Best Pregnancy & Antenatal Exercises safe for all Trimesters (and for easier labor!)

Best Pregnancy & Antenatal Exercises safe for all Trimesters (and for easier labor!)

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Are you pregnant and looking at some pregnancy / antenatal exercises, safe for all trimesters, that you could do while expecting? Possibly from the comfort of your home? Then you landed on the perfect page!

Exercising while pregnant, if done right, has so many benefits. Even if you’ve never exercised before, starting now that you are pregnant still has so many positives effects for both yourself and your baby! And it could really help having an easy and positive labor experience.

However, you need to make sure you choose exercises that are appropriate for your level of fitness and that won’t compromise your pregnancy. For this reason, always make sure to consult with your doctor / practitioner before starting a new exercise routine. Particularly if you’ve never exercised before or if you are starting a new exercise now that you are pregnant.

I have collected here a list of different safe pregnancy and antenatal exercises that you can do at any point in time during pregnancy (first, second or third trimester). Take your time to go through all of them, and I really hope you can find one that suits you!

Benefits of Pregnancy & Antenatal Exercises

Before I take you through the different pregnancy and antenatal exercises, I really want to introduce you to all the different overall benefits of exercising while pregnant. I find that most of these are always overlooked by expecting moms. There always seems to be this idea that exercising during pregnancy is mainly so that you don’t put too much weight on, but there’s so much more to it.

Here’s all the amazing benefits of exercising while pregnant:

  • Reduced risk of pregnancy complications: research found that women who regularly exercise during pregnancy are less likely to develop gestational diabetes and less likely to have unplanned cesarean sections than those who don’t exercise.
  • Quicker postpartum recovery: the more you increase your level of fitness during pregnancy, the quicker you will be able to recover after childbirth. And you’ll be more physically prepared for all the newborn tasks (carrying, rocking, etc.).
  • Boost your mood: research has found that exercise during pregnancy reduces depression, releasing endorphins that help improve mood while diminishing stress and anxiety.
  • Ease back and pelvic pain: exercising can really result in less lower-back and pelvic pain, particularly during late pregnancy.
  • Less tired: some exercise, without pushing yourself to exhaustion, can really make a big difference in your energy levels and make you feel less tired.
  • Improve sleep: consistent exercise can also improve your quality of sleep. Just make sure you don’t exercise before going down to bed, which can have the opposite effect!
  • Relieve constipation: constipation when pregnant is horrible, and you really want to avoid hemorrhoids! An active body encourages active bowels, so regular exercise, coupled with lots of water and good diet, helps get things going.
  • Increase chances of quicker and easier labor and delivery: activities like prenatal yoga and Pilates can help you practice breathing, meditation and other calming methods that will help you manage labor pain. And, in general, regular exercise can help give you energy and strength to get through labor.
  • Less swollen ankles, legs and feet.

How much Exercise do you need when Pregnant?

Multiple sources, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, recommend at least 3½ hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This should be spread out throughout the week – don’t do 3½ hours of exercises in one day! Instead, do about 30 minutes each day, maybe 10 minute 3 times a day.

Aerobic (also called cardio) activity is when you repeatedly move large muscles, like your arms and legs. Aerobic activities make you breathe faster and deeply and make your heart beat faster. Moderate-intensity means you’re active enough to sweat and increase your heart rate. Taking a brisk walk is an example of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. If you can’t talk normally during an activity, you may be working too hard.

Are there any Risks of Exercising while Pregnant?

There are some exercises that are definitely off-limits during pregnancy. Now it’s definitely not the time to go skiing, mountain biking, or scuba diving. However, the exercises listed below are all safe to do during pregnancy, no matter what trimester you are in.

That said, definitely be sure to get the go-ahead from your practitioner before you start any exercise program during pregnancy. Some conditions (such as severe anemia or placenta previa) can rule out exercise during pregnancy.

Also, if you weren’t very active before pregnancy, you should follow a more gradual progression of exercise. Whereas if you were a regular exerciser before pregnancy and have an uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy, you should be able to engage in higher intensity exercise programs (such as jogging and aerobics) with no adverse effects. Just make sure not to overheat: pay close attention to proper hydration and caloric intake!

