Fitness

Is exercising when pregnant good for you?

We speak with three experts to separate the fact from the fiction.

It’s dangerous to lift weights; don’t do squats; don’t let your heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute, don’t exercise your abs – when it comes to exercising when pregnant there is a lot of out-of-date and incorrect information floating around.

So much so, it might seem safer and easier to sit on the couch and make your way through Netflix’s catalogue for nine months. However, that’s not necessarily conducive to a healthy and safe pregnancy either.

So, we spoke to three experts: obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Will Milford; exercise physiologist, Nicole Saxby; and new dad, creator of 28 by Sam Wood and Australia's third Bachelor, Sam Wood, to separate the fact from the fiction so you can feel empowered that you’re doing the right thing by your body and your baby.

Firstly, is exercising when pregnant dangerous?

Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Will Milford answers this most simply. He says: "Exercising during pregnancy is not dangerous and does not endanger the pregnancy".

Not only is working out while pregnant not dangerous; it’s extremely beneficial and recommended.

"With updated research, we now know that the old fashioned advice to put your feet up and take it easy in pregnancy is incorrect, and that safe appropriate exercise is the best thing to do to help support a healthy pregnancy and delivery," explains exercise physiologist Nicole Saxby of Pear Exercise Physiology.

More specifically, keeping active while pregnant can prevent excessive weight gain during pregnancy, and prevents or reduces musculoskeletal symptoms such as lower back pain and pelvic girdle pain. Dr Milford explains that there is also a possible reduction in risk of gestational diabetes.

Let’s not forget that exercise can be mentally beneficial too, as Sam Wood highlights: "Exercise also gives you those feel-good endorphins that are equally as important for state of mind beyond the physical".

Is there anything I should avoid?

Before you climb off that couch and get started there are some things you need to be aware of such as: how often should I work out when pregnant? Are there any exercises I should avoid when pregnant?

If you are an active person before falling pregnant, it’s not recommended you continue with your regular fitness routine exactly as it is. Some activities should be avoided and modifications must be made.

Dr Milford recommends avoiding very strenuous exercise in hot weather (such as running a marathon on a very hot day) to avoid increases in core body temperature.

"It is also recommended to avoid hot yoga and hot pilates," he says.

Other things to avoid:

  • exercise with high risk falling or abdominal trauma
  • activities that involve physical contact
  • activities that require jumping movements or quick changes in directions due to stress on joints
  • exercises that you hold your breath
  • positions that create pelvic instability or have you on your back for extended periods

Dr Milford also warns against scuba diving while pregnant, "as the foetus is at increased risk of decompression sickness".

While you can follow a check-list of the things you should steer clear of, it’s important to remember everybody is different, as is every pregnancy. Therefore, it’s essential to listen to your body and to monitor how each activity feels for you.

How often should I work out?

So now we know that it’s safe to exercise when pregnant, and what to avoid for a safe workout – how often should we be doing it?

Dr Milford recalls the current recommendations to be "30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily during pregnancy".

New dad, Sam Wood agrees: "I definitely encourage expecting mums to move daily in a safe way, always listening to their body."

Sam also gave insight into his partner, Snezana Markoski’s, recent pregnancy and exercise regime, which may be helpful for pregnant women to use as a guide.

"Snez would have exercised four times a week on average. Two of those sessions would have been gentle walks with [family dog] Hendrix and the other two – safe sessions of full body or Pilates from my 28 program."

WATCH What you need to eat more of when pregnant. Article continues after video...

Debunking the myths

There is a lot of information online about exercising when pregnant, and unfortunately a lot of it is out-of-date, so here, with the help of our experts, we debunk some of the myths about working out when pregnant.

  • Don’t let your heart rate go above 140 bpm.
    "This is old science," says Saxby, who explains we no longer use heart rate as a measure of intensity.
    "We use the 'talk test' or rate of perceived exertion to determine intensity of exercise," she explains.

  • Don’t do abdominal exercises
    Avoid sit-ups or crunches as these moves increase intra-abdominal pressure and also increases the risk of abdominal separation. Instead, Saxby recommends replacing these movements with exercises like pallof press, side planks, farmers carries, four-point kneeling exercises.

  • Don’t lift anything heavy
    It seems this one is still debatable. Dr Milford says heavy lifting should be avoided where possible. This is mainly due to the pressure this puts on the pelvic floor, pelvic ligaments and lower back and the increased risk of injury rather than any direct effect on the pregnancy.
    Meanwhile, Saxby says "strength or resistance training is really good for pregnancy and heavy lifting is fine".

"However you require having good technique to protect pelvic floor, abdomen and spine and require breathing through the lift so blood flow isn't compromised or intra-abdominal pressure doesn’t increase," she adds, providing a great tip she calls the "blow and go".

The 'blow and go' technique for lifting suggests you begin to exhale just prior to the lift and continue to exhale through the hardest part of the lift or movement.

How soon after giving birth can you go back to working out?

New mums need to be assured that there is no rush to hit the gym as soon as they return home from the hospital.

"Ensure you rest and recover and wait until you have received your 5 or 6 week clearance from your doctor and then ease back in very gently at what feels right for you," recommends Sam. "I would say to ensure you start your pelvic floor exercises almost straight away though as these can be done quickly and easily and your body will definitely thank you."

Be sure to speak with your doctor before you begin engaging in exercise while pregnant. To make sure you remain safe while working out, engage an experienced trainer or find a gym that offers prenatal classes for women.