Pregnancy Exercises that Tighten and Tone

Group of pregnant women during fitness class.

Pregnancy Exercises that Tighten and Tone

It’s easy to think fitness is a lost cause during pregnancy, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right pregnancy exercises, you can have a healthier pregnancy, an easier delivery, and can prevent too much weight gain. One of the most common questions I am asked is, “How do I stay toned during pregnancy?”

My answer: lift weights!

You don’t need to be a bodybuilder (you’re doing that already 😉 ), but by incorporating the right strength training exercises, you can keep yourself feeling fit and looking toned all pregnancy long.

Pregnancy Exercises: Why Moms Should Lift Weights

There’s a myth that pregnancy exercises – specifically lifting weights – is dangerous for you and your baby, and that pregnant moms should avoid these types of activities. 

But the truth is that the real risk is being inactive.

Countless studies show that the outcomes for moms and babies are better with prenatal exercise. Research shows that moms who stay fit during pregnancy have shorter labors, less chance of preterm labor, fewer complications, and shorter hospital stays.

Studies even show that fit moms typically have healthier babies. 

Check out two interesting studies:

  • Exercise during pregnancy might program a baby’s heart to resist cardiovascular problems later in life, because they have stronger blood vessels. (Read this study.)
  • The brains of babies born to women who exercised moderately throughout pregnancy appear to mature faster. (Another study.)

You can’t deny the research – pregnancy exercises benefit both mom and baby!

And when it comes to pregnancy exercises, weight training is more important than aerobic training. Because unlike aerobic training, weight training provides cardiovascular health benefits and ALSO provides strength and muscular development benefits. (And keeps you toned!)

Now you have a strong case for WHY you should exercise (and why that exercise should include lifting weights) during your pregnancy.  Let’s talk about HOW to lift weights safely while pregnant.

How to Lift Weights during Pregnancy

First, check with your doctor or midwife. Then, make sure you’re keeping these important safety tips in mind:

6 Safety Tips for Pregnancy Exercises:

  1. For safety, choose exercise positions that encourage your spine to support itself in the neutral position during exercise.
  2. At the start of each exercise, contract your abdominal muscles by squeezing your belly button to your spine.
  3. Maintain the compression of the abdominal wall throughout your repetitions.
  4. Maintain neutral spine: don’t flatten your lower back or arch your spine. Don’t allow the spine to wobble or twist during any exercises.
  5. If needed, don’t be afraid to lower your resistance or weight-lifting levels as pregnancy progresses. Never sacrifice good form just to lift heavier weights.
  6. Take plenty of rests as needed throughout your workout and remember to stay hydrated!

Okay, so you’re approved for exercise and are given the green light by your provider. I recommend focusing on hybrid weight training exercises during pregnancy. 

Hybrid Exercises are the Best Pregnancy Exercises

Hybrid weight training exercises are exercises that involve more than one muscle group. They also use compound movements (squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, presses, etc.) and are awesome for pregnancy. These exercises give your more strengthening “bang” for your “buck.” That means they allow pregnant moms to get the most benefits in the least amount of time. Because, let’s face it, sometimes even just a 10 minute workout can seem too long.

With hybrid exercises, pregnant moms can workout at home. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym. 

READ MORE
How to Feel at Home at Your Hospital Birth

Hybrid exercises go one step above isolation weight training exercises such as curls, calf raises, extensions, etc. to keep you strong and toned. While isolation exercises are helpful, you get greater benefits for both you and your baby when you use combinations of isolated exercises to form hybrids for a total body workout.

Hybrid weight training exercises require neutral spine stabilization. So you’ll simultaneously work on strengthening your core AND strengthening and toning the body parts that you’re working. This is far superior to other exercises that only do one thing. Like those that either isolate one muscle group (think: isolated bicep curls) or rely on external support (think: weight machines at the gym) to stabilize the spine.

Most traditional resistance machines have back rests or other features that support your spine and torso while your legs or arms perform repetitions. Over time, these types of exercises can do more harm than good. Because the spine is passive in these exercises, it does not need to do any work to support itself. Strength and power is developed in the limbs without the necessary corresponding functional strength and control in the torso. What results is a weak, non-integrated core with strong powerful limbs. This sets the stage for injury, and is especially problematic during pregnancy.

Favorite Pregnancy Exercises that Tighten and Tone

Click on each exercise name to watch me demonstrate the move! 

1) Back Exercise Hybrid: Squat/Row

Pregnancy Benefit: As your breasts get bigger during pregnancy, your shoulders round forward. Strengthening the muscles between your shoulder blades helps counteract the slump.

 Adding a squat to this movement helps you keep your lower body toned and strong throughout pregnancy.

2) Chest Exercise Hybrid: Incline Push Up/Tricep Dip

Pregnancy Benefit: It’s important to create muscle balance in your upper body by working your chest during pregnancy. Adding a tricep dip to this exercise also helps tone and strengthen your tricep (the back of your arm).

3) Arms Exercise Hybrid: Squat/Curl


Pregnancy Benefit: Strong arms! Soon you’ll be carrying around a baby, a diaper bag, and all the groceries. So in addition to keeping your arms toned, you’ll be glad you kept them strong with this exercise! 

4) Lower Body Exercise Hybrid: Lunge/Side Raise


Pregnancy Benefit: Your quadriceps and hamstrings bear the weight of your pregnancy as your belly grows, so strengthening your lower body with lunges is a great way to stay fit (and toned) during pregnancy. Adding a side raise to this exercise ensures your shoulders will stay strong throughout pregnancy as well.

5) Core
 Exercise: Plank
 Hold

Pregnancy Benefit: Keeping your abs strong will help prevent pregnancy-induced back pain.

Pregnancy Plank How to: Lower onto all fours so your wrists are directly under your shoulders. Lift your knees off the floor (don’t arch your back) so your body forms a straight line. Hold for 1 to 2 breaths, working up to 5 breaths.

Happy exercising, mamas!

READ MORE
The Dos and Don'ts of Exercise During Pregnancy
About the Author /

Kate has a Bachelor’s degree in Health and Exercise Science and is our Baby Chick Fitness expert. As a fitness professional with countless years of experience helping women transform their bodies, Kate gives moms the tools needed to reach their health goals.

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Here are some tips to combat isolation:⁠
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1️⃣ Get outside when possible.⁠
2️⃣ Video chat with friends/family.⁠
3️⃣ Join a virtual group.⁠
4️⃣ Invite someone to come over.⁠
5️⃣ Find a local mom's group.⁠
6️⃣ Listen to the radio or a podcast (it's interesting how this can make us feel connected with others)⁠
7️⃣ Run an errand--even grabbing a coffee via drive-thru can feel good.⁠
8️⃣ Get to know your neighbors.⁠
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