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), these are all the warning signs to discontinue exercise while pregnant:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Regular painful contractions
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Dyspnea before exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness affecting balance
  • Calf pain or swelling

Best Pregnancy & Antenatal Exercises safe for all Trimesters

Here’s the list of the best pregnancy and antenatal exercises safe for all trimester.

1. Prenatal Yoga

prenatal yoga exercise

Prenatal Yoga has to be the number one exercise that I wish every pregnant woman did! I took yoga classes all the way through my pregnancy and I can’t tell you how much it helped me. From reduced pregnancy symptoms (no back pain or swollen ankles), to feeling energized, calm and happy. It also really helped me have a wonderful labor experience and made me strong and fit for postpartum.

Most people think that prenatal yoga is just about breathing exercises and meditation to feel calm and ready for labor, but it’s so much more than that!

Yes, the breathing exercises you’ll practice in yoga can come in handy when breathing in between contractions during labor, or pushing your baby out during delivery. But you’ll also go through many stretching and strengthening exercises that will make your core and other muscles stronger and more toned, which will improve your pregnancy, your delivery experience and your recovery. In particular, a strong and stretched pelvis and hip region will both reduce a lot of the aches and pains that come with pregnancy, and facilitate an easier birthing process.

Prenatal yoga also promotes your connection with your baby. It teaches you how to be present for both yourself and your baby during pregnancy so that you can become beautifully and intimately connected.

If you’ve never done yoga before, do not worry! Anyone can do prenatal yoga, and yoga instructors are very good at tailoring the classes to everyone’s fitness levels and experience. My yoga teacher was amazing: she even allowed me to sit in on normal classes, and would adjust certain poses to make it safe for me.

For example, you can’t do any poses on your back while pregnant, as the weight of your uterus puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which can reduce blood flow to your heart, brain and uterus. This can make you dizzy, short of breath, or nauseated. Also, some poses where the feet are spread apart may be too stressful for your joints and pelvic area when you are expecting.

Even though there are plenty of videos on YouTube on prenatal yoga, I strongly recommend you enroll in in-person or online classes taught by certified yoga teachers. It’s really important that you do the exercises right, so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Here’s some online options if you prefer to do your yoga exercises at home:

If you join their Monthly Elite Yoga Subscription, click -> here <- and use the coupon code YDL-50ME to get 50% OFF!

  • Yoga International: they also offer a good variety or prenatal yoga classes. They have a monthly membership, and you can either sign up for 3, 6 or 12 months, which is good if you just want to sign up for when you are pregnant!. The price varies from $10 to $17 a month. Or if you want to take advantage of a 30-day free trial, click here. What I like about Yoga International is that they also have live classes that you can join!
  • Lucy Flow: offers 3 different packages, depending on your needs. You can either sign up for 3 months (£35), 6 months (£45) or the monthly subscription (£17, cancel anytime). The packages include 10 Pregnancy Yoga Flows videos, 5 Stretch videos, Breathing Techniques and Yoga poses that will help you through childbirth.
  • Erica Ziel’s Knocked-Up Fitness Membership: if you feel like signing up for the membership, this is not focused on just Yoga, but it does include Yoga exercises as well. Not to mention a whole lot of other amazing bonuses perfect for pregnancy and to get ready for labor and delivery. Click here for more information.

For more information on online birthing / prenatal / antenatal classes <- click here.

2. Walking

Walking is always a perfect exercise for a pregnant woman. No fancy equipment needed and everything counts: a walk outside in the park, inside on the treadmill, shopping at the mall, etc.

The key is just to just walk a little bit faster or for a little bit longer than a leisurely walk, so that you get your heart rate up a little bit.

3. Swimming / Water aerobics

swimming pregnant

Swimming or water aerobics exercises are another great option when pregnant. Water has so many added benefits for expecting moms:

  • Water helps the body relax and maintain the body temperature so it doesn’t overheat.
  • Water creates a buoyancy effect on the body, relieving any pain caused by added weight, strain or pressure on your body due to the growing belly.
  • Helps improve cardiovascular endurance as well as strengthen your muscles in your legs, arms and core. This will all come in handy during labor and postpartum!

