What to Expect When You Exercise Pregnant: 7 Challenges that Will Try to Ruin Your Workout

Pregnancy is filled with enjoyment in the days leading up to your little one’s arrival. Oh yeah, and in between, you spend a lot of time uncomfortable, nauseous, and tired. Now that we’re being honest, there will be a lot of times during your pregnancy that you will encounter some unique challenges…and your workouts are no exception.

Right from the beginning, your exercise sessions will never be the same. You'll experience morning sickness, exhaustion, and the incessant need to pee. Sure, you can--and should--continue to exercise throughout pregnancy, but you will need to make some adjustments to accommodate for the fact your body is currently responsible for growing a tiny human.

I'm certainly not trying to discourage you from exercising during pregnancy, quite the opposite actually.

If you know what is going to happen, why it’s happening, and how to minimize the effects, you have a better chance of continuing an exercise program during pregnancy than if you thought it was going to be a perfectly wonderful, effortless experience, not that exercise ever really is, but I digress.

My goal is to let you know that most of us do not look, or feel, like the images of the happy, relaxed, sweat-free expectant mothers that you may see. This is real life. Here’s a brief guide to what you will really experience when you exercise during pregnancy, along with the tips you need to work through it all.

7 Morning Sickness

Did you really think that just because you were in the gym or out for a run that you could escape the early effects of pregnancy? Not so much. If you are prone to morning sickness, it may occur during your workout. 

Courtesy of the wackiness of hormones throughout your first trimester, as your body adjusts to being pregnant, you will likely succumb to the sudden, overwhelming feeling of nausea that is inaccurately named, morning sickness. 

Thanks to the name, you may think that you will be free and clear to exercise at any time after the a.m. hours, but this is one of the lies we are told about pregnancy. Morning sickness can strike at any point throughout your day.

Taming Your Morning Sickness

Considering the above, it may seem impossible to exercise while you are experiencing the morning sickness phase of pregnancy, but it’s not, if you are flexible about when, where, and how you go about it. Here are some tips that might help you stick to your workout routine:

  • Exercise outside – The fresh air may help combat the nausea.
  • Avoid times during the day when you are most likely to experience symptoms (reserved for the lucky women who’s morning sickness generally follows a predictable pattern)
  • Drink lots of fluids and eat small, easy-to-digest meals throughout the day

You should note, however, that there may be days when you just don’t feel able to exercise. On those days, you should not push yourself. Take the rest that your body is telling you that you need. You can always continue with your workout as planned the following day, or whenever you feel able. 

6 Wooziness or Dizziness from Movement

You know that feeling of nausea, light-headedness, and instability that you feel when you stand up sometimes? It’s almost like being on a roller coaster, only without any of the fun, just the stomach churning discomfort. 

Well, you can virtually guarantee that this symptom of pregnancy will invade your workout. A simple change in positioning, from sitting to standing or laying down to sitting or standing, and it’s like someone flipped a switch and you’re ready to faint, fall, vomit, or all three. 

This feeling that occurs can be attributed to the dilation of blood vessels and decrease in blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy, leading to this unpleasant side effect when you change your body positioning a little too quickly.

Avoiding the “Head-Rush”

In this situation, the key is prevention, since, thankfully, the after-effects are generally short-lived. So, to avoid all of the aforementioned misery:

  • Move slowly any time that you transition from laying to sitting to standing
  • Try to avoid standing in place for too long – ironically, remaining stationary can produce similar symptoms

Although this is usually a fleeting sensation, it could decide to stick around for a while. In this case, you can try lying down, on your left side, until it subsides. 

5 The Constant Need to Pee

This one is a definite need to know for any pregnant woman. While some expectant mothers may never have a twinge of nausea or discomfort otherwise, the immediate, urgent need to pee is pretty much inescapable. (By the way, if you are one of these few lucky ladies; keep it to yourself.) The physiology of the pregnant woman is the culprit behind this pregnancy problem. 

Since, essentially, your consistently enlarging uterus and growing fetus are now occupying the space that used to belong to your bladder; the capacity of your bladder has been greatly reduced. Look at any diagram of a pregnant woman’s internal organs and you will see that the bladder is smooshed flat like a pancake, with very little room for expansion. 

Also, don’t forget your sweet unborn baby will likely believe that your bladder exists for their entertainment, to be used as a trampoline. Now, since this is an issue during the rest of your day, you can imagine that during exercise, particularly activities like running, it will be at least as inconvenient.

Bladder Issues and Your Workout – How to Deal

The main problem here is disruption of and discomfort during your workout. To stay focused on exercising, you need to reduce the chance that you will suddenly have the urge to pee and/or have to anxiously search for a bathroom, hoping throughout the entire scenario that you can make it to the bathroom in time. Instead:

  • Use the bathroom before you start to exercise, regardless of whether or not you “need” to
  • Wear comfortable clothes that do not put extra pressure on your stomach
  • Scope out the bathrooms before getting started

Definitely do NOT:

  • Restrict liquid intake – this might reduce your need to pee, but it will also cause dehydration, jeopardizing the health of you and your unborn child
  • Try to hold it – this can be detrimental as well, plus it’s just not worth the risk of not making it to the bathroom or the discomfort, take the few minute break that you need  

4 Sweating Almost Immediately Upon Starting to Exercise

There are a couple of reasons why you suddenly sweat more and a whole lot faster, than you did pre-pregnancy. For one, your hormones are totally crazy and can cause hot flashes. Also, blood flow is concentrated to your abdomen during pregnancy, creating a furnace-like effect. 

