The money you’re still spending on that gym membership doesn’t have to go to waste just because you’re pregnant. Learn how to navigate cardio, weights and class options to stay fit and feel great in every trimester.

An hour of cardio

Usually flies by for me at the gym, thanks to my secret motivational strat­egy: watching “Law & Order” reruns on the club’s TV. I hop on the elliptical machine as the opening credits roll, and before I know it, Sam Waterston is finishing his closing argument to the jury.

At least, that was the case before I got pregnant. On some days in my first trimester, to my amaze­ment, I’d poop out 10 minutes into the show- before the detectives even identified the body.

 “Many active women are surprised at how pregnancy affects their workouts,” says Renee M. Jeffreys, M.Sc., a prenatal-fitness consultant in Milford, Conn., and co-author of Fit to Deliver (Hartley & Marks). “But remember that these are normal, short-term changes.”

So should you dial down your cardio? Are cer­tain machines off-limits? Can you still do Pilates? The answers depend largely on your fitness level, which trimester you’re in and how you’re feel­ing, Jeffreys says. But this much is certain: The gym is a great place to be pregnant. If one cardio machine or strength exercise isn’t comfortable, there’s always another one to try.

Description: Can you still do Pilates?

Can you still do Pilates?

Getting yourself to the gym may take an extra dose of motivation, but the payoff is huge. Consistent exercise during pregnancy can mini­mize aches and constipation, help you sleep bet­ter and lower your risk of excess weight gain, gestational diabetes and depression. You may even end up having a shorter, less complicated labor. Developing good workout habits during pregnancy will help you get your body back faster after delivery, too.

Though my first trimester was rough going, my second was a breeze and my third wasn’t half bad, either. With my stamina back in those later months, I’d usually make it all the way through & Law & Order episode at the gym (aside from a few bathroom breaks during commercials).

Keep it classy

If you can attend prenatal exercise classes, do. Not only are the workouts modified for pregnancy, but you also get to bond with fellow moms-to-be (you might even get labor tips!). If your favorite classes don’t come in the prenatal variety, it’s fine to keep going, as long as you pay attention to how your body feels and limit your intensity so you don’t overexert yourself.

Just make sure the instructor knows you’re pregnant and is knowledgeable about modifications you can make, Jeffreys advises. If your instructor hasn’t worked with pregnant women, find one who has. Keep in mind that highly choreographed classes like step or hip-hop aren’t the best choices for expectant women because they require quick direction changes and excellent balance. Here, some common classes you’ll find at the gym and what you need to know to take them while pregnant.


Pilates helps maintain your abdominal muscle tone, which will help support your growing belly, mini­mize back pain and give you more oomph for pushing during labor. But mat classes can be problematic after the first trimester because so much work is done lying on your back; this position decreases blood flow to the uterus and placenta and should be avoided. Either opt out of these exercises or use an angled foam spine sup­port (found in most Pilates studios but not many gyms); this will keep your head higher than your belly.


Yoga not only strengthens your core and improves flexibility, but it also fosters a sense of calm with its gentle movements and emphasis on breathing and meditation.

In the second half of your pregnancy, avoid twisting too far in any direction, movements that tug on your belly, moves that require you to lie on your back or belly for prolonged periods and inversions like head and shoulder stands.

Description: yoga

Water aerobics

Ah ... relief. You can’t trip and fall, you won’t overheat, and for once you won’t feel like a big clod. No wonder water aerobics is a third-trimester favorite. (Your joints will thank you!) Wear aqua shoes so you don’t slip on the bottom of the pool.

Safe, effective cardio

When it comes to cardio exercise, Fit to Deliver co­authors Karen Nordahl, M.D., an OB-GYN in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Jeffreys have a rule of thumb: “If you were really active before pregnancy, stay really active. If you weren’t, now is a good time to become active.” For beginners, Nordahl recommends 30 minutes of walking three days a week.

During pregnancy, you’ll need to scale back on the intensity. Gauge yours using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale from 0 to 10: Aim for an intensity between 3 and 5 (you should be able to talk but not sing). Ignore heart-rate readouts on the cardio machines; they don’t accurately gauge intensity because your blood volume increases during pregnancy and your resting heart rate is much higher than normal. Try all the cardio machines to find one (or more) that feels right for you.


Walking on the treadmill is ideal because you can control the terrain. Add hills when you’re up to it; go flat if hills trigger calf cramps. If you’re a runner, let your body tell you when it’s time to switch to walking.


The elliptical trainer places little stress on your joints. However, the motion may feel uncomfort­able if you’re experiencing symphysis pubic dysfunction (SPD), a pain in the front of your crotch.

Stationary bike

 An upright bike keeps you off your feet, but a recumbent also offers back support (although in the third trimester your belly might get in the way).

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