Just make sure you sign up to water aerobics classes specific for pregnant women! I remember getting my wife in the water with me when she was pregnant, to join my water aerobics classes, but she could hardly do any of the exercises!

4. Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises are at the top of the list of best exercises for pregnancy if you want to have a natural vaginal delivery. In fact, they help strengthening the pelvic floor, which is comprised of muscles inside your pelvis that stretch like a hammock from the tailbone at the back, to the pubic bone in front. These are the muscles that push the baby out during delivery, so they are very important!

The great thing about doing Kegels is that you can do them anywhere at any time. Lying down or sitting up, it doesn’t matter. I used to do them while driving the car to work! This is how you do it:

  • Squeeze the muscles around the vagina as if you are stopping the flow of urine or imagine that you are squeezing a tampon really tightly.
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly release.
  • Repeat for about 20 times.
  • Do them as often as you can throughout the day, up to 5 times a day.

Doing these exercises frequently while pregnant will also help avoiding urinal incontinence postpartum.

5. Pilates

pregnancy pilates exercise

Pilates exercises for pregnant women mainly focus on strengthening your core and lengthening your muscles with low- to no-impact, which will help ease backaches and improve your posture, as well as your flexibility. All this will also come in handy during labor and delivery.

Similarly to Yoga, it is best to enroll in in-person or online classes taught by certified instructors. Join classes tailored specifically to pregnant women or let your instructor know you’re expecting so they can make sure you don’t hurt yourself.

Here’s an option for online classes, if you prefer to exercise from the comfort of your home:

  • Erica Ziel’s Knocked-Up Fitness Membership: Erica Ziel’s membership program is not focused on just Pilates, but it does include Pilates (and Yoga) exercises as well. Not to mention a whole lot of other amazing bonuses perfect for pregnancy and to get ready for labor and delivery. Click here for more information.

6. Strengthening Exercises

While most types of exercises listed above (mainly Yoga, Pilates and Swimming) get your whole body working, you may prefer to do separate exercises to strengthen your core, lower or upper body. Here’s some examples of what you can do.

6.1 Core Exercises

Some of the benefits of strengthening your core specifically during pregnancy are:

  • Fewer aches and pains
  • Better posture
  • Minimize diastasis recti
  • Better pelvic floor strength
  • Decrease the likelihood of pelvic organ prolapse

The Pelvic Tilt in particular, also known as the “angry cat” exercise, can really help increasing strength to the lower back muscles of pregnant women. This builds a firm base for the natural delivery procedure.

pregnant pelvic tilt

To perform the Pelvic Tilt exercise, lie on your back with knees bent, tuck in your belly as if you are trying to pull your belly button down towards the ground and flatten your back. Hold for 10 seconds, rest and repeat. Repeat 10 times.

The only thing about the pelvic tilt is that it could become quite uncomfortable towards the end of pregnancy because of the lying down on your back.

For more examples of core exercises that are safe to do during pregnancy, click here.

6.2 Lower Body Exercises

Strengthening your lower body during pregnancy is also beneficial for two reasons:

  1. Your legs need to stay strong in order to carry the added weight of the growing baby inside you.
  2. You need strong legs, as well as pelvic muscles, to help push the baby out during labor. Particularly if you are pushing your baby out while standing (like me!) or squatting.

Here’s two of my favorite lower body exercises:

  • Squat

Position your legs shoulder apart, then slowly and gradually squat down while maintaining a flat back. Make sure your knees don’t go past your toes: if they do, go backwards with your buttocks.

Only go as far down as your body is comfortable doing. You can go straight back up to the starting position or you can attempt to hold the position for 5-10 seconds.

pregnant squat
  • Child’s Pose

This is actually one of my favorite Yoga poses, and I loved it while I was pregnant. It is more of a stretching exercise, rather than a strengthening one. But it really helps improving the flexibility of the pelvic area.

