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Exercise During Pregnancy: Myth vs. Fact

Experts say what's safe and what's not safe when it comes to staying fit during pregnancy.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

In the not-so-distant past, women were urged to cut down on or even avoid exercise during pregnancy. Today, we know differently. Not only is it OK to participate in fitness activities during pregnancy, but doing so can have a positive impact on both baby and mom.

"You need to be physically active during pregnancy. It has terrific benefits that are associated with a better pregnancy outcome and even shorter labors. It's a win-win for baby and for mom," says high-risk pregnancy expert Laura Riley, MD, spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and author of Pregnancy: You and Your Baby.

Yet it seems that myths surrounding fitness and pregnancy just won't go away. Indeed, experts say that truisms about what's safe and what's not abound, leaving many women confused and ill-advised.

"There are so many rumors out there, some started or perpetuated by popular pregnancy books, others the result of old wives' tales or outdated advice, so that many women really are confused about what they can and can't do," says Riley.

The Truth About Exercise in Pregnancy

Ready to test your smarts? The following questions, vetted by several top fitness and medical experts, will set the record straight on what's really OK when it comes to exercise during pregnancy.

Of course, consult with your doctor before you start any exercise program. Some women will not be able to exercise during pregnancy because of specific conditions or complications.

Myth or Fact: Never get your heart rate over 130 while exercising during pregnancy.

Myth. There is no one "target" heart rate that's right for every pregnant woman. "People are still stuck on this heart rate issue, and it was never based on anything concrete," says Riley, noting that ACOG abandoned the "target heart rate" concept a long time ago. What they and most experts now rely on as a guide is RPE, or rate of perceived exertion.

"This is a scale that determines how hard you are working based on how you feel when you are working," says Farel Hruska, certified fitness trainer and the national fitness director for Stroller Strides and their Fit To Deliver pregnancy workout program.

Myth or Fact: It's not safe to do abdominal work during pregnancy.

Myth. Not only is it OK, experts say abdominal workouts can provide many benefits.

"Your abdominals and your entire core, including your pelvic floor, should be strengthened throughout pregnancy, and doing so will help not only during pregnancy, but also aid in labor and delivery -- and recovery," says Sue Fleming, a certified fitness instructor. Fleming is also founder of Buff and creator of the video Buff Moms-To-Be.

Moreover, Fleming says, it's going to help with posture problems which will also benefit you after baby is born.

Because you should avoid any exercises that you have to do on your back after the first trimester, Fleming suggests gentle standing pelvic tilts, seated belly breathing, or tightening abs, holding, then releasing, as good ways to keep ab muscles in top condition.

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