5 Exercises for a healthy pregnancy


We all know it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy, but it can be challenging to select exercise options that are suitable and beneficial for a constantly changing body.


In this post, we have done the hard work for you by engaging one of Brisbane’s leading pregnancy and postnatal exercise physiotherapists, Briony, from Be In Blossom at Chermside, to bring you exercises that will support your body during pregnancy.


It is important to keep in mind that these exercises have not taken into consideration your individual circumstances and an assessment by a women’s health physiotherapist and the guidance of a qualified pregnancy and postnatal trainer will determine any “red flags” that require modification of exercises, so you get tailored options for you. Some of the factors that a physio or trainer will take into consideration during an assessment include:

  • Client age

  • The number of times a woman has given birth

  • Any history of traumatic birth/s

  • Pelvic floor symptoms (pain, heaviness, bladder leakage, urgency feeling bladder/bowel, constipation)

  • Pelvic girdle or back pain

  • Social and emotional factors: lack of support, history of pregnancy or perinatal loss, anxiety/depression

1. Squat with Wall Support or Front Support

Our legs are our powerhouse and an important component of a functional pelvic floor. Mastering your squat technique will ensure you always have the strength and form for the challenges of motherhood.

Benefits:

  • Strengthen legs for active labouring

  • Preparation with lifting baby and small children (stronger legs = less likely to strain back)

  • Practice integrating pelvic floor and deep abdominals

  • Incorporating free weights to build support through upper back for baby carrying and feeding and support of added weight of breast tissue

Considerations:

  • Pre-existing musculoskeletal conditions eg knees, pelvic pain

  • Vulnerable pelvic floor

  • Vulval varicosities (large veins that appear around the vulva in pregnancy that may be painful)

  • For women with pelvic floor dysfunction, another exercise might be more suitable. Please see a physiotherapist for suitable options.

Method for Wall Support:

  • Find a sturdy wall and place the ball in the small of your back

  • Have you feet slightly wider than hip width (if you have pelvic pain or pelvic floor dysfunction keep you knees closer together)

  • Have you feet far enough away from the wall that when you squat your knees stay behind your toes

  • Inhale as you bend your knees and come down until there is a 90 degree angle at your knees (you stop higher if you have pelvic pain or pelvic floor dysfunction)

  • Before starting to straighten your legs, engage and lift your pelvic floor as you exhale and press your whole foot into the floor (ensuring your weight isn’t all in your toes)

Method for Front Squat:

  • Find a study pole or tree to hold on to. Please your hands just below should height.

  • Have you feet slightly wider than hip width (if you have pelvic pain or pelvic floor dysfunction keep you knees closer together)

  • Have you feet far enough away from the wall that when you squat you can still reach the pole and your knees stay behind your toes (stick your butt out without overly arching your back)

  • Inhale as you bend your knees and come down until there is a 90 degree angle at your knees (you stop higher if you have pelvic pain or pelvic floor dysfunction). Relax your shoulders away from your ears, head looking forward. Enjoy the sense of lengthening along the spine and let your chest sink down between the shoulders.

  • Exhale as you press your whole foot into the floor (ensuring your weight isn’t all in your toes)

2. Thread a Needle

This is thoracic mobility exercise that not only feels great, but has wonderful benefits for posture and back pain.

Benefits:

  • Lengthen both pectoral muscles (open up across the chest) and back muscles

  • Alleviate back ache

Considerations:

You may need to modify to a more upright position or use a fitball or chair support if the following considerations apply to you:

  • You have a restricted range of movement at ankles, knees or hips

  • You are experiencing groin pain or pelvic girdle pain

  • In later stages of pregnancy you may find bub’s position makes it uncomfortable

  • You have reflux

  • If you have a large diastasis recti (abdominal separation) during pregnancy keeping more upright will relieve pressure on your abdominal wall

  • You have carpel tunnel (sore wrists)

Method:

  • Kneel on all fours with wrists underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips. Keep your elbows soft.

  • Ensure there isn’t a big relaxed arch in your lower back. You core should be switched on but not bracing heavily.

  • Exhale as you take one hand underneath the opposite side of your body taking your shoulder towards the floor (see picture)

  • Inhale bringing the same arm up to reach to the sky, lengthening out along the chest and arm before you return to the start position and repeat 8 - 12 reps

  • Make sure you do both sides

3. Resisted Clams

This exercise focuses on a small muscle that has a mighty impact on pelvic stability and function.