Start by positioning yourself on your hands and knees. Spread your legs apart and rest your bottom on your heels. Then bow forward, placing your trunk between your thighs. Allow your forehead to come to the floor. 

As your belly grows, you may need to spread your knees farther apart to create space. You may also want to rest your head on your hands. Hold for 10-20 seconds or up to a minute depending on your comfort level.

pregnant child's pose

For more examples of lower body exercises that you can do while pregnant, click here. Or fit as mama bear has a good list of hip exercises.

6.3 Upper Body Exercises

Upper Body Exercises also don’t need to be overlooked when pregnant! These really help your body prepare for the postpartum period (a lot of breastfeeding, lifting and lowering).

I remember having my shoulders on fire during my prenatal yoga sessions. But it was all worth it when my baby arrived 🙂 During yoga I did a lot of warrior poses, but if you just want to do some exercises at home, here’s one example: Knee Push-Up.

Kneel on the floor with your face down. Place your hands flat on the floor with arms extended. Your hips should be extended with head and spine in neutral and make sure to align your shoulders above the wrists. Keep your elbows at sides while bending them to lower to the floor: do not let your belly touch the floor. Exhale as you push back up.

For more examples of upper body exercises that you can do while pregnant, click here.

6.4 Exercise Programs for Pregnant Women

Like I mentioned before for Yoga or Pilates, I really encourage you to enroll in a program (either online or face-to-face) where you can get the guidance of a certified instructor. If you don’t do these exercises correctly, you could really end up hurting yourself instead of improving your fitness.

What’s great about online exercise programs for pregnant women, other than the fact that you can access them any time from the comfort of your home, is that you can sign up for just the months you are actually expecting 🙂

Here’s some awesome programs perfect for strengthening your body:

  • Erica Ziel’s Knocked-Up Fitness Membership: Erica Ziel’s membership program includes different strengthening exercises, including some Yoga and Pilates as well. Not to mention a whole lot of other amazing bonuses perfect for pregnancy and to get ready for labor and delivery. Click here for more information.
  • Erica Ziel’s Prenatal Sculpt Workouts: if you don’t feel like signing up for the membership, you can just purchase this series of videos, focusing on strengthening your core during pregnancy. The digital download includes over 60 minutes of workouts for just $30. Click here for more information.
  • Fit2B Prenatal Fitness Program: Fit2B offers a great 8-week prenatal workout program for pregnant women. Each week features one basic routine,  two workouts and one educational resource, progressing from simple basics to full body workouts. Click here for more information.

7. Cycling

There’s usually a bit of controversy as to whether cycling is safe or not during pregnancy. Both the NCT and NHS say pregnant women should not cycle because of the risk of falling. However, both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives advise pregnant cyclists to “take particular care” but stay active.

It is really up to you. If you love cycling and you feel confident going around on your bike, I’d say go for it, just be extra careful. But if you are even a little bit indecisive, maybe it’s time to get a stationary bike for home and ride in the lounge for a while!

Tips on working out safely during Pregnancy

While all the exercises listed above can be safe during pregnancy, there are always some precautions that you should take to working out safely. Here’s some tips from me:

  • Start slowly. Particularly if you’ve never exercised before! Going all-out when you’re a newbie can lead to sore muscles or even injury. Start slow and build up as you increase your fitness level.
  • Don’t over do it. Even if you are fit and love exercising regularly, remember that you are pregnant and that you should not over do it during this special time in your life.
  • Don’t overheat. Overheating when pregnant is not good for your baby or your body! Stay inside with an air conditioner if you can, or avoid working out during the hottest hours of the day. And remember to stay hydrated!
  • Listen to your body. If you feel pain or strain anywhere, remember to stop. Hurting yourself for an extra workout is not worth it!
  • Don’t forget to have a snack. Long exercises can lead to low blood sugar, so enjoy a nice snack before and after each workout session.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Karine

    Great tips for exercise during pregnancy. Loved your post!

    1. Monica

      Thank you! Glad you found it useful 🙂

  2. Savvy

    OMG love this post!! I’m going to save it for my next pregnancy! Wish I stumble across this post earlier!

    1. Monica

      Thank you, glad you think it’s useful!

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