Safe Pregnancy Workouts

Safe exercise during pregnancy: nurturing both you and your baby

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey filled with excitement and anticipation, but it also comes with its share of questions and concerns, especially when wanting to stay active. The good news is that, for most expectant mothers, exercise can be a safe and incredibly beneficial part of their pregnancy. 

In this article, we will delve into the numerous advantages it offers, the precautions to take, and the types of exercises that can provide comfort, strength, and tranquillity during this unique phase of life. From debunking myths to providing evidence-based advice, we'll accompany you on a path to embracing the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, all while nurturing the well-being of both you and the precious life growing within you.

Why exercise during pregnancy matters

Your body, your baby

When you're expecting, your body goes through numerous changes to accommodate the growth and development of your baby. These changes can bring discomfort, but staying active can bring many benefits and can help alleviate several pregnancy-related issues.1

Regular exercise during pregnancy can:

  • Boost mood: Pregnancy hormones can bring mood swings, but exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones that help you stay positive and reduce stress. Endorphins can also help to reduce anxiety and depression, both of which can be worse during pregnancy.
  • Improve sleep: Many expectant mothers struggle with sleep, but exercise can promote better sleep patterns, helping you to wake up feeling more rested. Exercise can also contribute to better sleep quality and help reduce issues like insomnia or restless legs that some pregnant women experience.
  • Enhance muscle strength: As your baby bump grows, your body needs extra support. Strength exercises can help improve posture and reduce discomfort. Maintaining and improving good posture and core strength can help alleviate common pregnancy-related discomforts, such as back pain and pelvic instability. This can make daily activities easier to manage. Stronger muscles and core can help prepare the body for the physical demands of labour and delivery.
  • Control weight gain: Exercise can help you manage healthy weight gain during pregnancy, making it easier to return to your pre-pregnancy weight after birth. Controlling weight gain can also reduce the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Physical activity can help regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of gestational diabetes.2 
  • Prepare for labour: Endurance exercises like walking or swimming can increase stamina, which can be beneficial during labour and delivery.3
  • Reduce pregnancy aches: Exercise can ease common discomforts like back pain and swelling in the extremities by promoting circulation and muscle flexibility. Exercise helps to improve blood flow and can reduce the aches in tired muscles in your back and legs.
  • Social support: Participating in prenatal exercise classes or groups can provide social support and a sense of community with other expecting mothers. This support and community can be beneficial both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.

Expert guidance matters

While staying active during pregnancy is encouraged, it's essential to do so safely. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing an exercise routine during pregnancy. 

They can provide personalised advice based on your medical history and current health status. In most cases, if your pregnancy is healthy and uncomplicated, your provider will likely encourage you to engage in moderate exercise.

Safety guidelines for exercising during pregnancy

Consult your healthcare provider

Before starting or continuing any exercise routine during pregnancy, consult with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine what activities are safe based on your health and pregnancy status. Every pregnancy is different, and every mother is different – you need to find the right exercise for you and your baby.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration can be more challenging to detect during pregnancy, so drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts. You should try to drink 1.6 litres of fluid each day.  

Listen to your body

Pay close attention to your body's signals, even closer than you would pre-pregnancy. If you feel tired, dizzy, or experience any pain (especially in the abdomen), stop exercising and rest. It's essential not to push yourself too hard.

Avoid overheating

Pregnant women are more prone to overheating, which can be harmful to the baby. Choose cooler times of the day for outdoor activities, wear lightweight and breathable clothing, and stay in well-ventilated areas when indoors.

Focus on proper form

Maintaining good posture and using proper form during exercises is essential. Avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back after the first trimester, as this position can restrict blood flow to the uterus.

Modify and adapt

As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to modify your exercise routine. This could mean reducing the intensity, avoiding high-impact activities, or using support equipment like a belly band.

Monitor heart rate

While monitoring your heart rate is a useful guideline for exercise, it's essential to remember that during pregnancy, your heart rate naturally increases. A common recommendation is to aim for a moderate intensity, where you can talk comfortably without becoming breathless.

Safe exercise options during pregnancy

Here are some forms of exercise that are safest for pregnant women


Walking is a fantastic, low-impact exercise that you can do throughout your pregnancy. It's gentle on your joints, doesn't require any special equipment, and can be easily adjusted to your fitness level. A brisk walk in the fresh air can invigorate you and improve circulation.