Benefits:

  • Build support in the side muscles of the bottom that contribute to keeping the pelvis level as women walk

  • Can assist to manage or prevent pelvic girdle pain

  • Keep mobility through the hips

Considerations:

  • Only add resistance band if you can perform the movement with good control.

  • Some ladies with pelvic girdle pain will find a clam can aggravate their symptoms and may require some support such as a Chi ball or pillow between knees to give more support and adjust the movement to small range. These ladies may do better with a seated upright version where they can perform a symmetrical alternative.

  • If pelvic girdle pain is severe some clients won’t tolerate getting up and down from the floor.

  • In the later part of pregnancy it is useful to use a folded towel or small pillow to support the abdomen in the midline.

Method:

  • Lie on your side with your knees bent to approximately 45 degrees and your hips, knees and ankles stacked in line with each other

  • Exhale as you gently lift the top knee (opening like a clam). As you do this your abdominals should engage like you are zipping up a pair of jeans (tension created between hip bones).

  • Do NOT allow your top hip to roll backwards as you open your knee. It is a small movement.

  • Inhale as you return to the start position

4. Superwoman (also known as Superman)

The holy grail of core exercises for a pregnant mother.

Benefits:

  • Build core support through deep abdominals, pelvic floor and back

  • Improved control of trunk

  • Hands and knees position brings baby’s weight off the spine

  • Build endurance through the upper body

Considerations:

  • If clients don’t have good body awareness they can drop into their lower back

  • This movement requires good range of movement. Ladies tight through their upper back and hips will often lose their form.

  • Clients with a wide diastasis recti (abdominal separation) will find this can cause their abdominal muscles to cone and may need it modified to arm or leg only

  • Raising of the leg can provoke pelvic girdle pain. It may be helpful to support the moving leg with a sliding disc or Chi ball. If the movement is still uncomfortable then do arm only or an alternative exercise.

Method:

  • Kneel on all fours with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, keep elbows soft

  • Ensure there isn’t a big relaxed arch in your lower back. You core should be switched on but not bracing heavily.

  • As you exhale, extend the opposite arm and leg until they are in a straight line or until you feel your back wanting to give way and arch. Take care not to let your hips drift away from the midline.

  • As you inhale, return the arm and leg to the staring position and allow your abdominal wall a moment to relax. Repeat.

  • Your spine should be straight (like a table top) with you eyes looking down to the floor.

  • Don’t forget to do both sides.

5. Pelvic Floor Exercises (Variety of positions)

They might not be the most exciting exercise to do, but they can make the difference between peeing your pants or not, so let’s give them the credit they deserve. The short video below gives a great explanation of the anatomy and function of the pelvic floor plus some guide on how to do your pelvic floor exercises.

As the muscles are internal it can be very difficult to understand if you are doing them correctly. It is highly recommended that all pregnancy and postnatal women see a pelvic floor physiotherapists for an assessment on their pelvic floor and whether they are doing their exercises correctly.

Benefits:

  • Prevent bladder leakage

  • Support the weight of your growing baby

  • Support the pelvic organs to limit descent

  • Improve your awareness of how to relax these muscles during birth

  • Contribute to stability of your pelvis

  • Respond to abdominal pressure changes

Considerations:

  • Women need to learn both how to release and how to engage their pelvic floor.

  • There should be adequate rest phase (approx. same length of time as the contraction)

  • May be helpful to use visualisations, use hand over perineum to give feedback.

  • Try some sets earlier in the day before the PF is fatigued by the postural role that it has through the day.

  • Clients may find lying positions easier than upright if the muscles are weak.

Useful Information

Below are some resources for understanding what constitutes suitable pregnancy exercise. For a comprehensive approach to your pregnancy exercise program ensure you keep your health care provider aware of your participation in exercise activities, see a women’s health physio and use a qualified pregnancy trainer. You can reach Briony here.

Fitness Australia Pre and Postnatal Exercise Guidelines

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists - Pregnancy Exercise Guidelines

Sports Medicine Australia - Pregnancy Exercise Guidelines

Contact Natarsha to find out how you can

get a free maternity photo shoot.

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