That said, once you start to exercise your body temperature skyrockets. When you get too warm, you sweat. It’s a natural reaction, allowing your body to cool itself. So, this problem is really a double-edged sword; you feel sweaty and gross, but the alternative is over-heating, which is definitely not good. Heat exhaustion is dangerous for anyone, but is particularly fatal for your unborn baby.

Reducing the Heat

For the safety of all involved, your goal here is not to stop yourself from sweating, but reduce the risk of overheating. Besides, you are exercising, some sweating should be expected!

  • Drink lots of fluids – you need to replace what you are sweating out
  • Dress appropriately – wear light layers so you can remove items as you get warm
  • Avoid exercising in hot, humid environments – exercise in the early morning or late afternoon/evening, or use an air conditioned facility

3 A Complete and Utter Lack of Coordination

The lack of coordination and balance that you’ll experience is somewhat unnerving. If you normally feel strong, graceful, and athletic when you exercise, you will be shocked by what feels like a total disconnect between your mind and body. 

You will start to feel downright awkward doing exercises that you typically perform with ease. Getting your body to cooperate with how it should move is downright frustrating, but you have to cut yourself some slack…Not only are you literally unbalanced, with your pregnant belly protruding in front, but other changes have occurred to throw you off as well. 

A key factor in your new-found instability is the relaxation of your ligaments. While this helps allow your stomach to expand, accommodating your growing baby, and makes delivery a much smoother process, it can wreak some havoc on your workout.

Keeping Your Balance

To reduce the resulting effects, you may need to tweak your exercise routine. Here are some suggestions for keeping your balance and continuing with a safe, effective exercise routine:

  • Maintain a wide support base – avoid single leg exercises or anything that may further compromise your balance
  • Reduce resistance (i.e. use lighter weights)
  • Perform the exercise sitting down, instead of standing, if possible
  • Hold onto something (a wall, or railing)

Above all, you need to listen to your body, if an exercise just doesn’t feel right, stop and/or substitute with a different one. 

2 Questioning the Safety and Validity of Your Workout

From the moment you know you’re pregnant, you’ll likely question the safety of everything, exercise included, based on the effects it may have on your unborn child. Even regular exercisers who normally feel comfortable in their abilities to safely train themselves will question their ability to plan or perform a workout. 

While this protective instinct may cause you to go overboard worrying, it is there for a reason. Plus, there are some legitimate concerns in terms of exercising during pregnancy.

Exercising Safely

To ease the worry wart that you have become, here’s a few of the most common concerns and guidelines for exercising throughout pregnancy.

  • 1.Can I run? – If you were a runner before you got pregnant, you will likely be able to continue running throughout pregnancy. As long as you feel comfortable doing so, you should be fine, but you should check with your doctor to be sure.
  • 2.How long is it safe to perform exercises that require you to lie flat on your back? – Usually, it’s recommended that you stop putting yourself in this position after the first trimester, but if it becomes uncomfortable before then, stop. In this position, it is possible to inhibit blood flow to your baby.
  • 3.Abs, what’s the point? – Performing abdominal exercises may seem silly with your ever-expanding stomach, but they do have a purpose. Furthermore, doing exercises for your entire midsection, known as your core, are highly beneficial. While working the superficial ab muscles (think six pack) may not be worthwhile, the deep muscles of the core will help support your growing stomach, reduce back pain, and even help ensure a natural delivery.

As always, with any concerns that you may have regarding your pregnancy, consult your doctor. Also, make sure you listen to your body, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

1 The Bigger Your Belly, The Harder Your Workout Will Be

As your baby, and belly, grow larger exercising will become progressively harder for a variety of reasons. For one, your unborn child is crowding your internal organs. Like your bladder, as we discussed previously, your lungs are being compressed. 

So, if you can’t breathe as deeply, due to your lungs inability to expand, you’ll feel shortness of breath faster than if your uterus wasn’t encroaching on your lungs, which will increase your feelings of exertion. Plus, with the reduction in lung capacity, you’re receiving less oxygen with each breath you take, which will negatively impact your energy levels. 

Furthermore, let’s not forget that by the end of your pregnancy, you will have gained twenty-five to thirty-five pounds, or more, which would make moving around more difficult for anyone.

Dealing With Your New Size

Once you pass the halfway point in your pregnancy and continue through the final trimester, you will be much larger than when you started this process. Continuing to exercise is possible, but adjustments to your usual routine will likely need to be made. Here are a few things to consider as you approach your due date:

  • Decreasing the intensity – i.e., use lighter weights when strength training
  • Low impact activities – walking or swimming is easier on joints than activities that involve running or jumping
  • Rest– take breaks and/or days off when needed, now is not the time to ramp up your exercise routine

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