Exercising Safely During Pregnancy

By Bonnie Berk

Despite the many advantages of exercise during pregnancy, there are still concerns about exercising at high intensities. Historically, pregnant women have been advised to continue activities that were practiced before pregnancy and not to start anything new. That was adequate advice when women did not participate in sports. However, now many women are lifting weights, kickboxing, and attending Spinning classes, and want to continue after becoming pregnant. The problem is that these activities tend to be high in intensity and may not be suitable for expectant moms.

Also, researchers have noticed that women who begin performing mild- to moderate-intensity exercises during pregnancy gain many health benefits if properly supervised. At no other time in a woman's life is her body as stressed as it is in pregnancy. Practically every organ system and muscle group is affected by pregnancy.

However, every pregnant woman is different in her response to exercise, depending on her health and fitness level before pregnancy. For this reason, exercising expectant moms need to listen to their bodies and modify exercise when appropriate. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines advise that pregnant women stop exercising when fatigued and not exercise to exhaustion.

Question: I have been taking Spinning classes for several years. Can I continue to take classes now that I am pregnant?

Answer: The intensity of Spinning classes may be too high, depending on the level of resistance you choose as well as the amount of time you spend on the bike in one session. So, while I would not recommend starting a Spinning class during pregnancy, if you are already used to Spinning and want to continue, here are some safety measures to reduce your risk of injury:

  • Stay well-hydrated.
  • Spin no more than 30 minutes in a session.
  • Lower the resistance to lower the intensity. Be sure you can talk while you are exercising.
  • Listen to your body. Slow down when you get tired and stop when you feel fatigued.
  • If you feel any discomfort in your knees, stop Spinning while you are pregnant and walk or swim instead. Knees are more vulnerable to injury during pregnancy.
  • Eat an adequate number of calories to offset calories burned during exercise.
  • Consult your health care provider.

Body image is a concern for all pregnant women, but especially for those women who regularly exercised to attain optimal body proportions before pregnancy. During pregnancy, exercise goals need to change to assure a healthy pregnancy. The enlarged belly and increased fat deposits on the hips and thighs are necessary adaptations for fetal development and protection.

A positive attitude toward these physical changes allows the pregnant woman to modify exercise appropriately and enjoy this very special time in her life. The good news is, studies show that women who continue to exercise through pregnancy usually reach their pre-pregnancy proportions sooner after delivery than their sedentary counterparts.

Women who exercise consistently during pregnancy can resume exercise postpartum as early as two weeks after delivery, assuming that they experienced a normal vaginal delivery with no complications. Exercising postpartum women have shown to have a more rapid recovery both physically and emotionally than women who do not exercise postpartum. The incidence of postpartum depression is also low.

In addition to exercise, eating nutritiously is an important part of the equation in assuring a healthy pregnancy. Pregnant women need to eat adequately and regularly to assure that the baby is getting enough glucose to sustain growth.

Excerpted from Motherwell Maternity Fitness Plan

About the author: Bonnie Berk, RN, is the founder of Motherwell and a childbirth education specialist with more than 25 years of experience working in the obstetrical and women's health fields. She is a pioneer in the field of pre- and postnatal fitness.

Berk is an author, speaker, and consultant to a broad range of institutions addressing the special needs of women before, during, and after pregnancy. She is a frequent TV and radio talk show guest, has been featured on the Discovery Channel, and serves as the fitness expert on the Harrisburg ABC affiliate, WHTM-TV 27, on the "Daybreak Show." She has given presentations throughout the United States and has written numerous articles that have been featured in Baby Talk, Pregnancy, Vogue, Shape, Fitness, and many other consumer and trade publications. Berk has also produced two award-winning videos, Motherwell Exercise Video for Pregnant Women and Motherwell Yoga Video for Expectant Moms. In addition, she is a certified master personal fitness trainer through the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, a registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance, and a certified Pilates instructor by American Muscle and Fitness, Institute of Fitness Training.

Berk lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and enjoys scuba diving, in-line skating, and hiking. She can be reached through her Web site, www.motherwellfitness.com.

Copyright © Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.