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The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy Exercise: What You Need to Know

The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy Exercise: What You Need to Know

Apria Editorial |

Are you pregnant and wondering how to stay fit and healthy during this exciting time? Do you want to learn more about the benefits of exercise for you and your baby, and the best ways to do it safely and effectively? If so, you've come to the right place!

In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about pregnancy exercise, from the basics of why and how to do it, to the specific exercises you can try in each trimester. We'll also answer some frequently asked questions and give you some tips on how to make the most of your workouts.

Whether you're new to exercise or a seasoned pro, this guide will help you find the best pregnancy workouts for your fitness level and pregnancy stage. Let's get started!

Exercise during pregnancy

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby during pregnancy. It can help you maintain or improve your physical fitness and muscle strength, prevent or manage common pregnancy problems, such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, back pain, constipation, and swelling, boost your mood and energy levels, reduce stress and anxiety, improve your sleep quality, prepare your body for labor and delivery and help you recover faster after giving birth.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), most pregnant people can safely do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as some strength training and stretching exercises. However, before you start any exercise program, make sure to talk to your doctor or midwife about your health status, any complications or risk factors, and any precautions or modifications you may need.

How to Exercise Safely During Pregnancy

Exercising during pregnancy can be very beneficial, but it also requires some extra care and attention. Here are some general safety tips to follow when working out while pregnant:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to stay hydrated and prevent overheating
  • Wear comfortable clothing that supports your breasts and belly
  • Choose low-impact activities that don't put too much stress on your joints or increase your risk of falling or injury
  • Avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back for too long, especially after the first trimester, as this can reduce blood flow to your uterus and baby
  • Avoid exercises that involve twisting or compressing your abdomen, such as sit-ups, crunches, or deep twists
  • Avoid contact sports, hot yoga, scuba diving, skydiving, or any other activities that may harm you or your baby
  • Listen to your body and stop if you feel dizzy, nauseous, short of breath, chest pain, vaginal bleeding, contractions, or any other signs of distress
  • Monitor your intensity level by using the talk test: you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising without gasping for air
  • Warm up before and cool down after each workout session
  • Modify or skip exercises as needed according to your comfort level and changing body shape

Remember to always consult with your healthcare practitioner before you engage in any physical activity while you are pregnant to ensure the safety of yourself and your baby.

The Best Pregnancy Exercises for Each Trimester

While most exercises are safe to do throughout pregnancy, some may be more suitable or comfortable than others depending on your trimester. Here are some examples of the best pregnancy exercises for each stage of your journey:

First Trimester

The first trimester is a time of rapid changes in your body and hormones. You may experience fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness, mood swings, or other symptoms that may affect your motivation or ability to exercise. However, if you feel well enough, exercising during this period can help you cope with these changes and prepare for the rest of your pregnancy.

Some of the best exercises for the first trimester are:

Walking: This is a simple and effective way to get some cardio without putting too much strain on your body. You can walk at your own pace, indoors or outdoors, alone or with a partner or friend. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week.

Swimming: This is another great low-impact cardio option that can help you stay cool and comfortable. Swimming can also relieve pressure on your joints and muscles, improve blood circulation, and tone your arms and legs. You can swim laps in a pool or join a prenatal water aerobics class.

Yoga: This is a gentle and relaxing way to stretch and strengthen your muscles, improve your posture and balance, and reduce stress. Yoga can also help you breathe deeply and connect with your baby. Look for a prenatal yoga class or follow a video online that is suitable for beginners.

Pilates: This is a form of exercise that focuses on core stability and alignment. Pilates can help you build a strong foundation for your growing belly and prevent or ease back pain. You can do pilates on a mat or with a machine called a reformer. Make sure to avoid any exercises that involve lying on your back or twisting your abdomen.

Exercises for the Second Trimester

The second trimester is often considered the easiest and most enjoyable part of pregnancy. You may feel more energetic, less nauseous, and more confident in your body. This is a good time to continue or increase your exercise routine, as long as you feel comfortable and safe.

Some of the best exercises for the second trimester are:

Gentle Jogging: If you were a runner before pregnancy, you can usually continue jogging during the second trimester, as long as you have no complications or contraindications. If you were not a jogger before pregnancy, now is probably not the time to start. Jogging can help you maintain your cardiovascular fitness and endurance, as well as burn calories and release endorphins. However, you may need to slow down your pace, shorten your distance, or take more breaks as your belly grows and your center of gravity shifts. Wear supportive shoes and a belly band and avoid running on uneven or slippery surfaces.

Strength training: This is an important component of any exercise program, especially during pregnancy. Strength training can help you build and maintain muscle mass, which can support your joints and bones, improve your posture and balance, prevent injuries, and make everyday tasks easier. You can use free weights, resistance bands, machines, or your own body weight to do exercises that target all major muscle groups. However, avoid lifting too heavy or holding your breath while lifting, as this can increase your blood pressure and intra-abdominal pressure. You may also want to avoid exercises that involve lying on your back or standing still for too long, as this can reduce blood flow to your uterus and baby. Be sure to consult with a pregnancy exercise expert who can help you avoid injuries and keep both of you safe.

