Prenatal Exercise: what intensity is right for antenatal exercise?

A common question asked by women wanting to exercise when pregnant is what intensity is it safe to exercise at ? Previously it was advised that women use their heart rate as an indicator, not letting it exceed 140 beats per minute, however as heart rate differs so massively from one woman to the next the RPE scale is commonly the preferred method.


What is RPE?

The RPE scale (rating of perceived exertion) is used as a method of measuring the intensity of your exercise. The RPE scale runs from 0 -10 with the numbers used relating to phrases that describe how difficult you find an activity, for example 0 is nothing at all whereas 10 is very very hard. Below is an example of the scale:

  • 0 - Nothing at all

  • 0.5 – Just Noticeable

  • 1 - Very light

  • 2 - Light

  • 3 - Moderate

  • 4 - Somewhat hard

  • 5 - Hard

  • 6

  • 7 - Very hard

  • 8

  • 9

  • 10 - Very, very hard


What exercise intensity should I be working at during pregnancy?

During pregnancy you should try and maintain your exercise intensity between a 5-7, the fitter you were prior to pregnancy and the more exercise you have done during then the safer and more appropriate it is to stay closer to a 7. If you didn't exercise prior to pregnancy then it would be better for you stay closer to a 5 and build it up slowly. When you are exercising this method is more appropriate to see if you can push yourself that little bit more, for example if you did 15 reps of a dumbbell squat using two 4kg dumbbells and found it relatively easy but wasn't sure if you could push yourself think about this scale. If you are stayed active before pregnancy and have done so far during and you felt that the squat only pushed you to about a 5 out of 10 then it should be ok for you to either do more reps or increase the weight.


How will I know I am exercising at the right level?

The important thing to remember when using this method is to not push yourself too hard for too long. Using the example of the squat, if you increased the weight and it pushed you for a couple of sets thats fine, but try not to then go through your whole routine remaining at a 7 out of 10. For example if you were running on the treadmill, you should run at a speed which feels like a 7 for 60-90s then bring it back down to a 5 for 2 minutes, then go back up and so on. To make sure you are exercising at the right level you should always be able to hold a conversation when exercising, making sure you are breathing properly, staying properly hydrated and not getting too hot.

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