Exercise Considerations during pregnancy

You may be wondering if you should be exercising throughout your pregnancy and the answer is: it depends. With that being said, experts say that women who are experiencing a healthy low risk pregnancy should participate in some form of exercise.

What are the experts saying?

  • Most healthy pregnant women may continue an already- established exercise routine.
  • If you are continuing your exercise routine during pregnancy, the intensity should not exceed your pre-pregnancy levels.
  • Research shows that the benefits of exercising during pregnancy outweighs being sedentary throughout.

If you are one of these women but are unsure if you should be exercising during pregnancy, consider the following benefits that you will experience to help you through this time (Faraone, J., Weis C.A. 2015 p.37).

  • Increased energy
  • Improved mood and posture
  • May help prevent and treat gestational diabetes
  • Can help reduce back aches and swelling
  • Promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance
  • Helps you sleep better

If you were to search online for “pregnancy and exercise”, there is a lot of information that comes up. However, the authors Faraone, J. and Weis C.A. (2015, pp.40-43) of the book The Athletic Mom-to-be Training your way into pregnancy and motherhood have summarized two of the most reputable exercise guidelines during pregnancy: The Canadian guidelines and American Guidelines. These two guidelines were developed from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP); and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) respectably.

General guidelines during pregnancy

  • If you have no contraindications you are encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength and conditioning exercises.
  • The overall goal should be to maintain a good fitness level during pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness or train for competitions.
  • Exercises performed on your back should be modified after the 4th month
  • If you were previously inactive or have contraindications you should be evaluated before starting any kind of physical activity during pregnancy by a physician.
  • If you have a history or risk of preterm delivery you should limit activity in the 2nd and 3rd trimester.

How hard should you work?

The safest intensity to work is at a moderate level. You can use one or more of the following tests, scales and/or charts to help measure and keep track of your level of intensity.

  • The Talk test
    • If you are not able to talk during your workout or are gasping for air, you should decrease your intensity
  • Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
    • It uses a numeric scale which goes from 6-20 (no exertion at all - maximal exertion). It is a self assessment of how hard you think you are working. A self rating score between 12-14 (*somewhat hard) is what is recommended during pregnancy.
  • Heart Rate Ranges for Pregnant Women
    • If you are one to keep track of your heart rate during exercise, use the recommended ranges below to stay within that moderate intensity.
    • Remember these are guidelines and you must also consider your previous fitness level as it affects your heart rate during exercises. Generally speaking, the fitter you are you will have the ability to maintain a lower heart rate working at higher intensities than someone who was inactive to begin with.

Maternal AgeFitness level or BMIHeart Rate Range (beats/minute)
Less than 20-140-155
BMI > 25
BMI > 25
*PARmed-X for Pregnancy 2015, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology

So now that you have the tools to better assess your exercise intensity, keep in mind that it’s best to use the ones that are the easiest for you to keep track with. If this is too much for you at this point, listen for signs from your body as it will tell you when you are pushing too hard. The following following list outlines some preferred exercises and exercises to avoid during pregnancy.

General overview of preferred activities

  • Low impact aerobic exercises cause less stress on the body.
    • Good choices are: brisk walking, stationary cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming and aqua fit,
  • Running: only if you have previous experience.
    • Caution, if you weren’t running before pregnancy, it’s not recommended to start a running program at this time.

Exercises to Avoid or use Caution

  • Activities with high risk of falling or abdominal trauma:
    • Horseback riding, downhill skiing, gymnastics,water skiing
  • Activities with high potential contact:
    • ice hockey, basketball, soccer
  • Abdominal strengthening exercises if you have diastasis recti
  • Lying on your back after the 4th month
  • Cycling *Caution with pressure on pelvis

Remember, before starting any exercise program talk with your family doctor and fill out the PARMed - X for Pregnancy ( http://www.csep.ca/cmfiles/publications/parq/parmed-xpreg.pdf ) to be cleared to participate in any form of structured physical activity.

Once these forms are filled, please give a copy to your M2M Coaches and/or Practitioners to review so we can assess your current training, contraindications and risks to better individualize your training sessions.

If you would like more detailed information on this topic please check out the book: The Athletic Mom to Be Training your way in pregnancy & motherhood by Jennifer Faraone and Dr. Carol Ann Weis.


Julie Lamontagne CAT( C ), CSCS,


  1. Canadian and American Guidelines
  2. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
  3. Faraone, J., Weis C.A. (2015). The Athletic Mom to Be Training your way into pregnancy & motherhood. (pp. 42-43). Bloomington, IN: Author House.

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