What exercises are safe in pregnancy?

What exercises are safe in pregnancy

Exercise in pregnancy is vital for a healthy pregnancy – here are some great tips for incorporating exercise into your daily routine in pregnancy.

When you ask people of any age about what makes them feel healthy, the majority will mention exercise, in some shape or form, as part of what makes them feel good about themselves. In order to feel healthy – haurora – we need to feel good physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially. Exercise obviously will help us to feel good physically. But it can also help us to feel good about ourselves in those other ways too; it can be social, with whanau or friends, it can give us time to consider our own well being, it actually encourages our bodies to realise endorphins – the feel good factor of sport and exercise.

How to keep fit in pregnancy

Keeping fit in pregnancy will mean very different things to different people – and quite rightly so, as it does at all other times of our life too.

Some women will be keen athletes and members of sports teams and may continue to participate fully in the sport well into the pregnancy. As the pregnancy progresses and they feel uncomfortable leaping around, many will remain involved, but possibly in a coaching or umpiring capacity.

Pregnancy is certainly not a time to take on any vigorous sports for the first time though. For the majority of people, keeping fit in pregnancy will consist of gentler exercise, such as walking and swimming.

What exercises are safe in pregnancy?

In almost all cases it is safe to walk in pregnancy, run or jog gently, swim and participate in gentle aerobic exercise classes. In many areas there are special classes available for pregnant women, for example, aqua aerobics, Pilates, stretch and tone classes. The following exercises are all safe to do when pregnant:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga and pilates
  • Racket sports
  • Team sports


Is walking safe during pregnancyIf exercise is ‘new’ to you, then just start with some gentle walking – little and often. A half hour walk at a comfortable pace, every couple of days is a great place to start.

Build it up gradually, either by stepping up the pace, or adding on a bit of time, or increasing the frequency of the walks.

The perfect situation is a walking partner.

Most of us are far more likely to do something if we have arranged to meet a friend or family member. It’s just too easy to find an excuse (too busy is a great one!) if we are going on our own.

Having said that, a solo walk is a great time for reflection and pregnancy is a period of our lives when we certainly do our fair share of thinking.


This is another great favourite that is highly recommended in pregnancy. The buoyancy of the water makes you feel light and well supported – a rare occurrence in late pregnancy, let’s face it!

Many pools offer aqua aerobics, which is great for motivation to keep you exercising longer. The social aspect is also a plus. I met a great woman at my aqua natal classes, who became a fantastic friend and support.

Swimming is also something you can do if you have a toddler in tow, even messing about in the pool for half an hour with a two year old is good exercise.

As for swimming up and down, doing conventional laps – well that’s fine too. Swim within your ability, pace yourself and make sure a life guard is present (leg cramp in pregnancy can be quite common). Please beware of breast stroke without putting your face, under as this causes an over arch of your lower back, which can cause lumbar strain and worsen back ache. Front and back crawl are ideal. Buoyancy aids are also great for pregnancy and don’t worry about looking un-cool – the best swimmers train with them!

 Yoga and Pilates

Is yoga safe in pregnancy

Both yoga and pilates can help with focused breathing and mindfulness, which is useful during conception. They both help to reduce lower back pain, and strengthen pelvic floor muscles.

Aim to do 1-2 sessions per week for strength building and to maintain a strong core. Unless you’re very experienced with yoga or pilates, stick to low intensity strengthening exercises.

All good-quality yoga instructors should have a good understanding of which exercises are appropriate during the different stages of pregnancy.

Some exercises are not appropriate in the second and third trimesters. For instance, you should avoid lying on your back because the weight of your baby may push against your blood vessels and cut off supply to your baby or make you feel faint. And, as your baby becomes bigger, balancing can become an issue, so avoid exercises that make you feel unbalanced as you don’t want to risk falling over.

You should definitely avoid movements that could cause hard knocks to your baby, or exercises that make you jump and bounce a lot, or risk your falling over. You should also avoid hot yoga sessions, as you shouldn’t let your body temperature rise too excessively.

Racket sports

If you are a keen tennis/badminton/squash player, then carry on for as long as you feel comfortable. Beware twisting and bending though as ligaments are softer in pregnancy, so backache is common.

Team sports

Again these are fine if you are playing within your limits and not overstressing yourself or your body. Be prepared to ‘sub’ more often or change your position and it is unlikely that you’ll still be playing by the end of your pregnancy. Know when to call a halt!

Are there any risks or complications from exercising in pregnancy?

During pregnancy a hormone called progesterone softens the ligaments in the pelvis to enable the birth to happen. Unfortunately this affects all our muscles, so it is more common to get a sports injury during pregnancy.

Some women have medical conditions in pregnancy that make it unsafe for them to exercise. For example, a heart condition, a threatened miscarriage or premature labour, and raised blood pressure.

If you are unsure about whether you can safely exercise in pregnancy, please ask your midwife or doctor for advice. And if you experience any unusual pains, or other symptoms, during exercise see your doctor straight away.

Often some exercises are just too difficult, especially late in the third trimester. However, walking is usually safe right through your pregnancy. A 30 minute walk 3-4 times per week can actually help reduce risks during pregnancy.

How else can I stay healthy in pregnancy?

  • Staying healthy in pregnancy is about much more than physical exercise, important as that may be.
  • Nutrition in pregnancy is vital and our registered dietitian has some great advice. Please follow the links below.
  • When exercising, ensure you meet your fluid and nutrition requirements. The body has greater demands in pregnancy, for example for iron, energy and proteins.
  • Pregnant women need rest also. Early and late pregnancy are particularly tiring so give yourself a break and listen to your body.

Be active, stay healthy and enjoy!

Now that you know what exercises are safe during pregnancy, you should also check out Exercising for the Birth as well as Post Natal Exercises. Or, for more expert advice, check out our Pregnancy section.

Paula Skelton

Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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