Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy To Stay Safe + Healthy

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It seems that there are more and more prenatal exercise classes cropping up, and pregnant women can be seen engaging in lots of workouts and styles of exercise.

But, are there exercises you need to avoid during pregnancy? Are there specific ab exercises to avoid during pregnancy? Can you lift weights while pregnant? Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of exercising during pregnancy, safety considerations for exercising during pregnancy, and exercises to avoid during pregnancy. 

We will cover the following: 

  • Can I Exercise During Pregnancy?
  • Guidelines for Exercise During Pregnancy
  • Can I Do Yoga During Pregnancy?
  • Can I Run During Pregnancy?
  • Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy

Let’s dive in! 

A pregnant runner stretching on the beach.

Can I Exercise During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a unique season in your life in which your body undergoes rapid changes while supporting the growth of a new life.

It can be difficult to work out during pregnancy, depending on the pregnancy symptoms you experience and your energy, but it is still important to get consistent exercise during pregnancy unless otherwise instructed by your doctor or OB/GYN to avoid physical activity.

For instance, high-risk pregnancies and certain conditions such as preeclampsia and placenta previa can be contraindications to working out during pregnancy.

That said, as with other stages of life, pregnant women should strive to meet the physical activity recommendations for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation.

These recommendation state that adults are to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week. 

A pregnant woman doing yoga.

Guidelines for Exercise During Pregnancy

Although it is important to be physically active when you are pregnant, as long as you have not been instructed to be on bed rest or avoid exercise, there are still certain guidelines for working out during pregnancy and certain exercises to avoid during pregnancy.

Here are some guidelines for working out during pregnancy set forth by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) for women who are experiencing healthy a pregnancy:

#1: Meet Physical Activity Guidelines

Aim to meet the physical activity guidelines for adults, which is to accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week plus two full-body resistance training workouts per week).

#2: Choose Exercises That Feel Good

Choose exercises that feel good and do not cause excessive strain or stress on your joints, back, or belly.

Examples include incline walking, brisk walking, jogging or running if you were running prior to pregnancy, swimming, water aerobics, prenatal yoga, Pilates, strength training with resistance bands or dumbbells, the elliptical machine, and stationary biking.

A pregnant woman doing exercise on a stability ball.

#3: Avoid The Heat

Be mindful of exercising in the heat. Exercise indoors when it is hot and humid outside.

#4: Choose Safe Activities

Avoid exercises that carry a high risk of injuries or falling, such as contact sports like hockey, horseback riding, and skiing. Also, avoid exercises that require lying flat on your back for an extended time, particularly in the second half of your pregnancy.

This is the reason that there are some ab exercises to avoid during pregnancy.

#5: Check In With Your Doctor

Review your planned exercise routine with your doctor and discuss any concerns about working out while pregnant.

A pregnant woman doing yoga.

Can I Do Yoga During Pregnancy?

If you were consistently doing yoga before you got pregnant, you might wonder, “Can you do yoga during pregnancy?“

The good news is that prenatal yoga can be safe and effective for most women who are experiencing a healthy and smooth pregnancy.

In fact, yoga during pregnancy has been shown to have many physical and mental health benefits for the mother and baby.

A retrospective study of 200 women found that regular participation in prenatal yoga workouts improved numerous outcomes of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and maternal and fetal health. 

Results found that expectant mothers who regularly practiced yoga during pregnancy were significantly less likely to require a cesarean section delivery, experienced significantly less weight gain, had less pain and overall discomfort during labor and delivery, had less back pain throughout pregnancy, and had a faster postpartum recovery.

A person holding a yoga mat.

Studies have also shown that prenatal yoga can help alleviate symptoms of depression in pregnant women.

Another large review involving prenatal yoga found that yoga during pregnancy reduced anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. Women who participated in prenatal yoga interventions had shorter labor and an increased chance of vaginal birth.

That said, although yoga during pregnancy is generally considered to be safe and beneficial for the majority of expectant mothers and their babies, there are certain yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy and other precautions with yoga workouts for pregnant women.

One of the challenges of exercising during pregnancy is that the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can potentially increase the risk of injury, particularly with types of exercise like yoga that encourage stretching and placing your body into various poses for an extended period of time.

