Do You Need to Put Workouts on Pause During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy | | Lane Baumeister
5 min read

Pregnancy means a lot of changes. And while the changes in your first trimester aren’t drastic, you’ve probably already started learning about changes you need start making to prepare for childbirth. These include changes in things you should or should not eat while pregnant and vitamins you may need to start taking. And for the fitness fans among you, you might be wondering about exercising while pregnant. Are there sports or types of workouts that are off-limits?

Whether this is your first pregnancy or far-from-your-first-rodeo, it can feel like you’re bombarded with contradictory advice. On one hand, you want to avoid developing gestational diabetes if your doctor thinks you’re at risk. On the other, over-exerting yourself should be avoided. It’s confusing! That’s why we’ve created this guide on exercises to avoid during pregnancy. 

Exercises to Avoid While Pregnant (And Why)

Before breaking out your sweatbands, check out this list of workouts that you should avoid while pregnant!

Activities that involve a high chance of falling 

As your belly grows, your balance is going to change. And that’s why it’s doubly-dangerous to try activities where you could fall and harm your baby. While pregnant, you should avoid things like gymnastics, downhill skiing and snowboarding, ice-skating, roller blading or roller skating, horseback riding, or outdoor cycling.

And that doesn’t just mean on dry land! Any activity where you might fall on water at speed poses a risk. This includes water skiing, surfing and diving.

Contact sports

Unfortunately, you’ll have to tell your team that you’re sitting this season out. Whether you’re wearing pads (for hockey or football) or playing a sport where it’s “technically” non-contact like field hockey or volleyball, the chance of injury to your abdomen make these exercises to avoid while pregnant. And of course, no taekwondo, karate or boxing!

Activities that involve a change in altitude (or depth)

Rock climbing is already out as a falling risk but you should also avoid other activities that involve an altitude gain. Doctors suggest avoiding travelling to higher elevations (6,000 feet above sea level). The high altitudes reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood which can cause you both to develop a condition called hypoxia. (If you already live at a high elevation or are acclimatizing slowly, you won’t have this issue.) 

On the other end of the spectrum, you should not go scuba diving while pregnant. It puts you and your baby at risk of decompression sickness.

Exercises that involve lying on your back for long periods of time

This may seem like a weird one but stay with us. After the fourth month of pregnancy, the weight of your enlarging uterus while you lie on your back can compress major blood vessels. This restricts blood circulation to you and your baby and makes you feel sick, dizzy and short of breath. That’s why prenatal yoga won’t include posts that require lying on your back.

Heavy weight training

You don’t have to ditch the dumbbells while pregnant, but you will have to adjust your training plan. As mentioned above, you shouldn’t lift flat on your back, but you can use an incline bench for your chest presses. And in general, stick to lighter weights and higher reps. Heavy lifting can cause blood pressure spikes, be tough on your joints, and pose other risks of injury. 

High Impact Aerobics

In terms of exercises to avoid while pregnant, aerobic workouts are not a ‘never’ so much as a ‘needs adjustment.’ In addition to an increased chance of falling while jumping around, your joints will be a bit different during pregnancy as your body changes. To give your joints a break, stick to lower intensity workouts. Chances are, your gym has a pre-natal class already, which means making friends with other people in the same boat as you!

Hot Yoga or Pilates

Yoga can be great during pregnancy, but if you like to get your sweat on, then this is one to skip. During hot yoga (Bikram, hot pod, etc) or hot pilates, the rooms can be raised to temperatures around 105 F (40 C). This is an unsafe exercise while pregnant, as it can cause you to go into hyperthermia.

Should I Completely Stop Exercising While Pregnant?

No, not at all! You should be fine to do 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day during your pregnancy. As the Mayo Clinic points out, exercising while pregnant can help you reduce the backaches, bloating and swelling caused by pregnancy. It can also help you sleep better and boost your mood. 

But it is important to talk to your doctor. We have created a general guide to exercises to avoid while pregnant, but are specific cases where exercising may be unsafe. Your OB/GYN may recommend avoiding exercising while pregnant if you have:

  • A heart or lung disease
  • Preeclampsia or high blood pressure that has first shown up during your pregnancy
  • Cervical issues
  • Persistent vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimester
  • Placenta problems

Your doctor is the best person to help guide your pregnancy exercise plan, so make sure to let them know what you’re thinking. Be specific, and if they don’t know right away, make sure to follow up for the right advice. 

When in Doubt, Listen to Your Body!

It’s important to exercise while pregnant. Not only can it help you avoid some later complications, but it also helps your mental frame of mind. (Getting out of the house to do something other than prepare for your baby’s room is a nice break!) But it’s also important for your health that you are on alert for signs of issues. Not every body is the same, and here are some signs that you should stop exercising and contact your health care provider:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Increased shortness of breath before you start exercising
  • Chest pains
  • Intense uterine cramps that continue after you take a rest
  • Fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Muscle weakness that affects your balance

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