From pressing pause on retinol-based skincare products to avoiding changing your cat’s litter box, maintaining a healthy pregnancy can sometimes feel like it comes with a long list of rules.
Rule number one: Kick back, put your feet up, and pour yourself a well-deserved mocktail because you’re creating a human.
Rule number two: Listen to your body and heed the advice of your inner super parent.
If you find that your body is telling you to insert a bit more movement into your daily routine, then you’re in the right place. While physical activity is important for every pregnant woman, it’s important to avoid the regular exercise done before pregnancy. In this guide, we’ll pave a pathway for moms who want to work up a sweat without putting themselves or their baby at risk.
Here are five exercises to avoid during pregnancy—plus, a few simple ways to modify them for a fetus-friendly workout.
Workouts to Avoid While Pregnant
Although there may not be an official ban on any exercises for pregnant women, certain movements may end up causing you or your baby some discomfort.
If you want to workout with peace of mind, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor first. They’ll be more aware of the specifics of your pregnancy and can better advise you in your unique circumstances.
That said, we’ve outlined five exercises below that might be best kept for after your pregnancy. If you plan to modify them, be sure to clear it with your OB-GYN before getting started.
#1 Upward Facing Dog
While there are best pregnancy workouts to incorporate into your pregnancy fitness, there are some exercises that should be avoided, like the upward facing dog. Although it makes for an effective stretch for your abdomen and is incredibly common in standard yoga flows, the upward facing dog is one of the most common exercises to avoid during early pregnancy.
An upward facing dog is a variation of a deep, back-bending exercise that strengthens your spine and stretches your abdominal muscles. This stretch may put you at risk of abdominal separation, otherwise known as diastasis recti.1 Due to the large fetus growing in their bellies, pregnant women are already at risk of diastasis recti, which can become exacerbated from movements like upward dogs.
Instead of a typical upward facing dog, a move you can opt for is the tabletop exercise that opens up the front of your body without overextending the abdomen.
If you’re taking a yoga class, try to skip the upward facing dogs, and directly opt for a modified plank.
Whether you’re stepping onto the yoga mat at home or in the studio, ensure you’re working in gentle back massage movements, like the happy baby pose, to keep lower back strain at bay.
Pull-ups are an incredible compound movement that sculpts your back, chest, shoulders, and forearms in a single swoop. However, during pregnancy, pull-ups can likely do more harm than good. The main reason is that pull-ups require actively engaging your core as you perform the movement. This engagement can put you at risk of diastasis recti (abdominal separation) since you’re performing the same movement with the additional weight of a growing belly.
Furthermore, a pull-up is an extremely challenging movement. If you’re not used to working them into your routine already, you may find yourself holding your breath to complete the movement. In general, breath-holding is something pregnant women might want to do sparingly. That’s because the increased progesterone in your body may already be causing shortness of breath. Instead, hop back on the yoga back and focus on some deep breathing exercises.
To work your back without the help of a pull-up, you can opt for lateral pulldowns using a lateral pull-down machine in a gym.
Although the lateral pull-down movement isn’t the ideal replacement for a pull-up, you can add supplementary back exercises like dumbbell back flies, TRX rows, and single and double arm dumbbell back rows.
#3 Crunches with Russian Twists
A standard crunch is when you lay on your back with your knees bent and lift your torso upward until you feel strong engagement in your abdominal muscles. A Russian twist adds in an additional movement: turning your torso from left to right in an engaged crunch position. Although the crunch and Russian twist are both highly effective at strengthening your abdominal and oblique muscles, they both compress your abdomen quite a bit.
This compression reduces the amount of space the baby has to move around. Any kind of twisting motion—especially certain yoga poses like the twisting chair and twisting crescent—tends to compress your abdominals and should be avoided when pregnant.
To reduce the compression experienced in a crunch, consider opting for a boat pose instead. This pose involves keeping your knees less bent than a standard crunch and allows you to work your abdominal muscles without scrunching them tightly together.
When you’ve arrived at your boat pose, another tip is, instead of lifting your torso all the way up, simply halt at about a 35-degree angle. From there, you’ll feel your abdominal muscles engage, and can pulse forward and backward by one inch in this position for a modified crunch.
