There's a persistent myth that working out while pregnant is dangerous and that pregnant women should "take it easy" and avoid exercises that get their heart rate up or work their core. But this couldn't be further from the truth! Unless advised otherwise by your OB or midwife, safely working out while pregnant, including prenatal cardio workouts, can contribute to a healthier, happier pregnancy, delivery, and easier postpartum recovery.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women aim for 150 minutes of moderate, low-impact aerobic activity a week. And the benefits are astounding! Working out while pregnant has been shown to reduce common pregnancy discomforts like back pain and incontinence. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight, improves mental health, and can prepare you for an empowered birth. But there are prenatal cardio workouts we do and do not recommend to our prenatal clients. Here's a list of the ones we love and the ones to skip.
Note: Always consult with your OB/GYN or care-provider team before beginning a prenatal fitness program. *Exercise with caution, don't overdo it, and if something feels off, STOP.
Prenatal Cardio Workouts We Love
When choosing your prenatal cardio workout, you want something safe and gentle that still helps you break a sweat. An easy indicator of exertion level is the "talk test"—can you still carry on a light conversation but not sing a song. Our OB-endorsed, trimester-specific EMbody Prepare Path is (of course) our favorite workout regimen to do this and more. It's designed to strengthen your core and push muscles, reduce common pregnancy discomforts, and help you develop stamina for birth. Additional cardio options that are generally safe during pregnancy include:
- Brisk Walking
- Indoor Cycling *
- Low-impact dance or aerobic classes**
*Indoor cycling includes spinning, and both are generally safe for pregnancy, as long as you keep the intensity more moderate than you might if you were not pregnant.
**Cardio dance and aerobic dance can be fine, but not if it includes jumping or high impact moves.
Prenatal Cardio Workouts to Skip
High impact workouts can be harmful to your core and pelvic floor. They put excessive pressure on your abdominals, compromising core integrity. This can worsen diastasis recti and induce or amplify symptoms like back pain and incontinence, especially in the second and third trimesters. They also can increase your risk of external injury - falling, tripping, etc. The point is, the cost of these workouts outweighs the benefits.
- Running - Check out this guide on the impact of running by trimester.
- Rebounding (trampoline exercises)
- Any jumping or high-impact exercises (like jumping rope)
- Contact sports and anything with a high risk of falling or sudden impact
- Most general fitness classes*
*The main issue with general fitness classes is that virtually all of them will include some component of traditional abdominal exercises, which should be avoided during pregnancy.
At the end of the day, the prenatal cardio exercises you choose are up to you. It's important to remember that safety ultimately comes down to listening to your body. When in doubt, follow the gold standard: ensure you can carry on a light conversation with a friend or partner while moving; if you can't, then it's time to pause and rethink your workout. And if something doesn't feel right, don't do it.
*Warning Signs to Terminate Exercise While Pregnant
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath) prior to exertion
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling (need to rule out thrombophlebitis)
- Preterm labor
- Decreased fetal movement
- Amniotic fluid leakage
Exercise During Pregnancy. (2019, July). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy