Forms of Exercise during Your Pregnancy

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

Now isn’t the time to shoot for that Ms. Fitness title, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Because your pregnant body demands you take new precautions, choose your style of exercise carefully.

Working your heart: Aerobic exercise

Weight-bearing exercises like running, walking, aerobics, and using a stair-climbing machine or an elliptical trainer are great, as long as you don’t do too much. These exercises require you to support all your weight, which is ever-increasing.

Because your joints are loosening and your center of gravity is shifting at the same time, you run a slightly higher risk of injuring yourself. Remember to do only what you know you can rather than setting off on a new exercise routine that is too demanding for your current state of fitness, not to mention your pregnancy.

Pilates is a popular mind-body conditioning program focused on strengthening the core postural muscles important in maintaining your balance and supporting your spine. For the most part, continuing Pilates classes while you are pregnant is safe, as long as you avoid lying flat on your back for long periods of time.

If you choose to take aerobics or Pilates classes, look for those designed specifically for pregnant women. If no classes are available, talk to the instructor to find modifications for exercises that are inappropriate.

You may find it easier, particularly later in pregnancy, to perform non-weight-bearing exercises. Because your weight is supported, you have less chance of injuring yourself, and your joints aren’t stressed. If you’re new to exercise, a low-intensity workout in the pool or on a stationary bike is ideal.

Downhill skiing, waterskiing, and horseback riding put you at risk of falling with significant impact, which could injure you or your baby. Although these activities may be fine early in pregnancy, talk to your doctor before doing them in your second or third trimester. Cross-country skiing is less risky, especially if you’re experienced.

Strengthening your muscles

You won’t get a great cardiac benefit from weight lifting, yoga, or body sculpting, but you can improve your muscle tone and flexibility, which comes in handy during labor and delivery.

Weight-lifting machines may be preferable to using free weights because you know you won’t drop the weights onto your abdomen. But use free weights with caution, preferably with the help of a trainer or a skilled friend.

A trainer can also show you the proper way to exhale and inhale during lifting. Breathing well is important because it lessens the chance that you might bear down (otherwise known as the valsava maneuver, a method of increasing abdominal pressure). This can reduce blood flow, raise your blood pressure, and stress your heart.

Avoid using very heavy weights, which can cause injury to your joints and ligaments.

Yoga, which is a great choice for pregnant women, is not only an excellent form of exercise, but may also be helpful in mastering breathing and relaxation techniques. Yoga is particularly useful in strengthening lower back and abdominal muscles and increasing stamina and physical endurance — all of which make you better equipped to handle the rigors of pregnancy.

Across the country, yoga studios are gaining in popularity, and many are offering specific classes for pregnant women.

Bikram yoga is a special type of yoga that is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States. It involves performing yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 60 to 70 percent.

Although some doctors feel that this type of yoga is safe for pregnant women during the first trimester, prolonged exposure to high temperatures during the first trimester is inadvisable, given the possible risks of causing a neural tube defect.