From trendy YouTube challenges to an everyday ab workout, the plank is a fan-favorite means of building core strength. For pregnant women, however, this static ab sculptor tends to be a no-no. The plank position, particularly for women at risk of abdominal separation, can cause what is known as “doming” of the abdominal muscles.2
This doming can exacerbate abdominal separation. This means avoiding or modifying any kind of plank-based movement, such as push-ups, renegade rows, mountain climbers, and more. Fortunately, a lot of these exercises have modifications of their own that make performing them pregnancy-friendly.
Instead of coming into a traditional plank pose with your knees elevated, consider dropping them down to the mat for more support instead.
The further apart your knees are from your arms, the harder you work. Dropping to your knees helps to reduce the pressure that’s present on your abdominal muscles when in the plank position. Plus, you still get to safely engage your core, including the deep transverse abdominal muscles.
In case you’d prefer to modify this pose further, you can opt for a tabletop position in which your shoulders are stacked above your wrists and your hips are stacked above your knees. To engage your transverse abdominal muscles from this pose, opt for a cow posture.
While this exercise is great, it’s best to incorporate it into exercising after pregnancy fitness.
Ah—who doesn’t love feeling like a superhero flying through space while also getting full body muscular engagement? Well, your fetus might not.
Although the superman is an effective movement for complete engagement, belly-down postures like this one aren’t typically recommended during pregnancy.3 For obvious reasons, laying on your stomach can be quite uncomfortable for your baby.
In fact, it’s best to avoid any kind of workouts or movements that involve placing pressure directly on your belly once your bump starts appearing around the end of your first trimester. That said, you can still get the benefits afforded to you by doing supermans from modified versions of it that are safe for your fetus.
Similar to how you modified the plank, drop down into a table-top position, allowing your shoulders to be stacked above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees.
From this position extend your left leg and right hand out at the same time (known as bird-dog) and crunch inward. Then repeat the movement on the alternate side. Listen to your body and heed its warning if something doesn’t feel quite right. Otherwise, proceed with your desired amount of repetitions.
Safety Tips for Exercising While Pregnant
So far, we’ve covered the don’ts of working out while pregnant. But pregnancy exercise is important for both the pregnant woman and the fetus. So Now, let’s take a look at some of the do’s:2
Keep joint or muscle pain at pain – Joint pain and muscular aches are common complaints during pregnancy. To avoid experiencing this, consider switching to low-impact workouts like swimming, walking, and cycling.
Monitor your heart rate – Your heart is working overtime to get extra blood to both your limbs and your fetus. This may result in your heart spiking to levels higher than you may be used to when you push your body during a workout. Using a simple scale for your perceived rate of exertion, ensure you keep your heart rate at a level that feels manageable (6/10) and not unbearable (over 7).
Your stance – As your baby bump grows, you’ll need a wider stance to support your body when performing certain exercises. Switch to movements that involve sumo stances for exercises like the squat and deadlift. This prevents you from losing your balance while also keeping your lower back stable.
The difficulty level of your workout – You don’t need to be striving to perform your hardest workouts while pregnant. Although you may have some leeway in the first trimester, ensure your workouts are pregnancy-safe by your second and third trimesters when your baby bump starts to swell. This means avoiding high-intensity workouts if you periodically experience shortness of breath, and staying away from high-impact sports.
Sticking with a safe exercise or pregnancy fitness routine is important to avoid possible pregnancy complications while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. These physical activity guidelines are perfect for every pregnant person to follow to stay on track of their fitness goal.
Get Stronger Safely with Chuze Fitness
Working out while pregnant comes with a different set of goals and priorities than your everyday, pre-pregnancy workout. Choosing a gym or a class that ensures the safety of you and your baby is essential.
One of the best options for pregnant women looking to stay active is to join a group class that keeps workouts fun, helps you connect with new people, and keeps you fit.
Once you’ve given birth, you can continue after pregnancy exercise, like strengthening your pelvic floor muscles and getting back into shape.
Nourish Move Love. 5 exercises to avoid during pregnancy. https://www.nourishmovelove.com/exercises-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/
Nourish Move Love. 5 best ab workouts for women. https://www.nourishmovelove.com/5-best-ab-workouts-for-women/
What to expect. Exercises to avoid during pregnancy. https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/exercise-safety