Training | POSTED November 29, 2023

A Brief Guide to Training During Pregnancy

The topic of exercising during pregnancy is often a contentious one, full of conflicting information and personal opinions. This article will explore some of the latest research and guidelines to help individuals understand the safety considerations of exercising during pregnancy, the potential benefits of doing so, and the recommended types of training.

Before we get into the details, there are two important disclaimers we need to make:

  1. We are not doctors. The information in this article is not advice about training during pregnancy, nor should it supersede any specific information or advice given to you by your doctor.
  2. This article intends to provide information for pregnancies without complications. If you are experiencing any sort of complications, please consult your doctor before engaging in exercise.

With those caveats in mind, let’s dive into the topic of training during pregnancy.

Is It Safe to Train During Pregnancy?

The main concern when discussing the topic of exercising during pregnancy is usually safety. For this reason, physical activity was historically not recommended for pregnant women. However, as more research has emerged on the topic, this narrative has shifted in the opposite direction. Many modern national guidelines now recommend exercise as both safe and beneficial to undertake during an uncomplicated pregnancy.1

However, if you plan to exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to consider specific safety aspects. As the body undergoes regular and anticipated changes during gestation, you may need to adjust exercise selection and intensity to accommodate these changes.2 For example, push-ups might become a bit difficult as the baby gets bigger, so substituting them for a bench press variation will achieve the same outcomes in a more comfortable position.

There are also certain types of activities that are not recommended if pregnant. Activities involving risk of contact/collision, risk of falling, changes in air pressure (e.g. scuba diving), or high temperatures are recommended to avoid completely.3

The guidelines also list a number of warning signs to stop physical activity and consult a healthcare provider. Examples include severe chest pain, severe shortness of breath that does not resolve with rest, regular and painful uterine contractions, persistent dizziness, or vaginal bleeding.4

Individuals experiencing pregnancies involving complications should refrain from exercising until consulting with a healthcare specialist. This caution also applies to individuals with a history of certain medical conditions.

In general, healthcare professionals recommend engaging in physical activity throughout most uncomplicated pregnancies. Comprehensive guidelines exist to optimize safety. It’s always advisable to seek advice from a healthcare professional familiar with your specific circumstances.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the Australian Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy.

The Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy

Now that we know that it’s safe to train during pregnancy, we should look at whether or not there are any benefits to doing so. Research shows that there are a number of positive outcomes unique to pregnancy, including:5

  • Decreased gestational diabetes.
  • Reduced incidence of caesarean delivery.
  • Reduced incidence of delivery requiring operative intervention.
  • Decreased postpartum recovery time.
  • Prevention of postpartum depressive disorders.
  • Reduced gestational hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Less body pain and reduced physical capability due to pain.
  • Reduced gestational weight gain compared to not exercising.

Additionally, all of the regular benefits of exercise still apply. These include increased muscular strength and size, increased bone density, stronger connective tissue, greater coordination, better aerobic fitness, and improved management of various health conditions.6

Upon examining these outcomes, it becomes evident that encouraging exercise before, during, and after an uncomplicated pregnancy can provide immense benefits.

Training Recommendations During Pregnancy

We’ve talked about the safety of training during pregnancy, and what the benefits are. The last thing to look at is the actual training recommendations. If previously active, continuing to exercise within existing capabilities is a good place to start. If inactive prior to pregnancy, it is recommended to start slow, and gradually increase duration and intensity over time.7

In terms of the specifics, the activity guidelines are actually very similar to those for non-pregnant people:8

  • 2.5-5 hours of moderate aerobic activity per week or;
  • 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination thereof.
  • Resistance training at least twice per week.
  • Aim to be active most, if not all days.
  • Do pelvic floor strengthening exercises.

It’s important to keep in mind that as gestation continues and the mother’s body changes, modifications may need to be made to the type, intensity, and duration of exercise. As always, consult with a healthcare specialist to make sure that the activity you do is suitable for your individual circumstances.

Conclusion

In summary, being physically active is safe, beneficial, and recommended to do during pregnancy. For uncomplicated pregnancies, there are guidelines available to provide general advice on how that physical activity might look. However, you should not consider either these guidelines or anything we’ve discussed in this article as specific advice. Before undertaking any sort of exercise during pregnancy make sure to consult with your healthcare specialist to make sure that what you plan to do is appropriate for your specific condition.

Keep an eye out for our next article, where Rachael will be doing an in-depth look at her experience of training throughout her pregnancy!

References

  1. Guidelines for exercise during normal pregnancy and gestational diabetes: a review of international recommendations ↩︎
  2. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy ↩︎
  3. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎
  4. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎
  5. Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period ↩︎
  6. Resistance Training for Health ↩︎
  7. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎
  8. Guidelines for Physical Activity During Pregnancy; 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy ↩︎