Pregnancy Cardio: [Everything You Need to Know To Do It Safely]

Do you want to do cardio while pregnant?

Perfect, then keep reading.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How long you can do cardio while pregnant
  • The best cardio workouts for each trimester of pregnancy, and
  • How much cardio is considered too much

Let’s dive right in.

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Is it okay to do cardio while pregnant?

Yes, it is safe to do cardio during pregnancy as long as you don’t have any contraindications to exercise.

In fact, The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), encourages you to exercise while pregnant and believes it is an “essential element of a healthy lifestyle and important component of optimal health.”

Cardio is beneficial to do in pregnancy because it:

  • reduces your risk of excessive weight gain,
  • allows you to maintain an active lifestyle,
  • promotes good blood circulation in your lower body (to reduce the risk of blood clots)
  • and helps you maintain a healthy heart!

Just be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before doing any type of physical activity.

If you were active prior to your pregnancy, please continue! As your pregnancy progresses, you will need to decrease the intensity.

More on that later.

If you were not active prior to pregnancy and would like to start working out, great!

After getting clearance from your doctor, start slow with low impact cardio, and see how your body responds.

This leads me to my next point.

How Much Cardio Should You Do During Pregnancy?

The amount of cardio you do depends on a few things:

  • Your activity level pre-pregnancy,
  • Your cardiovascular fitness level, and
  • How many weeks pregnant you are.

In general, 150 minutes, per week, of moderate intensity aerobic activity is recommended.

cardio-and-pregnancy

These 150 minutes should be spread over the week.

You can do five 30-minute sessions or seven, 20-minute sessions, etc.

With that said, you might not be able to do this much.

That’s okay! Something is always better than nothing.

Just start with whatever you can do.

The key is to avoid exhaustion and overheating.

How long can you do cardio while pregnant?

In general, you can do traditional cardio (aka running) until the late second trimester, which can be about 20-24 weeks.

Once you reach the third trimester, the impact on your joints and abdomen from running will be too high.

The good news is, you can do other forms of cardio besides running.

Let’s go over them now.

What cardio can I do while pregnant?

During pregnancy there are several cardio workouts you could do that are generally considered safe by ACOG.

However it is important to keep certain things in mind:

  • Always bring water with you. It is easy to get dehydrated in pregnancy.
  • Wear a well-fitted sports bra to decrease the discomfort of your breasts bouncing. This one from Amazon is great.
  • Pump or breastfeed right before to further decrease breast discomfort.
  • Avoid exhaustion. Do not reach an intensity where you are getting short of breath. You should be able to have a conversation while working out.
  • Avoid overheating. Try to do cardio in cooler environments, wear loose fitting clothing, and don’t allow your body temperature to get too high.

Okay, now let’s go over the workouts.

Walking While Pregnant

Walking is one of the best forms of cardio you can do during your pregnancy.

The intensity can easily be increased or decreased by changing your pace and/or by adding an incline.

The benefits of walking during pregnancy are plenty but the most important ones are:

walking-in-pregnancy

The good news is, this is easily accessible to everyone!

Running While Pregnant

Studies have confirmed that running during pregnancy has no negative impacts on your gestation or your baby.

If you were a runner prior to pregnancy, then you should be able to continue running.

You may notice in the second trimester that you will have to slow down and decrease the intensity of your training.

Many women will stop in the third trimester for obvious reasons.

A good rule of thumb is to drop down to about 60-70% of the intensity you would normally do pre-pregnancy.

Or, instead of focusing on the number of miles you are able to complete, focus on your perceived exertion. Try to achieve a fatigue level where you are still able to have a brief conversation if neede

Remember, something is always better than nothing.

Stationary cycling

prenatal-cycling-workout

Stationary cycling is one of my favorite cardio exercises to perform aside from outdoor cycling.

This is a very safe way to continue doing cardio throughout your entire pregnancy.

I highly recommend that you avoid outdoor cycling though.

Outdoor cycling carries too great a risk of falling, which can be very problematic in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.

So if you’ve been wanting a Pelaton – now is a good time to get one :).

Other Aerobic Exercises You Can Do While Pregnant

Dancing While Pregnant

Who doesn’t love to dance – (even if it’s indoors with no one else watching).

Dancing is another great way to get a cardio workout in if you do not like traditional means of working out.

So grab your speakers, put the volume up and get to it!

Heck grab your partner and do it together!

Just make sure to avoid any possibility of falling or hitting your belly.

Swimming While Pregnant

Swimming is another low risk cardio exercise that is very effective during pregnancy.

The very act of swimming is great for working out your arms, legs, and core muscles.

Resistance Training Circuits

Lastly, you can also use different forms of resistance training to get a cardio workout! This is another one of my personal favorite ways of doing cardio.

resistance-training-in-pregnancy

You get the benefit of strengthening your muscles while improving your cardiac efficiency.

Check out my 10 minute bodyweight prenatal exercise circuit you could perform during the 1st and 2nd trimester of pregnancy.

Below, I’ll go over a simple at-home cardio workout you can do safely in all trimesters.

How much cardio is too much while pregnant?

Your body will let you know if you are doing too much cardio during pregnancy. This number will be different for everyone, depending on how fit they are.

The same rules will always apply.

  • Avoid exhaustion
  • Avoid overheating
  • Avoid pain or discomfort in your bones and joints (especially since you have increased levels of the hormone relaxin).

