Just found out that you’re with child? Here are some exercises you can do while pregnant:

  • Yoga
  • Weight-training
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Table tennis
Table tennis?

If you loved playing it before you were pregnant, there’s no reason not to partake in a hardcore ping pong match with the tenacity of Forest Gump—if that’s the intensity you played with before you became pregnant.

You can partake safely in any exercise on the above list while pregnant. Practically any exercise in general may result in the benefits of both an easier delivery and quicker recovery.

It’s probably a good idea to refrain from judo, lacrosse, extreme mountain biking and other contact sports and adrenaline-stimulating activities.

Myths about Exercising While Pregnant

Barely a generation ago, the school of thought was that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise at all.

Thankfully, women are no longer expected to be fitness celibates and the medical establishment recognizes the benefits of continuing or beginning an exercise program.

Within the last decade, some medical experts began to question the following common recommendations that still exist in some circles today: 

  • Heart rate level should not exceed over 140 beats per minute.
  • After the first trimester, exercises should not be performed supine (lying on back).
  • Running is not safe due to the high impact to the fetus.
  • Avoid abdominal exercises after the first trimester.
  • Don’t exercise for more than 20 minutes to avoid depleting nutrients that would otherwise go to baby.
New School of Thought

Are these guidelines too conservative? Are these merely myths comparable to your mom telling you that if you don’t wear a jacket, you’ll catch a cold or if you shave, your hair will just grow back thicker?

According to Dr. James Clapp, author of what is considered by many to be the bible of gestational fitness, “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy,” the above guidelines are indeed too cautious.

The old-school suggestions, devised by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have largely been discredited by Dr. Clapp and also by many women who safely exercised outside the antiquated parameters and delivered happy and healthy babies who grew to be perfectly normal children.

Get Clearance From Your Doctor, Clapp Says Higher Heart Rate Ok

The first thing any woman should do who just learned that she’s pregnant and wants to either begin or continue exercising is see their doctor and get clearance to do so.

As for your heart not exceeding 140 beats per minute, here’s what Dr. Clapp writes in “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy”:

“A heart rate of 180 or more – a racing heart – during high-impact aerobics in early pregnancy is normal for most women but would be unusual in a fit woman late in pregnancy; likewise an exercise heart rate of 130 to 140 during late pregnancy in a fit woman who trains 5 to 7 hours a week is not uncommon when she is working in excess of 70 percent of her maximum capacity.”

Women who exercise while pregnant will find that during the second trimester, the heart rate returns more closely to normal resting rate, according to Dr. Clapp.

Finally, during the third trimester, Clapp argues that it may be increasingly difficult to get the heart rate up high enough, so you won’t even have to worry about going much beyond the 140 threshold.

A good case for exercising while pregnant, Clapp states in his book is that “[r]egular exercise during pregnancy has positive effects on the growth and function of the placenta that help to protect the fetus from oxygen deprivation….”

Dispelling the Don’t Exercise on Your Back Myth

The old ACOG guidelines recommended women not to exercise on their backs because of pressure to the placenta.

Clapp suggests in his book that there will be no detrimental effects to you or to the fetus if you perform supine exercises. If you choose to do a few minutes of abs, Clapp thinks you’ll be fine.

The safe thing to do is exercise in side-lying position, which is widely considered the best for resting and for optimal blood flow during pregnancy. The one thing pregnant women should not do is stand for long periods of time to avoid blood pooling in the lower extremity, so take a rest off your feet between standing exercises.

Last But Not Least: Take it Easy at First

No matter your fitness level, it’s probably best to let your body get used to the physiological changes for about 2-3 months and exercise at a low intensity. Once you begin adjusting at least somewhat, crank up the intensity a wee bit.

Judd Handler is a freelance health writer and lifestyle coach. He can be reached at coachjudd@gmail.com.