For example, during pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which increases flexibility in ligaments in order to provide adequate room for the growing fetus in the belly and to prepare the hips to open for delivery. 

A pregnant woman outside.

Relaxin reduces the stability of your joints because ligaments connect the bones in a joint, and so the added laxity in the ligaments induced by relaxin makes the joints more mobile.

As a result, when you hold yoga poses or stretches for a long period of time at the end range of motion, you can overstretch your muscles, ligaments, and joints beyond a healthy range. 

For this reason, if you are going to do prenatal yoga, it is important to be especially mindful of how deep you sync into poses, especially yoga poses that involve the hips and pelvis.

Like other forms of exercises to avoid during pregnancy, some yoga poses also carry a risk of falling due to the requirement of balance.

When you are pregnant, the growing belly alters your center of mass and can skew your proprioception or your awareness of your body in space. 

Plus, as mentioned, you have less stability in your ankles and hips due to the increased elasticity in your joints. This can increase the risk of falling, which can injure yourself or cause damage to the growing fetus.

You should avoid or modify yoga poses that involve balancing on one leg (such as Tree Pose).

Inversions and headstands should also be avoided, as should full back bends with yoga poses like Wheel pose or Plow as these movements can put too much pressure on the uterus and/or the spinal column based on the weight of the growing baby inside your abdominal cavity.

A pregnant woman running.

Can I Run During Pregnancy?

Some pregnant women are concerned that running is one of the types of exercise to avoid during pregnancy.

Although it is true that not all women will be able to run throughout their pregnancy, the general consensus from medical professionals is that if you were running prior to conceiving, it’s perfectly safe to continue running while pregnant as long as you feel okay and are not having complications with your pregnancy.

Running during pregnancy has not been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage, nor has exercising while pregnant as long as you keep your body temperature down and listen to your body.

On the other hand, if you were not running prior to becoming pregnant, medical professionals suggest choosing other forms of exercise during pregnancy.

Running is a high-impact activity, so you should avoid this type of exercise during pregnancy if your body is not previously accustomed to running up until the time of conception. 

The added weight and changing weight distribution of the growing fetus in your belly, as well as the increase in relaxin hormone, which can cause pelvic instability, can make running during pregnancy unsafe for new runners.

You can consider beginning running after you have fully healed from labor and delivery, have been walking or exerting consistently with no pain, and are cleared for high-impact exercise.

A pregnant woman running.

Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy 

Running and yoga are often two forms of exercise that pregnant women have the most questions about.

As just discussed, there aren’t necessarily absolute contraindications to doing yoga or running for exercise during pregnancy, but there are situations in which these forms of exercise are unsafe during pregnancy or modifications will need to be made.

There are some other exercises to avoid during pregnancy for all women, including the following:

  • Contact sports such as basketball, dodgeball, lacrosse, football, water polo, etc. 
  • Exercises that come with a high risk of falling, such as horseback riding, skiing, waterskiing, mountain biking, gymnastics, riding a unicycle, etc. 
  • High-intensity, heavy weightlifting, such as powerlifting, particularly if you were going to be performing the Valsalva maneuver or holding your breath under pressure.
  • High-impact exercises like plyometrics and box jumps or intense CrossFit workouts unless cleared by your physician.
  • Exercises that come with a risk of being hit by a flying implement or body part, such as ice hockey, kickball, dodgeball, baseball, kickboxing, MMA, ultimate frisbee, etc.
  • Workouts that occur in a hot environment, such as hot yoga, outdoor running, or cycling in the heat and humidity.
  • Exercises that involve some sort of change in oxygen levels, such as high-altitude mountain climbing, scuba diving, and skydiving.
  • Exercises that require lying on your back for a long period of time or that cause a spinal flexion, especially during the last 3 to 4 months of your pregnancy. Examples include crunches, long sets of bench press, and sit-ups.
  • Weightlifting without a spotter or safety arms.

Although you will need to take some time off from working out after you deliver your baby if you want to get back into running after your baby is born, check out our guide to postpartum running here.

And, if you need the best jogging stroller, we can’t recommend the BOB Wayfinder enough.

A trainer helping a pregnant woman do a lunge.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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