Okay, now let’s go over a quick at-home pregnancy cardio workout you can do that does not involve running.

At-Home Pregnancy Cardio Workout

If you are looking for an at-home pregnancy cardio workout I have got your covered.

All 4 of these exercises could safely be performed during the 1st, 2nd, and/or 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

There is no equipment involved and you do not need any prior experience.

As I mentioned above, be sure to get clearance from your doctor before starting any sort of workout routine.

Ok, let’s move on to the workout.


The workout involves 4 different exercises:

  • The step-up,
  • The incline mountain climber,
  • Bodyweight squats, and
  • High knees.

Here’s what each exercise looks like.

Step-ups

step-up

Mountain climbers

incline-mountain-climber

Squats

postpartum-squat-challenge

High Knees

high-knees

To do this workout:

Complete as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes of:

  • Step-ups x 8 reps each leg
  • Mountain climbers x 10 reps each leg
  • Squats x 12 reps
  • High Knees x 12 reps each leg

When performing the step-ups, be sure to have something you can hold onto to help you keep your balance.

Other Cardio Workouts For 2nd and 3rd Trimesters

If you do not feel comfortable running, swimming, or performing resistance training circuits in the second and third trimesters, here are a couple of other short cardio workouts you can do.

Incline Walking Workout For Pregnant Women

This pregnancy cardio workout is best done on a treadmill, because it allows you to fine tune the intensity to your fitness level.

The earlier you are in the pregnancy, the more intense you can make the workout.

Also, if you need more support, feel free to hold onto the treadmill.

Here it is:

1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
1 minuteFlat Walking at Slower Pace
1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
50 secondsFlat Walking at Slower Pace
1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
40 secondsFlat Walking at Slower Pace
1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
30 secondsFlat Walking at Slower Place

Now you will work tour way back up

1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
40 secondsFlat Walking at Slower Pace
1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
50 secondsFlat Walking at Slower Pace
1 minuteIncline Walk at Moderate Pace
1 minuteFlat Walking at Slower Pace

If you can, repeat this for another round.

Remember to not exhaust yourself or overheat. Always have water handy and slow down the pace if need be!

If at any point you experience pain or discomfort, stop and speak with your healthcare provider.

Stationary Bike Workout For Pregnant Women

Alternatively, you can do a very similar workout with a stationary bike.

Here is the workout:

1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
1 minuteDecrease the Resistance at Slower Pace
1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
50 secondsLow Resistance at Slower Pace
1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
40 secondsLow Resistance at Slower Pace
1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
30 secondsLow Resistance at Slower Pace

Now you will work your way back up.

1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
40 secondsLow Resistance at Slower Pace
1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
50 secondsLow Resistance at Slower Pace
1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace
1 minuteLow Resistance at Slower Pace
1 minuteModerate Resistance at Moderate Pace

Other Related Questions

What other exercises are safe during pregnancy?

There are several types of exercise activities that are safe in pregnancy aside from cardio.

These include:

Can I get my heart rate up above 140 bpm in pregnancy?

There is no scientific consensus on how high you should let your heart rate go in pregnancy, however, there is evidence to show that elevations in heart rate in “high risk” women can lead to decreases in fetal heart rate, and thus oxygenation.

With that said, other studies have seen no negative effects on the fetus in healthy pregnant women at ~30 weeks gestation who achieved heart rates over 160 bpm for 12-20 minutes.

So the answer is, it depends.

Always, speak to your provider for personalized recommendations for you and your pregnancy.

A good rule of thumb is:

Instead of focusing on how high your heart rate can go, your should focus on your perceived rate of exertion.

During pregnancy, your perceived rate of exertion on a scale from 0-10 should be around a 6.

You should never exert yourself to the point that you are out of breath, with your heart racing, feeling like you are going to faint.

While engaging in a prenatal cardio workout, you should be able to carry on a conversation.

If you are unable to do this, you are working out too hard and I recommend you slow down.

heart-rate-in-pregnancy

Is walking too much during pregnancy bad?

Walking too much during pregnancy is not bad.

In fact, as soon as you find out you are pregnant, you should start walking.

The best part is that you can easily scale up or scale down the amount of walking you do on a daily basis.

Walking during pregnancy will help:

  • decrease your risk of developing a DVT, or blood clot in your lower extremity
  • improve your blood sugar
  • burn calories
  • improve your circulation, and
  • improve your mood

To learn more about walking in pregnancy, check out the post here.

Workouts To Avoid While Pregnant

During pregnancy, it is best to avoid any exercise that requires you to be flat on your back or flat on your stomach.

As your uterus grows it can compress major vessels returning blood to your heart. Lying flat on your back could compress these vessel impairing the delivery of blood and oxygen to your vital organs, as well as your baby!

Another workout to avoid while pregnancy is hot yoga. This type of practice causes you to sweat, a lot, and can lead to serious dehydration which could potentially affect your baby.

Lastly, it is also best to avoid any high impact exercises, especially burpess, handstands, headstands, and box jumps as the risk of falling on your belly and injuring yourself is just too high.

Final Words on Cardio During Pregnancy

So if you want to continue running or start running during preganncy, chances are, you are probably okay to do so.

Speak with your doctor first and always listen to your body.

Now I want to hear from you.

What kind of cardio are you excited to try in pregnancy?

Comment below and let me know!

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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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