Exercising While Pregnant – Guidelines


Prenatal Physical Therapy should be considered as the first line of therapy for reducing the risk of pregnancy complications and enhancing maternal physical and mental health.

The 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy provide up to date evidence-based recommendations regarding physical activity during pregnancy. (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/52/21/1339.full.pdf

Exercise in pregnancy was once recommended to solely improve behaviour and quality of life. These new guidelines demonstrate the prescription of exercise in pregnancy to specifically reduce pregnancy complications and optimise the health and have lifelong benefits for both the mother and the baby. These include:

  • Fewer newborn complications (ie. Larger babies)
  • Maternal Health risks (decreased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, caesarean section, instrumental delivery, urinary incontinence, improved blood glucose, and decreased severity of depressive symptoms and lumbopelvic pain).

Below is a summary of who and what exercise should be done while pregnant to achieve optimal results. Bear in mind there are contraindications and safety precautions that are outlines in the guidelines provided.

Who Should Be Physically Active In Pregnancy? – High Quality Evidence

  • All women without contraindication – including those not previously active, with gestational diabetes and women categorised as overweight.

What Exercise Should Be Done To Achieve Health Benefits? – High Quality Evidence

  • At least 150 mins of moderate intensity physical activity each week
  • Minimum of 3 days
  • A variety of aerobic and resistance training

What Is Moderate-Intensity?

  • “talk test” – a comfortable intensity to maintain a conversation

A heart rate of between 125-146 beats/minute for <29 year olds and 121-141 for 30+

Recommended Examples…(but are not limited to..)

Brisk walking

Stationary cycling


Aqua aerobics

Modified pilates and yoga


× Physical Contact or danger of falling (eg. Horseback riding, ice hockey, gymnastics)

× Scuba diving

× Excessive heat

× Excessive abdominal loading exercises eg. Sit-ups, planks

× Split stance or single leg stance to prevent and manage pelvic pain


How to Start?

  • Begin gradually at a lower intensity and frequency and build up to the outlined guidelines. It was noted that upper limit was not established.

These guidelines are a breakthrough is now knowing that pregnant women without contraindications can use exercise as a tool to not only achieve optimal health, but to also actually reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.