lung disease
- Cervical atresia/cervical cerclage
- Multiple births at risk for premature delivery
- Heavy bleeding in the second or third trimester
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks
- Broken water
- Preeclampsia or gestational hypertension
- Severe anemia
Recommendations for frequency and duration of exercise during pregnancy:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Women’s Health recommends that healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes per week of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity,” or even 20 to 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. Women who were accustomed to vigorous aerobic (running) or high-intensity exercise before becoming pregnant can continue their pre-pregnancy exercise habits as long as they continue to discuss exercise posture adjustments during pregnancy with their doctors and trainers.
You may be thinking, “So what exercises should I do?”
Before you know what exercises to do, you should know what exercises not to do during pregnancy!
- Avoid any exercise that involves contact, impact, or pressure on the abdomen (e.g., ball games, kettlebell hip bends, etc.).
- Sports with a high risk of falling (skiing, water skiing, surfing, cross-country cycling, gymnastics, etc.)
- Scuba diving, parachuting
- Hot yoga, hot Pilates (core temperature above 39 degrees in the first trimester increases the risk of fetal defects)
What exercises should be done during pregnancy for people with different exercise habits?
- If you were used to running or weight training before pregnancy, you can do the same exercises during pregnancy as you did before pregnancy, as long as you avoid movements that cause abdominal stress and continue to discuss exercise intensity and postural adjustments with your doctor and trainer.
- If you did not exercise or work out before pregnancy, start with low-intensity exercise (brisk walking, swimming, aerobic equipment, etc.) for 15 minutes at a time to establish a regular exercise routine.
If you exercised or worked out before becoming pregnant, it is beneficial for your body and mind to continue exercising if your pregnancy status allows. It is important to monitor your physical condition while exercising, and it is not recommended to exercise above or near your weight limit during pregnancy.
Exercise not only prepares your body for conception, but also ensures that your weight gain during pregnancy is healthy and not burdensome. Most importantly, it helps you know how to use your core properly during labor to make it smoother! It can even help you recover faster after childbirth!
Precautions for Exercising During Pregnancy:
- Avoid overheating: Exercise outdoors when it is not too hot.
- Consume carbohydrates and protein before and after exercise, and stay hydrated.
- During pregnancy, hormones can cause ligaments to become more relaxed, which can change joint mobility and increase the risk of injury. Therefore, avoid high-impact sports as much as possible.
Stop exercising immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms during exercise:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Frequent painful contractions
- Amniotic fluid leaks
- Difficulty breathing before exercise
- Chest pain
- Weak muscles that affect balance
- Swollen or painful calves
The following are the appropriate exercises for different stages of pregnancy:
First Trimester (1 to 13 weeks):
During the first trimester, the embryo is still unstable, so it is not recommended to start exercising immediately if you did not exercise before becoming pregnant. If you had exercise habits before becoming pregnant, you can continue to exercise but adjust the intensity at the right time to avoid excessive breath-holding or exhaustion. You can still do squats, planks, lunges, and other movements!
Second Trimester (14 to 26 weeks):
As the uterus gets larger and the space for organs gets smaller, avoid prolonged lying down exercises. Try to lift your upper body slightly higher than your lower body and avoid too many twisting movements.
Pregnant women who have not had any exercise habits before pregnancy can start with basic unassisted and core (Kegel) exercises. However, it is recommended that they avoid any jumping and one-legged movements. Without prior exercise habits, their bodies have not learned how to maintain core strength when jumping or how to use one-leg muscle strength to maintain balance.
Kegel exercises involve contracting the pelvic floor muscles, which can be done by imagining you are in the middle of peeing and contracting the muscles to stop. It is important not to do Kegel exercises while urinating.
Pregnant women with pre-pregnancy exercise habits can continue their regular exercise routine, but they should adjust their posture, such as using an inclined bench instead of a flat bench or using more upright mechanical equipment instead of lying down equipment. As the belly enlarges, it may be more difficult to do single-leg training, so it is important to adjust the speed of the training to maintain balance and avoid falling. It is recommended to avoid holding the breath too much and reaching the point of exhaustion throughout pregnancy.