Swimming and water aerobics

Swimming and water aerobics are wonderful options for expectant mothers. The buoyancy of water supports your growing belly, making it a comfortable and safe way to stay active. It also helps alleviate swelling and joint discomfort. In addition, research has found that swimming appears to have positive effects in the prevention of excessive weight gain in pregnant women.4 

Prenatal yoga and pilates

Prenatal yoga and Pilates classes are designed specifically for pregnant women. These practices focus on gentle stretching, strengthening, and relaxation, helping you build flexibility, pelvic floor strength, and core strength while connecting with your body and baby.

Stationary cycling

Stationary cycling, whether on an exercise bike or in a cycling class, provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout. Ensure the bike is set up correctly to accommodate your growing belly comfortably.

Strength training with modifications

Strength training exercises can help you maintain muscle tone and prepare your body for the physical demands of labour and postpartum recovery. Use lighter weights, focus on proper form, and avoid exercises that put strain on your abdomen.

Prenatal exercise classes

Consider enrolling in a prenatal exercise class. These classes are led by instructors trained to work with pregnant women and can provide guidance tailored to your specific needs and abilities. These will often focus on strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which are very important as your baby grows. These pelvic floor muscles can help to stabilise your pelvis and prevent pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pains.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

While many exercises are safe during pregnancy, some should be avoided to reduce the risk of injury or complications. These include:

  • Contact sports: Activities like soccer, basketball, and martial arts pose a risk of falls or collisions.
  • High-impact activities: Activities that involve jumping or sudden changes in direction can strain your joints and ligaments.
  • Exercises lying flat on your back: After the first trimester, lying flat on your back can reduce blood flow to the uterus.
  • Hot yoga and hot tub use: Overheating during exercise can harm the baby.
  • Exercises with a high risk of falling: Activities like downhill skiing or horseback riding carry a high risk of falling.

Postpartum exercise: gradual return to activity

The postpartum period is a time of incredible change and adjustment for new mothers. It's essential to approach the return to exercise with patience and care. 

While exercise can offer physical and emotional benefits during this phase, it's crucial to prioritise your recovery and well-being. Begin with gentle activities like pelvic floor exercises and walking, gradually increasing intensity as your body heals. 

Consult with a healthcare provider for personalised guidance, and remember that every postpartum journey is unique. Be kind to yourself, embrace self-care, and celebrate the small steps toward regaining your strength and vitality.


Staying active during pregnancy can be a beautiful and empowering experience. It's a way to nurture both your body and your growing baby. Remember that safety is paramount, so consult with your healthcare provider, listen to your body, and make modifications as needed. By staying active, you're not only supporting your physical well-being but also enhancing your emotional health during this transformative journey.

Safe exercise options for pregnant women include walking, swimming, prenatal yoga and Pilates, stationary cycling, strength training with modifications, and prenatal exercise classes. Remember, every pregnancy is unique, so what works for one person may not suit another. Always prioritise your safety and the safety of your baby, and don't hesitate to seek guidance from healthcare professionals who can provide personalised recommendations.

The path to a healthy, active pregnancy is one to be celebrated, and it's a journey that can lead to a stronger, more confident you as you embrace the joys of motherhood.


  1. Ribeiro MM, Andrade A, Nunes I. Physical exercise in pregnancy: benefits, risks and prescription. Journal of Perinatal Medicine [Internet]. 2022 Jan 1 [cited 2024 Feb 6];50(1):4–17. Available from:
  2. Herzberger V, Bäz E, Kunze M, Markfeld-Erol F, Juhasz-Böss I. Exercise during pregnancy. Dtsch Arztebl Int [Internet]. 2022 Nov [cited 2024 Feb 6];119(46):793–7. Available from:
  3. Cooper DB, Yang L. Pregnancy and exercise. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Feb 6]. Available from:
  4. Cancela-Carral JM, Blanco B, López-Rodríguez A. Therapeutic aquatic exercise in pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Med [Internet]. 2022 Jan 19 [cited 2024 Feb 6];11(3):501. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sarah Engelbrecht

BSc Physio (Hons), University of Cape Town, South Africa

Sarah Engelbrecht is a practicing physiotherapist, who qualified in 2003. She has many years of experience in healthcare and helping patients with their health, fitness, and wellness. Her writing has been featured on various websites in the UK and the US. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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