Top tips for getting your pregnancy fitness right

Top tips for getting your pregnancy fitness right

January 2014

Project-B is delighted to welcome our new resident pregnancy fitness expert Dr Joanna Helcke.  You can find out more information on Joanna in an earlier Project-B blog.

Here Joanna shares her expertise for a fitter pregnancy!  Joanna says:

“I find that, in general, pregnant women tend to fall into two categories when it comes to how they approach fitness: the first group’s super cautious instincts kick in and they decide it’s best to do nothing at all, just in case… The second is of the gung-ho variety, adamant that nothing will get in the way of their usual fitness regime. Well I’d like to suggest a happy medium and here are some top tips to set you on the right track:  

  • Exercising during pregnancy can be very beneficial but it should be to maintain fitness rather than to increase fitness levels. Now is not the time to go on a major fitness mission, so be sensible.
  • Moderate exercise has no known adverse effects on your baby, so keep things easy going on the exercise front. 
  • It is important to eat well and to eat enough carbohydrate when you exercise in pregnancy. A light carbohydrate-based snack one or two hours before exercising is ideal. How about a few oatcakes? I like Nairn’s ginger oatcakes – they’re sweet, have a low GI and are ideal for combatting morning sickness. For masses of information on healthy eating in pregnancy, take a look at this
  • Be sure to maintain fluid intake when exercising, so keep a bottle of water with you.
  • Do NOT overheat or exercise in hot conditions as research suggests that this can have adverse effects on your baby’s development. Keep your cool!
  • Do not hold your breath when performing exercises as, again, this is not good for your baby, and it also places pressure on the pelvic floor. There will be quite enough pressure placed on your pelvic floor during the 9 months of pregnancy, so don’t make matters any worse!  
  • Warm up very gradually when exercising so as to avoid a sudden increase in blood pressure – easy does it!
  • During pregnancy – especially early pregnancy - you may feel faint when standing up suddenly – so get up slowly from the floor if doing mat-based exercises. If you’ve been told that your blood pressure is on the low side, watch out!
  • In the first trimester you can carry on with higher impact exercise, such as jogging, running and aerobics just so long as this was something that you were already doing. But don’t take it up as a new form of exercise in a bid to stop the pregnancy pounds from piling on. Stick to power walking and swimming instead.   
  • From 16-20 weeks onwards you should avoid lying flat on your back, whether this be for exercise or even when sleeping at night. This is because the weight of your uterus will press on a major vein and restrict the flow of blood causing dizziness but also inhibiting the passage of nutrients to the placenta. So it’s a “no” to exercises which involve lying on your back.
  • During the third trimester your balance will be affected and you should be aware of this when exercising – so no attempts at performing balancing acts please! 
  • Training with weights poses no problem, as long as weights were already part of your fitness routine prior to pregnancy.  Just remember to keep breathing throughout your resisted exercises. Keeping strong will help protect your joints and stave off backache just so long as you have perfect technique. For top tips on relieving pregnancy back pain take a look at
  • As you get bigger you will feel more breathless - never force yourself to work through this feeling. 
  • To aid the birth of your baby, your body is producing a hormone called relaxin which relaxes the joints and leads to greater joint mobility and flexibility. Do not exploit this during pregnancy as it can lead to joint instability post-pregnancy. Be careful, for example, when it comes to standard yoga classes as these focus on deep stretches. For everything you need to know about taking part in yoga during pregnancy have a read through this: . Always remember that stretches should be held for no longer than 8-10 seconds in pregnancy. Moreover, the effects of relaxin will remain in your body until approximately 5-6 months after the birth of your baby, so bear this in mind…
  • Last but most certainly not least – and I’m going to put you on the spot here! – are you doing your pelvic floor exercises? Yes? That’s great news, and keep up the good work. No? Eek! Best start them now as there’s nothing quite like having a weak pelvic floor for making you feel about 105 years old. So remember: do both fast and slow pelvic floor exercises every day, at least 3 times a day… for ever after! And if you’re not too sure how to do pelvic floor exercises (also known as Kegels) then now’s the time to read up on it here
  • And before I sign off, here’s a great pregnancy Pilates exercise to keep your deep abdominals toned in pregnancy. To find out why pregnancy Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise you can do as a mum-to-be, take a look through this:


Modified Superman

1.   Set yourself up in a box position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Make sure that your back is in neutral. By this I mean that it should have its natural curves but these should not be too pronounced.


2.   Extend one arm in front of you keeping the fingers lightly on the floor. Make sure that you are drawing your abdominals and bump inwards so as to avoid arching your lower back.


3.   Keep your back level when you lift your arm. Breathe and hold the position.


4.   Bring the arm back down and then swap over and extend the other arm. Think about lengthening through your back and arm


5.   Now repeat this process with each leg: lift up your leg keeping the toes on the floor and without arching your lower back; do not tilt your pelvis upwards; breathe and hold the position; lengthen through your back and leg.


6.   Now put these two moves together and lift opposite arm and leg, following the same advice, and keeping fingers and toes lightly touching the floor (see photo).

Here’s to wishing you a happy, healthy pregnancy!”

Dr. Joanna Helcke is an expert in pregnancy and postnatal fitness and is the founder of Zest4lifeUk. She is regularly quoted as a pre and postnatal fitness expert in the national media and is thrilled to be launching the UK’s first ever online pregnancy and postnatal fitness system in November 2013.