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Keeping fit through your pregnancy

Congratulations! Amidst the hectic calendar of your new life as an expectant mom, you might wonder: Am I safe to exercise through my pregnancy? How vigorous can my exercises get? Can I continue training? Be assured: you’ve chosen to pick up just the right read for that.

Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy? After having been cleared by your OB-Gyn as medically risk-free, YES! Initiating or continuing a physical activity or exercise program during your pregnancy is encouraged by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Research has also shown that physical activity of at least 30 minutes, 3-4 times up to 7 times a week can help prevent gestational diabetes, lower incidences of Caesarean birth delivery, decrease risk for preterm delivery and decrease risk for gestational hypertensive disorders.

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercises like walking, stationary cycling or swimming have been deemed safe to participate in throughout your pregnancy, even at the third trimester. What you may want to keep track of is exercise intensity. The recommended target heart rate is 60-80% of your age maximum heart rate. If you would rather just skip doing the math, try doing the Talk Test while your exercising. If you are able to carry on a full conversation while working out, then you are well within your exercise heart rate boundaries. If, however, you cannot finish a sentence or perceive your activity to be extremely difficult, then you may want to slow down or take a quick break.

What do you do if you have not been able to exercise for so long? Or if you are currently navigating through weight issues? You take it easy. Start slow, and then work your way up in a tolerable pace. There is substantial research on the benefits of moderate exercise for heavier participants during pregnancy towards weight loss and combating gestational diabetes. The benefits of exercise outweigh the minimal risks it might present during pregnancy.

Active women and athletes in training should be able to continue modified exercises through the third trimester. While your heart rate may appear to be at a slightly lower level, staying at a level of moderately hard in your exertion scale (Borg perceived exertion level 13-14) is recommended. Then again, the Talk Test still rings true here.

As your pregnancy progresses, your body transforms beautifully into the fullness of motherhood pride.  These changes may need to be considered when choosing the type of exercise to participate in. The body’s center of gravity shifts anteriorly, creating an increase of your low back arch. Your pelvis widens to accommodate the growing baby. It may be wise to avoid activities that have increased risk for falls or abdominal trauma. Scuba diving should be avoided because of its unhealthy effect to fetal development.

You may be a long-term runner who is pregnant at this time. You should be able to continue to train while pregnant, but be mindful of other musculoskeletal injuries you may compensate for. An injured knee or ankle can lead you to compensate at your low back or pelvis, and as a result lead to pelvic girdle pain. Your body is adapting to the growing life in you – you may be less stable around the low back and pelvic girdle. Incorporate hip muscle (your glutes), core (your transversus abdominis) and pelvic floor muscle strengthening (Kegel) exercises to help stabilize your running form. Do take care of your non-pelvic musculoskeletal issues, too. Strengthen your ankle and foot complex. Be knowledgeable of maintaining good knee and hip alignment in running.

If you are a novice runner thinking of starting a running routine to keep healthy during your pregnancy, it may be best to engage in a strengthening regimen first and walk-jog your way up. Strengthening exercises can include weights and rubber bands for resistance. Your own body weight is sometimes resistance enough for a lot of mat activities. Yoga and Pilates exercises have shown multiple benefits to the pregnant population. Research did look into the effects of repetitive heavy lifting during pregnancy, and this is something you might want to check with your OB-Gyn for maximum weight lifting limits.

The key to staying healthy as you push through these exercises is keeping yourself hydrated, maintaining adequate caloric intake for your energy expenditure as well as for your growing baby, and keeping yourself from getting overheated while exercising. Loose-fitting clothes and staying indoors during the summer months may be an option to consider when you are expecting. Most women who have normal pregnancy history should be able to exercise pain -free and without untoward events.

Finally, know when to stop. Recognize symptoms that may need medical attention. The ACOG lists them as: vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, regular painful contractions, amniotic fluid discharge, dyspnea before exertion [or shortness of breath even before you begin any activity], dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness affecting balance, and calf pain or swelling.

If you are thinking of exercising and not sure where to start, a pelvic health physical therapist can guide you through a safe regimen. Why physical therapy? A pelvic Health PT can help expectant mothers strengthen their muscles essential to pregnancy, labor and delivery. (APTA).

Central Care PT offers introductory small group classes for expectant mothers. We can help you start a strengthening or cardiovascular program, and help you manage your pregnancy with safe exercises to prevent pain. Our goal is to help you keep fit throughout your pregnancy. 

Artwork by Chris Rodriguez
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