Is it safe to exercise while pregnant?

Mar 30, 2017

Yes! Participating in regular physical activity of moderate intensity is good for both you and your baby, as long as you don’t have any pregnancy-related complications. This is true whether exercising is something new to you, or something you’ve been doing for a long time. Exercising during pregnancy has been shown to:

  • Reduce excessive weight gain during pregnancy
  • Reduce post partum weight retention
  • Reduce the occurrence of gestational diabetes
  • Improve the overall health of your child throughout their lifetime
  • Reduce physical discomfort and complications during labour

What is safe to do while pregnant?

        1.    Aerobic Training:

  • Frequency = 3-4 days per week. If new to aerobic training, start at 3 days per week and progress to 4 days per week.
  • Intensity = how hard you are working. Can be measured with:
    • Rate of Perceived Exertion = a subjective rating of how hard you feel your body is working.

You should be working in a zone that you feel is moderate, or “somewhat hard”. At this level you should be able to pass the “talk test”, meaning you carry on a conversation while exercising. If you are unable to do this, exercise intensity should be reduced.

  • Heart Rate = how many times your heart beats per minute. Your target range will change from your first to third trimester.

The following ranges are recommended. If you are new to exercise, you will want your heart rate to stay in the lower end of the scale in each trimester.  

Fitness Level

Maternal Age < 20 Weeks

Maternal Age 20-29 Weeks

Maternal Age 30-39 Weeks













Obese / Overweight




  • Length/duration = 15-30 minutes.
    • You should be able to complete a minimum of 15 minutes of aerobic activity, 3 days per week. Reduce your intensity so you are able to complete at least this amount of cardio exercise. You can also add rest intervals as necessary.
    • The best time to progress your aerobic activity is during the second trimester. Your risks and discomforts will be lowest at this time.  Aim to increase your aerobic activity at a rate of 2 minutes per week to a maximum of 30 minutes per session, 4 days per week.
  • Types of exercise = low-impact endurance-type exercise that uses large muscle groups.
    • Walking
    • Elliptical
    • Stationary cycling
    • Swimming
    • Aquatic exercise or low impact aerobics
    • Prenatal yoga



         2.    Strength Training:

  • All major muscle groups can and should be trained during pregnancy
  • Begin slowly, gradually increase your repetitions of each exercise
  • Do not work your muscles to the point of fatigue
  • Do not hold your breath: exhale on exertion, inhale on relaxation
  • Use high repetitions and low weight



What activities should I avoid while pregnant?

  1. Activities that involve a high danger of falling or physical contact.
  2. Strenuous activities that cause you to hold your breath. This causes an increase in blood pressure.
  3. Activities that involve rapid changes in direction.
  4. Sudden, uncontrolled stretches.
  5. Past your 4th month of pregnancy, exercises that involve lying on your back. These exercises can be modified to side lying or standing positions.

What should my exercise goals be during pregnancy?

To maintain a good fitness level throughout your pregnancy, without trying to reach peak fitness levels


Safety Considerations:

  1. Stay hydrated! Drink liquids before and after exercise and consume 6-8 glasses of fluid each day.
  2. Maintain your nutrition – your caloric need is higher when you are pregnant. You will require about 300 additional calories per day.
  3. Remember that it’s normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. Refrain from dieting to lose weight while pregnant. 
  4. Know your limits – pregnancy is not the time to start training for that first marathon or to reach peak physical condition.
  5. Warm up and cool down for 10-15 minutes before and after aerobic exercise. Low intensity aerobics, static stretching, and relaxation exercises could be included in your warm up and cool down.
  6. Stop exercise and consult a physician if you experience the following:
    1. Feelings of faintness and/or dizziness
    2. Chest pain
    3. Excessive shortness of breath
    4. Painful uterine contractions
    5. Bleeding
    6. Amniotic fluid leakage

Common injuries associated with pregnancy that can be treated with physiotherapy:

  1. Carpal tunnel syndrome – compression of a nerve in the wrist causing pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands.
  2. Diastasis recti – tearing of the connective tissue along the midline of the abdomen that causes an abnormal bulge to appear during abdominal exercises.
  3. Sacroiliac dysfunction – causes pain in the low back and groin
  4. Low back pain and/or sciatica – caused by changes in low back posture added weight, and changes in center of gravity.
  5. Rib pain – due to stretching of abdominal muscles at their insertion onto the ribs.
  6. Sprains – joints become more lax during pregnancy due to pregnancy-related hormones. This puts pregnant women at an increased risk of injury to their joints.
  7. Upper back pain – often associated with the changes in your body’s shape and weight.
  8. Knee and patella (kneecap) dysfunction
  9. Jaw pain and/or clicking

To book an appointment with myself or one of our qualified Physiotherapists, call 780-458-8505.


Davenport M.H., Charlesworth, S., Vanderspank, D., Sopper M.M., Mottola M.F. (2008). Development and validation of exercise target heart rate zones for overweight and obese pregnant women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(5), 984-989.

Davies, G.A.L., Wolfe, L.A., Mottola, M.F., & MacKinnon, C. (2003). Joint SOGC / CSEP Clinical Practice Guidelines: Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 28(3), 329-341.

Mottola, M.F., Davenport, M.H., Brun, C.R., Inglis, S.D., Charlesworth, S. &, Sopper, M.M. (2006). VO2 peak prediction and exercise prescription for pregnant women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(8),1389-1395. PMID: 16888450

Mottola, M.F. (2011). Exercise and Pregnancy: Canadian Guidelines for Health Care Professionals. WellSpring by the Alberta Center for Active Living, 22, 4.

Public Health Agency of Canada, Minister of Health. (2012). The sensible guide to a healthy pregnancy. Retrieved from:


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