Kegels: These are pelvic floor exercises that involve contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles that support your uterus, bladder, and bowel. Kegels can help you prevent or treat urinary incontinence, which is a common problem during pregnancy. They can also improve your sexual function and prepare you for pushing during labor. You can do kegels anytime and anywhere, such as while sitting, standing, or lying down. To do a kegel, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as if you're trying to stop the flow of urine or gas. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 to 20 times, several times a day.

Third Trimester Pregnancy Exercises

The third trimester is the final stretch of your pregnancy. You may feel more tired, heavy, and uncomfortable as your baby grows bigger and puts more pressure on your organs and nerves. You may also experience more swelling, cramps, contractions, or other symptoms that may interfere with your exercise routine. However, if you have no complications or restrictions, exercising during this period can still be beneficial for you and your baby. Just be cautious and consult with your healthcare practitioner.

Some of the best exercises for the third trimester are:

In the third trimester, it's crucial to focus on exercises that maintain your fitness while also preparing your body for labor and birth, all without putting too much strain on your body. Here are some recommended exercises:

Prenatal Yoga: Continue with prenatal yoga to maintain flexibility, improve circulation, and reduce stress. Focus on poses that open the hips and strengthen the pelvic floor. Avoid poses that require lying on your back for extended periods or involve deep backbends.

Walking: Walking remains a highly recommended exercise due to its low impact and flexibility in intensity. It's beneficial for maintaining cardiovascular health and can help with managing weight gain. Opt for flat, smooth surfaces to reduce the risk of falls.

Swimming and Water Aerobics: Water exercises are excellent during the third trimester because the buoyancy of the water reduces the strain on your joints and can help relieve swelling and discomfort. Swimming gently or participating in a prenatal water aerobics class can provide a good workout while also being soothing.

Pelvic Floor Exercises: To strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, continue with pelvic tilts and Kegel exercises. These exercises are crucial for supporting the weight of the growing baby, easing back pain, and preparing your body for labor.

Stretching: Gentle stretching can help alleviate aches and pains associated with the third trimester. Focus on stretches that target your back, shoulders, and legs to improve flexibility and reduce discomfort.

Remember to listen to your body and adjust your exercise routine as needed. Avoid any activities that cause discomfort, and always consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any exercise regimen during pregnancy.

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Pregnancy Ball Exercises

Exercise ball pregnancy activities, particularly those performed with a stability ball, are highly beneficial during pregnancy for several reasons. These low-impact exercises can help strengthen the core, improve posture, and reduce lower back pain, which are common issues as the pregnancy progresses.

Sitting on an exercise ball and gently bouncing or doing pelvic tilts can enhance blood circulation, prepare the pelvic floor muscles for labor, and improve balance and stability by engaging the deep core muscles. Additionally, using an exercise ball as a supportive tool during squats can help maintain proper form, thereby strengthening the thighs and glutes, which are essential for childbirth.

Many women also find that gentle bouncing or rocking on the ball in the later stages of pregnancy can help in baby positioning for birth. Always ensure the ball is the right size for your height and use it on a safe, non-slippery surface.

As with any exercise during pregnancy, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine to ensure it's safe for your specific situation.

Exercise in pregnancy: Good for you and your baby

In conclusion, exercising during pregnancy offers a multitude of benefits for both mother and baby, from improving physical fitness and emotional well-being to preparing the body for childbirth and recovery. By carefully selecting exercises suited to each trimester, including walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, gentle jogging, strength training, Kegels, ball exercises, and more, pregnant individuals can maintain a healthy and active lifestyle throughout their pregnancy journey.

It's important to listen to your body, make modifications as needed, and consult with healthcare professionals to ensure all activities are safe and beneficial. With the right approach and precautions, exercise can be a valuable and enjoyable part of your pregnancy, contributing to your overall health and preparing you for the exciting challenges of motherhood.


When should I start prenatal exercise?
You can start prenatal exercises as soon as you feel ready and have the go-ahead from your healthcare provider. If you were active before pregnancy, you might be able to continue your existing routine with some modifications. For those who are new to exercise, beginning with gentle activities like walking or prenatal yoga is advisable. The key is to listen to your body and adjust the intensity and type of exercise as needed throughout the pregnancy.

How can I lose belly fat while pregnant?
It's important to approach weight management during pregnancy with caution and care. The goal during pregnancy is not to lose weight or target belly fat specifically but rather to maintain a healthy weight gain. Focusing on a balanced diet rich in nutrients and engaging in regular, moderate exercise can help manage weight gain and support overall health during pregnancy. If you have concerns about weight gain or body composition during pregnancy, it's best to discuss these with your healthcare provider.

Can I do squats while pregnant?
Yes, squats can be a beneficial exercise during pregnancy. They strengthen the legs, glutes, and pelvic floor muscles, which can support a healthy pregnancy and prepare the body for labor and delivery. However, it's important to perform squats with proper form to avoid injury and accommodate the changing pregnant body. As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to modify the depth of the squat or use support, such as a chair or fitness ball, for balance. Always consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating squats or any new exercise into your prenatal routine.

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