Pregnancy and Exercise – How to Properly Train for Birth

Pregnancy and Exercise - How to Properly Train for Birth by Elmira Family Chiropractic

For many, pregnancy has been deemed as a scary time. There is a list of things given to pregnant women including what you can eat, how to sleep, etc. Never mind the endless lists of things we all of a sudden need to learn about. 

Many women will stop working out immediately once they find out they are pregnant – perhaps due to lack of energy, nausea, or some because they were told by their medical professional that it is dangerous. 

Although, there is no need to completely change your work out regime, we believe in training for birth and just because you can do something in the gym, doesn’t mean you should.  Mind you, if you have never exercised regularly before, consulting with your healthcare provider to confirm that there is no reason NOT to is the first important step you should take. 

Some of the benefits women may experience from training during pregnancy include a reducing in backaches, constipation or swelling. It may increase your energy or mood, improve posture and help you to sleep better. Many women have said that training throughout their pregnancy also helps them to better cope with labour or get back in shape after their baby was born. 

Awesome possible benefits if you ask me!

During my first pregnancy, I kept up with my classes, and pretty much did what everyone else was doing as long as it felt good. And although nothing hurt me during my pregnancy, my body ended up being a mess (insert prolapse, diastasis rectus abdominus (AKA a separation of my abs) and a hyperactive pelvic floor) and it took me a year to get back to training the way I wanted again!

With my second pregnancy, I chose to train more intentionally, following the BIRTHFIT prenatal programming. I was cognisant that this wasn’t the time to push my body too hard and it paid off huge! I didn’t have any of the same issues the second time around and I feel great now.

Because of my experience, I know how easy it is to get sucked into the energy of the group class and just want to do what everyone else is doing, but honestly, DON’T! If you decide to jump into a group fitness class, it is important to be knowledgeable about what you should or shouldn’t do and what your intentions are though. 

This month we are going to tackle some of the Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to prenatal exercise.

1) Heavy Lifts 

Of course it would be cool to hit a new PR (personal record) while you’re pregnant or even match your pre-pregnancy targets, but honestly, this is not the time. 

Depending on what stage of your pregnancy you are in, there is a hormone called relaxin circulating in your body. Relaxin’s goal is to relax ligaments in your body providing increased elasticity in your joints. For example, your hips/pelvis are required to open during labour to make space for your baby to go through the birth canal. Relaxin can lead to instability in your joints though, which could result in injury if your core is not stabilizing perfectly.

If you’re moving a maximal load, this can be a big problem. 

Along with BIRTHFIT, we recommend training 75-80% as your new max weight. While your training, if this starts to feel heavy, it’s all good! Aim for a “heavy” double or triple instead of a one rep max. Overall, listen to your body. And remember that heavy today could be different next week. Your goal is always to make the lift (no bailouts) and feel stronger after each session. 

2) Making long, gruelling workouts more effective (25 min +)

Labour can be long for many and so training your endurance is not a bad idea by any means, but we also want to make sure your longer sessions are NOT going to beat you to the ground causing exhaustion for the rest of the day. 

There are two different approaches for a long workout: 

  1. Just keep moving but make sure you maintain a stable output – meaning that you can still talk without laboured speech. If any part of the workout would require you to exert beyond this point, find a suitable substitute. 
  2. Or set the workout to be 3-4 rounds with 2 minutes of rest in between. During your rest, connect with your breath and your baby and get your heart rate back down. 

Either way, if you feel the need to rest, slow down or stop, then do it. You aren’t trying to be first at this point in your life – you are training for BIRTH! 

3) Highly technical moves (muscle ups, handstand push ups, pull ups etc.)

Aim to make these movements strict at this point in your life. If at any time you notice core dysfunction such as coning of the abdomen, then stop immediately. 

This is also a great time to work on drills instead of the full movement – bands and rings can help your get back to the basics of each movement – no kipping! Also elevate your push-ups and focus on supines / ring rows instead of the more technical moves. 

4) Weightlifting (Cleans, snatches) 

When it comes to weightlifting, once your belly is popping out, you intuitively will make sure that you aren’t hitting your baby with a bar. Because of this, your bar path will be changed and therefore the movement will be changed and different muscles will be activated (probably inaccurately).

Instead of working with the bar, pick up some kettle bells or dumbbells to groove similar movement patterns as if you didn’t have a belly. (I learned this that hard way as it took a year for me to retrain my bar path after my first pregnancy.)

5) Abdominal flexion (toes to bar, sit ups, crunches, v-ups, hollow holds, hanging knee raises, etc.)

RED FLAG! Honestly, stay away from them. Forward flexion of your trunk can exacerbate diastasis rectus abdominis (abdominal separation) leading to core dysfunction and a potentially more difficult postpartum recovery. 

BIRTHFIT has created the functional progressions and transitions, which are a phenomenal substitute for “core work”. Check them out on YouTube! If you need a quick substitute, think posterior chain such as Russian kettle bell swings, glute bridges. Anything that activates your posterior chain will counteract your growing belly to stabilize your core and pelvis better. 

As you go through your pregnancy, your intention will change based on how you show up each day and how you’re feeling. You need to be okay with not getting as many rounds as the person next to you. 

By intentionally training, your return to fitness will be easier and it will pay off. Remember, slow is fast. 

If you want some awesome programming to do by yourself, check out the amazing online BIRTHFIT Prenatal programing

As a Regional Director for BIRTHFIT, I’m here to help you along your pregnancy. Email me at

Or check out my website at for more information about BIRTHFIT Elmira.

Dr. Sarah Green

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