Examples of second-trimester exercises (for reference only):
- Upper incline push-ups
- Kegel exercises
Third trimester (27-39 weeks):
Now that your belly is larger and your organs have less room, the focus of the third trimester is to continue building the muscular endurance needed for labor. At this stage, the goal is not to deliberately increase the intensity or weight of your training, but to remind you not to stop all exercise because your belly is bigger. You should continue exercising in the second trimester, but avoid more complicated and balance-intensive movements such as lunges and turns, and instead try to use standing, kneeling, or semi-kneeling movements. Excessive breath-holding and exhaustion should be avoided throughout pregnancy.
Postpartum exercise guide:
Did you start doing crunches and sit-ups right after giving birth to reduce your tummy? Big mistake! You need to strengthen your deep core first!
Many mothers are eager to get rid of their tummy after giving birth, thinking that returning to prenatal abdominal exercises will help. However, the truth is that you may be making the separation of the rectus abdominis worse!
During pregnancy, as your belly gets bigger, the rectus abdominis muscles on each side of your belly are pulled away from each other, resulting in a white line in the middle of your belly called diastasis recti abdominis. It is normal for the rectus abdominis to separate during pregnancy, but it is important to note that postpartum core exercises should not cause the rectus abdominis to separate more. Therefore, it is not recommended to do abdominal crunches right away; you should start with deep core muscles first.
Mothers experience tears in their pelvic muscles and ligaments during childbirth, so strengthening the pelvic floor muscles after childbirth is a priority for every mother. If you don’t strengthen your pelvic floor muscles properly, it can lead to serious problems such as urine leakage, incontinence, or lower back pain.
What is the pelvic floor? It is a complex system of muscles and ligaments that surrounds the genitals and anus and supports the bladder, rectum, uterus, and other organs. A strong and healthy pelvic floor during pregnancy helps your body fight the increasing weight of your baby and can reduce back pain.
If you had a natural birth, you can start doing some gentle exercises one to two weeks after giving birth.
1-2 weeks after delivery
Candice recommends the following exercises for you to try after measuring your physical condition (or after your doctor’s evaluation):
Action 1: Kegel exercises + manual stimulation
With each Kegel lift and exhalation, use your hands to bring the rectus abdominis muscles closer together and repeat the exercise.
Exercise 2: Inward Pelvic Tuck and Deep Core Activation
Lie flat on the mat, place your feet on the floor with your knees bent, lift your abdomen as you inhale, and pull your abdomen inward as you exhale.
Step 3: Simple version of Dead Bug Pose 1
Lie flat on the mat, place your feet on the floor with your knees bent, exhale and lift one foot up, keep the other foot on the floor, inhale and place the foot down, exhale and lift the other foot up, repeat. Please remember that your lower back must be close to the floor during the movement. If your lower back is not close to the floor, it means you have not activated your deep core.
Exercise 4: Simple Deadly Worm Pose 2
The only difference is that one foot is lifted while the other foot is stretched forward without touching the floor. The distance of the extended foot from the floor depends on how far your lower back can stick to the floor. Breathing is very important; proper breathing will help you activate your deep core. Exhale to lift the foot and inhale to lower it.
Action 5: Dead Bug Pose
If you can do all five of these poses, you’ve made significant progress in your deep core, so let’s get ready to do the regular version of Dead Bug Pose. With your body flat on the mat, bend your knees about 90 degrees from the floor, straighten your hands upward, inhale and straighten your right foot forward without touching the floor while straightening your left hand backward, exhale and return to the square, inhale again and straighten your left foot forward without touching the floor while straightening your right hand backward, repeat. Please note that the hands and feet in the process of stretching, the lower back must be close to the floor without arching the back. If you are unable to do this, please go back to exercise 4 and repeat the exercise.
2-4 Weeks Postpartum: Recovery, Walking, and More Walking
For a complete understanding of postpartum exercise, please refer to Candice’s Postpartum Exercise Guide: How soon can you start exercising after giving birth?
6 weeks postpartum: Low-intensity, unassisted core muscle training.
Not sure which exercises to do? You can download and try the Nuli app for free!
In the Nuli program, the “No Jump Manual Training” is designed and prepared for those of you who are slowly returning to training. The schedule is less than 30 minutes and includes no jumping cardio, starting with basic muscle strength. You can start with 2 times a week and gradually increase the training frequency.
There are also many yoga and stretching classes in the app that can be used after a workout or on rest days, such as relaxation yoga, breathing and body activation, and full-body stretching. Follow the yoga instructor to stretch, relax, and find balance in mind, body, and spirit!