Exercise for two

Want to keep up your gym routine but unsure how to accommodate that bump? Or are you keen to get back on the treadmill after a baby? Dr Jackie Mills explains how to modify your gym routine.  

Gone are the days when it was frowned upon for women to show up at the gym once they had discovered they were pregnant. While it's not the time to suddenly initiate an exercise regime if you have never worked out before, we know now that once you get a healthy assessment from your GP, fun, moderate exercise over the term of a normal pregnancy does not cause unwanted stress to either you or the baby.

Exercise can do wonders during pregnancy. It balances your mood, improves sleep and reduces pregnancy-related discomfort. It also prepares you for childbirth and makes it easier to get back into shape after your baby is born. Indeed, having a baby is a great time to focus on your fitness and many new mothers find joining a gym is a great way to socialise with other mums. Many gyms offer childcare facilities so your little ones can be looked after while you work out.

 Group fitness classes are immensely popular with mums because of the vibrant music, motivating instructors and being able to have a buddy to work out with. In fact as trained group fitness professionals, it is part of our role to provide classes suitable for expectant and new mothers. While qualified group fitness instructors are not doctors, good ones are trained to be able to suggest practical advice and offer safe alternatives to movements which may not be recommended for pregnant women. There are plenty of movements that can be performed with careful moderation and helpful guidance from a trained group fitness instructor. We show you some of them on the following pages. 

Is there anything I shouldn't do?
While it is all fair and good to say that exercise helps prepare for the arrival of your new baby, there are of course certain movements that should be avoided altogether. Care is needed during active ball and racket sports such as tennis or squash, and team sports such as netball or hockey because running, falling or bumping into other players is generally more risky. When lifting weights, it is generally fine to use light weights in the first two trimesters of your pregnancy but ensure that you pay specific attention to your own personal level of intensity and exhaustion. Increased body weight, fluid retention and belly size may restrict some exercises, so take it easy, watch your posture and avoid overheating and dehydration.

What group fitness options are on offer?
Different gyms will offer different group fitness classes, but there are some that are better suited to pregnant and post-natal women. Popular Les Mills classes such as Bodypump and Bodystep cater for all fitness levels during pregnancy because you can raise or lower the intensity of your workout with guidance from your instructor. I developed Les Mills' Bodybalance as a combination of yoga, tai chi and pilates which is perfect for learning controlled breathing and building fexibility and strength. Your instructor will help you choose poses and positions that are suitable for your stage of pregnancy and ability. Dancing in classes like Sh'bam is a fantastic way to shake your body and have fun while exercising. Again, your instructor should show you how to modify moves so you can steer clear of any leaps or jumps while attending classes. There are also options such as Bodyvive - an all-round low-impact workout which is ideal for pre and postnatal mothers who want the benefits of improved cardio fitness, strength and flexibility.

Exercise is fantastic for helping you feel energised, coping with stress and potentially reducing the risk of pregnancy-related diabetes. It will also strengthen your body in preparation for the frequent lifting and bending associated with having a child. Chat to your group fitness instructor and let her know you are pregnant so that you can work together on movement alterations as you approach each trimester.

Above all, remember that this information should not replace a thorough assessment from a qualified professional. Please consult your doctor before starting any physical activity and keep her informed of your progress. Watch for pain, dizziness and shortness of breath. Avoid becoming exhausted and listen to your body. You are the best judge of your own limits and if you feel you need to slow down, stop and take a rest.

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As your bump grows you'll need to take extra care to protect your lower back. Forget about putting the weights bar across your shoulders. Instead, either hold a weight across your chest as pictured, or use the bar as a pole in front of you for stability. 

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This is a great exercise for building upper and lower back strength which is especially important for lifting a baby. It will also help you keep your shoulders back to correct changes in posture as your pregnancy progresses.

Remove risers at one end so your bench is on an incline. This will make lying on your back more comfortable. 

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Use your bar for balance, keeping it in line with your back. If you get any aggravation or pelvic pain opt for squats instead.

Do kickbacks with one hand on the bench rather than on the ground.  

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When everyone else is doing their abdominal workout you can opt for the four-point alternative on your hands and knees. Do some pelvic tilts by curling your lower back upwards slightly, then add variety by pointing alternate arms and legs in front and then to a 45° angle.

During balance exercises such as the tree pose and eagle pose, your option is to keep your toes on the ground for better stability.


Dr Jackie Mills is a qualified obstetrician and general medical practitioner, with further qualifications in physical education from Otago University. Jackie has used her expertise in the development of many of the Les Mills programmes and is the creative director of BODYBALANCE™. For a full range of Les Mills' programmes and to find your nearest class visit 

Photographer: Fiona Tomlinson



  • Artal, R. and O'Toole, M. (2003), "Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period."



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