Pregnancy Exercise Tips

Pregnancy Exercise Guidelines – the Do’s & Don’ts

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Exercise Guidelines

ACOG (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)  & ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) provide this general guideline for exercise during pregnancy: in uncomplicated pregnancies, women with or without a previously sedentary lifestyle should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle.

On the flip side, pregnancies with complications should be discouraged from exercise.


Beginners: According to SOGC/CSEP if you are a beginner you should start with 15 min 3x/week and work up to 30 min 4x/week.  You can this by walking, swimming or yoga.

Intermediate: If you exercise moderately you should continue.

Advanced: If you are an avid exerciser you need to listen to the next section.  But overall you pre-pregnancy intensity should not increase.

Exercise Intensity

Safety: Exercise should adapt to the changes in weight distribution, balance and coordination (ACSM 2010).  This is why Trimester-Specific exercise is important.

Mode: Heavy weight lifting, or any activity that requires straining, should not be performed (ACSM 2010).  So my advice is to put down those intense training DVD programs and keep you and baby safe with prenatal exercise.

Intensity: Exercise should not exceed pre-pregnancy levels.  Intensity should be regulated by how hard a woman believes she is working.  Moderate to hard is quite safe for a woman who is accustomed to this level of exercise (ACSM 2010).

You should workout most days of the week.  Research suggest around 30 minutes is best.  Some research says no longer than 45 minutes and some suggest no longer than 60 minutes.

Sole use of a heart rate monitor is not recommended due to all the changes in your cardiovascular system.

It is recommended you use the R.P.E. or Rate of Perceived Exertion.  2 Scales can be found in research.  I have listed both R.P.E. scales below.  You should always be able to talk while exercising.


10 POINT SCALE Rate of Perceived Exertion:

0 – Feeling you get when sitting.

1 – Activities like getting dressed.

2 – Feeling you might get while doing laundry.

3 – Taking a casual walk.

4 – Walking briskly, but still maintaining conversation.

5 – Feeling you get when rushing out the door.

6 – Feeling you get when rushing up a flight of stairs.

7 – Exercise while singing.

8 – Slightly tiring exercise, but still speaking full sentences.

9 – Feeling fatigue. Breathing hard.

10 – All out exercise. Could not maintain for more than 30 seconds.

15 POINT BORG SCALE Rate of Perceived Exertion:

6 – 20% effort

7 – 30% effort – Very, very light (Rest)

8 – 40% effort

9 – 50% effort – Very light – gentle walking

10 – 55% effort

11 – 60% effort – Fairly light

12 – 65% effort

13 – 70% effort – Somewhat hard – steady pace

14 – 75% effort

15 – 80% effort – Hard

16 – 85% effort

17 – 90% effort – Very hard

18 – 95% effort

19 – 100% effort – Very, very hard

20 – Exhaustion

When you should and should not exercise


Follow ACOG’s Guidelines & Contraindications.  ACOG Committee Opinion 267, 2002 reaffirmed in 2009

  • If you experience regular contractions 30 minutes after exercise it could indicate preterm labor.  Contact your doctor.
  • If you are not fully recovered within 15-20 minutes of exercise, you overdid it!
  • If you are not gaining the proper amount of weight – either too much or too little – check with your doctor!
  • Try to be consistent, sporadic intensity can be harmful especially in that 1st trimester!

The Big 5

1) 8 oz of water every 15 min of exercise and food within the hour.  Also a snack consisting of protein and carbs within the hour.

2) Avoid hot and humid, especially in the 1st trimester.

3) Use the RPE scale, remember its between 5 & 7 on the 10 point scale OR 12 & 14 on the 20 point scale.

4) Wear supportive shoes and a supportive bra.

5) Know when to stop!  Please follow the Contraindications (or things that are inadvisable) located on the ACOG website as mentioned above.


Weight Gain Recommendations

Underweight Category:

BMI = 18.5 or less, Weight Gain Recommendation 28 – 40 pounds


Healthy Weight Category:

BMI = 18.5 – 24.9, Weight Gain Recommendation 25 – 35 pounds


Overweight Category:

BMI = 25 – 29.9, Weight Gain Recommendation 15 – 25 pounds


Obese Category:

BMI is Greater than 30, Weight Gain Recommendation  11 – 20 pounds

*Accessed from Institute of Medicine 2014


You can easily find your BMI on any online BMI calculator. Use your pre-pregnancy weight in the calculation.




Artal, Dr. Raul, and M. O’Toole. “Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period.” Exercise in Pregnancy. 37.1 (2003): n. page. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <>.

Artal, M.D., Raul, James F Clapp III, M.D., and Daniel Vigil, M.D., FACSM. “Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period..” American College of Sports Medicine Current Comment. ACSM, n.d. Web. 21 Mar 2013.

ACE. ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual. 1st ed. 2008. 575-599. Print.

Davies, Gregory, MD, FRCSC, Wolfe, Larry, PhD, FACSM Mottola, Michelle, PhD, and MacKinnon, Catherine, MD, FRCSC. “Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” Joint SOGC/CSEP. 129 (2003): 1-5. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <>.

ACOG. “Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period..” ACOG Committee Opinion. 276.99 (2002): 171-173. Print.

Lenita Anthony. Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness: A guide for Fitness Professionals from the American Council on Exercise. California: Healthy Learning, 2002.


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