Popular Recreational Exercises and Sports During Pregnancy

by Bonnie Berk

Walking is the perfect weight-bearing exercise for pregnant women. You do not need any special equipment or training. However, during pregnancy, the increased body weight puts stress on the arches of the feet. Be sure to wear shoes with a flexible sole and good arch support.

Also, as you walk, the foot tends to move forward. For this reason, there should be enough room in your shoes for your feet to move forward without touching the toe of the shoe. If you feel any discomfort in the shins when you walk, decrease the pace. You may also find that walking twice a day for 15 minutes instead of once for 30 minutes puts less stress on the legs and feet.

It also is recommended to incorporate walking into your daily routine. For example, take the stairs, park your car away from the front door, walk instead of driving to a friend's house, and so on.

Swimming is the perfect non-weight-bearing exercise for pregnant women. It's the only time you will feel light on your feet. Also, the pressure of the water on the skin improves circulation and helps reduce swelling that normally occurs in pregnancy, especially in the latter months. Another great exercise in the water is water walking. Just by walking through water, you help to strengthen the muscles of the abdomen and reduce stress on the lower back.

If you were jogging before getting pregnant, it is safe to continue as long as you follow the safety guidelines listed earlier. If you never jogged before, do not start now! Jogging puts a lot of stress on the joints and can be too intense for many pregnant women. A better alternative for women who choose to continue is walk-jogging. By alternating walking and jogging, you will reduce the risk of injury to the joints and exercise at an intensity that is more appropriate for you and your baby.

Because of the changes in balance that result in pregnancy, stationary cycling is preferable to cycling on the road. Also, when leaning forward on a bike, try to flex at the hip joint, keeping the back straight rather than bending at the waist. This will help to reduce stress on the low back. Pregnant women who attend spinning classes can safely continue taking classes, provided they follow the safety guidelines and listen to their bodies. If the instructor is moving at a pace that makes you feel sore or out-of-breath, decrease the pace or rest every so often.

Aerobic exercise classes intended for the non-pregnant woman are typically inappropriate for pregnant women in the second and third trimesters. The intensity is too high, and while exercisers are getting faster and possibly more shapely, pregnant women are getting slower and bigger. A class especially developed for pregnant women is much more appropriate and leaves the pregnant woman feeling better about the changes that are occurring in her body.

The pregnant woman who has been attending step aerobics classes can continue to participate only in the first trimester. After that, the risk of losing one's balance or injuring joints outweighs the benefits.

In the first trimester, women who are used to taking Pilates can safely continue. However, after the first trimester, exercises should not be performed while lying flat on the back. Also, it is not recommended to lie on the belly once the baby starts to grow and the uterus expands (about 20 weeks). Some pregnancy exercise classes incorporate Pilates exercises that require you to be on your side or on hands and knees. These exercises are safe, provided you make sure that the spine stays in the neutral position at all times.

Excerpted from Motherwell Maternity Fitness Plan

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 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.