Guidelines for the Pregnant Exerciser

Guidelines for the Pregnant Exerciser

A Little Background

Pre and Post natal exercise has received an increasing amount of attention over recent decades and its benefits can no longer be ignored. Previously due to a lack of information and scientific data in the area, society held the restrictive view the pregnancy was a time for women to cease all physical activity and wrap themselves in cotton wool almost. As a result many myths were formed, however as the decades have progressed numerous governing bodies have produced guidelines, recommendations and research dispelling the early myths and doubters.

The majority of women can continue with their exercise programs during pregnancy, however some modifications will most likely need to be made, and some considerations taken. This article is based upon various published guidelines and aims to provide pregnant women with the knowledge they need to perform exercise safely, effectively and confidently.

Although these guidelines are there to help increase your knowledge, awareness and hopefully participation it is important to note however, that prior to performing any physical activity you should seek clearance from your doctor.

Remember also, every person is individual and what works well for you may not work well for the next person, therefore listen to your body! If it doesn't feel right then stop it immediately and seek medical advice.


It is important to get consistency in your training regime, exercising on most, if not all days of the week, however this does depend upon the type of exercise you are doing and whether you exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant. If you are performing moderate exercise, equivalent to an RPE (rating of perceived exertion) of 3 - 4 on a scale of 1 – 10, then it is ok to do so on most, if not all days of the week. However, if you frequently participate in higher intensity workouts, an RPE of 4-5, then this is safe three to five days a week, not being performed on consecutive days. If you are just beginning to exercise upon becoming pregnant, therefore have never exercised before then it is recommended that you only begin exercising during your second trimester and perform low intensity and low impact exercise.


It is important to perform both weight bearing and non-weight bearing (aqua based exercise) activities during your pregnancy, with the second most likely proving more comfortable during the latter stages of pregnancy. Weight bearing exercises typically consist of both aerobic based activities such as running, walking or cycling (however, this may prove uncomfortable in the latter stages of pregnancy), and resistance activities aimed and strengthening and stretching the specific postural muscles affected by pregnancy. However, when performing such it is important not to stretch past pre-pregnancy ranges.

It is important that throughout your pregnancy you avoid any movements that:

  • Are ballistic - involve sudden changes of direction or speed
  • Are isometric - involve holding a static contraction for long periods of time   
  • Pose a risk of falling or contact - climbing, skiing, mountain biking, gymnastics, horse riding, hockey, rugby, boxing etc.
  • Involve you laying on your back after the first trimester
  • Exercise to exhaustion, use the talk test and a rating scale. You should be able to hold a conversation during any exercise as the level of exertion should never exceed 3-5 on a rating scale of 10

Reps, Sets, Rest & Hydration

It is of the utmost importance that you take adequate rest between sets and remain properly hydrated. You should never be exercising to exhaustion, being able to hold a conversation whilst performing any weight bearing or non weight bearing activity is a good indicator you're working at the right level, this is commonly referred to as the talk test. You should also be taking sufficient rest between sets, only performing the next set or exercise once you are properly hydrated, you feel that you no longer have a significantly elevated temperature and have also got your breath back. In order to stay hydrated you should be drinking approx 300ml of water per 15 mins you exercise. Below you will find a information on the desired number of reps and sets you should be performing during each of the three trimester:

  • 1st: 2 sets of 15 - 20 reps
  • 2nd: 2 sets of 10 - 15 reps
  • 3rd: 2 sets of 8 - 10 reps    

Remember to breath properly when performing any exercise, don't hold your breath ay any point.


To help control experiencing a significantly elevated body temperature it would be best to wear loose, breathable clothes when exercising. Also wear appropriate footwear that adequately supports your feet and ankles and a well supporting bra.


As with whenever you perform exercise your calorific requirement increases, this combined with an already elevated need due to your pregnancy makes it of increasing importance not be restrictive. This doesn't mean consuming a huge amount of whatever takes your fancy, but it does mean eat to appetite, consuming the right amount and type of calories.


Women should not exercise if they have any of the following:

  • pregnancy induced hypertension   
  • preterm rupture of placenta membranes
  • preterm labour during current or previous pregnancies  
  • incompetent cervix  
  • persistent bleeding during the second or third trimester
  • intrauterine growth retardation

If you experience any of the following you should stop exercising immediately and seek medical advice:

  • Dizziness
  • Vaginal Bleeding
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Calf pain or swelling 
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Preterm Labour
  • Muscle weakness
  • Decreased fetal movement

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