Exercising in pregnancy

It’s well known that exercise is recommended when pregnant but many women are left wondering what the right thing to do is, leading to confusion and often worry. If this is you keep reading.

Is it safe to exercise?

Exercise has many benefits for the mum-to-be such as maternal fitness and psychological benefits as well as benefits to baby such as prevention of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia. Needless to say, health professionals encourage exercising during an uncomplicated pregnancy even if you’ve never exercised before.

There are some special situations where exercise is deemed unsafe during pregnancy, which is why it’s advised to have clearance from your treating provider such as GP or obstetrician to ensure it’s safe for you.

What types of exercise?

It’s recommended we perform three main types of exercise, these are:

  1. Cardiovascular training

This uses multiple large muscle groups to increase heart rate and breathing rate, such as:

  • walking
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • cross-training
  • running
  1. Strength/resistance training

Involves using body weight, weights or resistance bands to work the major muscle groups in the body. It’s recommended to completed strength session 2-4 times per week on non-consecutive days.

  1. Flexibility/ stretching
  • e. yoga, general stretches

How much exercise should I be doing?

When it comes to cardiovascular and strength training, it’s recommended to exercise on most days for a combined weekly total of:

  • 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise
  • 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise
  • or a combination of the above.

You can stretch as often as you require or desire, just move slowly and with good control. 

How intense should exercise be?

There are a few simple measures to ensure you are working at the desired target range including percentage of your heart rate max, rate of perceived exertion scale and the talk test.

The Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians recommend the following:


New to exercise

Accustomed to Moderate intensity

Accustomed to Vigorous intensity

% of Heart rate max



Up to 90% but not beyond

Rate of perceived exertion


“somewhat easy – somewhat hard”


“somewhat hard”



Talk test

Able to comfortably maintain a conversation

Able to comfortably maintain a conversation

Would need to pause for a breath during conversation

NOTE: Heart rate max is calculated by 220 minus your age i.e. for a 30 year old woman, 220 – 30 = 190 beats per minute is their heart rate max and a percentage of this can be used to establish intensity.

Rate of perceived exertion scale:

What intensity zone do I fit in?

As a general rule if you were doing moderate to vigorous exercise regularly it is considered safe to continue this exercise whilst pregnant, just ensure you’ve been cleared to continue by your GP or obstetrician and you are modifying to the safety recommendations.

If you are a beginner to exercise or overweight, it’s recommended to start with 15-20 minutes of low impact exercise such as a brisk walking and light strength training, 3-4 days per week and slowly build up towards the recommended goal.

Signs to stop exercises

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Regular painful uterine contractions
  • Amniotic fluid loss
  • Unexplained breathlessness
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Severe headache
  • Chest pains
  • Calf pain, swelling or redness
  • Sudden swelling of the ankles, hands or face   
  • Decreased fetal movements.

If these symptoms occur seek immediate medical review.

 Checklist for safe exercising:

  • Cleared by obstetrician or GP to exercise
  • Avoid exercise performed lying on your back after 12 weeks
  • Avoid contact sports/classes
  • Supportive bra
  • No pelvic floor dysfunction occurs: urinary leakage or vaginal pressure/bulge
  • Optimal nourishment via a well-balanced diet
  • Adequate hydration (~2.5 Litres per day)
  • Avoid overheating
  • Know what ‘intensity zone’ you should be working in
  • Ensure heart rate doesn’t exceed 90% of heart rate max

If you would like personalised guidance on how to start or modify your exercise routine, please don’t hesitate to book an appointment with one of our Women’s Health and Continence Physiotherapists who would be happy to guide you.

Written by Chelsie Doncon, Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist


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