As most moms-to-be likely know, staying active during pregnancy comes with a motherlode (we had to) of proven benefits. Regular prenatal workouts can boost your mood, improve sleep, and help prepare your body for labor and the new functional movements of motherhood (like picking up a car seat or putting your baby in the crib). It also helps alleviate the pains of pregnancy—like those aches in the lower back, calves, ankles, or wrists.
And it’s a boon for your baby too: Exercise during pregnancy can boost your baby’s heart health and BMI while delivering lasting benefits on cognitive and motor skills tests, according to a recent study.
All that said, there are some important precautions to take if you’re exercising while pregnant. To prepare our obé-mamas-to-be to sweat fiercely (and safely), we went to our Programming Director Melody D., a NASM CPT + PROnatal Pre/Postnatal Certified fitness instructor (and mama!), for her tips and expert advice. (Note: Because every pregnancy is different, always make sure to get the green light from your doctor before you start any exercise routine.)
1. Take it trimester-by-trimester
At every stage of your pregnancy, the main goal during any workout is to avoid excessive intra-abdominal pressure, which can result in diastasis recti (aka abdominal separation) and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. To stay safe, keep these guidelines in mind:
- First Trimester: Stick to what you know
During this time, you can continue doing anything you were doing before your pregnancy. “You may feel a little less than 100%, a little nauseous, or a little fatigued” says Melody, “but while your actual workout performance may not feel the same, you’re physically safe to keep sticking to your prior regimen.”
- Second Trimester: Ease off the core
Now’s the time to start being mindful about certain types of core movements—like crunches, Russian twists, bicycles, or side reaches—to avoid that excess pressure. While you may still feel okay doing those moves, it’s best to start practicing your modifications (see examples below), says Melody.
- Third Trimester: Keep your balance
Continue steering clear of those core movements, but also start being careful with any sort of balance or stability exercises (like single leg movements). As your hormones shift, a hormone called relaxin will cause your joints to relax, challenging your balance. Melody recommends holding onto a chair for added stability, or keeping both feet on the floor. And unless you’re elevating your hands, skip the planks during these last few months, adds Melody.
A special note: When it comes to obé class types, there is no hard-and-fast rule for when (or when not) to take a certain class. As your body changes, you may feel less comfortable jumping or taking on high-impact moves (hello, low-impact HIIT classes), but as long as you’ve mastered your go-to modifications—stick with whatever makes you feel your best. “Find ways to adjust the position—you don’t necessarily have to adjust the class,” says Melody.
2. Keep striving for five
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Our translation? Strive for five (28-minute) obé classes a week. Aim to make two of those five cardio-based, and three strength-based. (Check out this article to learn which classes fit those categories.)
And don’t neglect those weights: The more you strengthen your supporting muscles (especially your upper and lower body) during pregnancy, the better, Melody says. “I think pregnant women get scared to continue lifting heavy weights, but that is actually what’s going to most prepare you to successfully make it through both your pregnancy and postpartum journey.” (P.S.—Barre, Sculpt, and Pilates all count as strength training, too.)
Her favorite equipment to level up prenatal workouts? Resistance loops (great for activating those essential lower body muscles), dumbbells or kettlebells (treat them like your new best friend to boost your strength game), and barre balls (for lower back or neck support).
3. Expect to feel… a little different
Your body is going through a full-fledged metamorphosis, so your workouts won’t feel like they used to. During your pregnancy, Melody says to keep a pulse on your rating of perceived exertion (RPE)—in other words, how you’re feeling on a scale of one to 10. Hovering around a 7/10 (working hard and feeling breathless) is great, but if you hit a 10/10 (getting so breathless you can’t even talk), make sure to tone it back.
Another big change? Because your cardiovascular system is on overdrive, your heart rate is naturally elevated during pregnancy—so don’t rely on your heart rate monitor as an accurate gauge of intensity (instead, tune in to your RPE).
Lastly, Melody says to be especially cautious about overheating and hydrating during your prenatal workouts. Try to obé in places with breezy ventilation to keep your body cool, and always hydrate during, before, and after your class.
4. Catch your breath
If you’re not yet versed in 360 breathing (also called belly breathing), make sure to take this 6-minute obé class to master the techniques before you get moving. During your prenatal journey, this is the single most important thing you can learn to keep taking all your classes safely, says Melody. The technique guarantees you’ll engage your core safely and keep a steady breath to avoid causing that excess abdominal pressure.
Another reminder: Don’t forget you call the (fitness) shots. Your pregnancy is your time to listen to your body, so if you need to take a breather or an active rest day, you can still fill your “strive for five” goal with a feel-good prenatal stretch or yoga flow.
5. Swap this for that
Want to branch out of the prenatal hub? We’ve compiled a list of exercises to avoid after your belly begins showing—plus some safe modification swaps—so you can feel comfortable taking your favorite obé classes throughout your pregnancy.
- Instead of: Sit-ups and crunches (spinal flexion)
Try: Deadlifts, goblet squats, front-racked lunges (anti-flexion)
- Instead of: Side-to-side oblique bends (lateral flexion)
Try: Lunges, Squats (anti-lateral flexion)
- Instead of: Backbends, cobra, Upward facing dog (spinal extension)
Try: Plank (modify with hands elevated), deadbug (anti-extension)
- Instead of: Leg lifts, teaser, hollow body hold (advanced lying core work)
Try: Bridging (lying hip extension)
- Instead of: Bicycles, Russian twists (rotation)
Try: Bird dog (anti-rotation)
- Instead of: Full planks, center plank, side plank
Try: Kneeling plank/side planks, hand elevated planks (try this in your second trimester only—you may want to avoid this move completely by the end of the third trimester!)
And finally: The big no-no’s
For any exercises, make sure to stop if you’re feeling these three warning signs: Uncomfortable breathlessness, pain that’s not just usual soreness, or any kind of dizziness. During your pregnancy, never (ever) try to just push through, says Melody. To stay in your safe zone, avoid:
- Putting excessive pressure on your abdominals by “sucking in” your belly, forward bending, side-to-side bending, back bending, or rotating
- Holding or restricting your breath during the “work” portion of an exercise
- Lying flat on your back for extended periods—instead, modify by elevating your hips (slightly) with a wedge or pillow
And no matter your fitness level, always remember to take your pregnancy one day at a time. “By the time you get to the end of your pregnancy, you will actually be in the best shape of your life because you’ve been training with this extra resistance,” Melody says. And obé will be here for you, every sweat, every step of the way.
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