How To Workout During Pregnancy For An Optimal Birth

When it comes to prenatal fitness, can you overdo it? Margot McKinnon gives moms-to-be some tips for working out during pregnancy and ensuring a healthy labour.

Moms-to-be are getting stronger and stronger as prenatal exercise trends like running and yoga continue to grow in popularity. While working out during pregnancy has many great benefits, is there a point at which fitness can become an impediment to a healthy labor? Could your workout actually be working against an optimal delivery?

Staying committed to your workout during pregnancy, or even trying new forms of exercise is great, but the key is to adjust how you are exercising so you are working with your changing body. You also need to monitor intensity levels and keep them generally consistent with what you did pre-pregnancy. Be aware that your ligaments are naturally getting looser and because of that some, (but not all) women can be prone to discomfort and sometimes injury. So no matter what your exercise of choice, don’t overdo it!

One often overlooked and critical thing to be aware of is how to condition your pelvic floor effectively. The pelvic floor needs to be strong and elastic to act as a supportive hammock at the base of your pelvis. It also needs to be able to relax, elongate and open to assist with the birth process and allow your baby to be born. In the fitness and exercise world today, expecting moms who are really fit often have overly tight and contracted pelvic floors. This can make it difficult for the baby to exit the birth canal, which in some cases may contribute to a c-section birth.

Prenatal exercise works best when it is focused on supporting you through all the postural changes of pregnancy, giving birth, and beyond. Here are five key exercises that will help you train your pelvic floor to tighten and to relax; strengthen your transverse abdominis; reduce swelling in your legs and feet; and condition your arms and shoulders so when the time comes, you can carry your little bundle with pain free joy! 

1) Kegels with Release (Pelvic Floor)

Think of pulling your pelvic floor upwards like an elevator. Then lower your pelvic floor elevator, slowly and with control. Imagine stopping at each floor on the way up and on the way down. Another more graphic way to envision and sense the actions of your pelvic floor is to think of the labia like petals of flower: the petals close as the pelvic floor engages and then open and spread, allowing the pelvic floor to relax (remember, this phase of the movement is never about pushing, which can weaken your pelvic floor!) These are subtle exercises that take focus and concentration, but are paramount to preparing your body for smooth labour.

Suggested repetitions: 3 sets, 15 reps each, 5-10 min

2) Breath + waist-cinching  (Transverse abdominis)

Take a full breath in and as you exhale, imagine your lower abdomen and ribs gently cinching together as though you were tightening a belt. Release and relax on the inhale and repeat.

Suggested repetitions: 3 sets, 10 reps each, 5-10 min

3) Deep squat (pelvis and hip)

This version of squatting helps release your lower back, strengthen your internal oblique abdominals, position your colon for optimal evacuation (great if you are constipated!) and conditions your legs and hips. Make sure you have something secure to hold onto like a bannister or a heavy piece of furniture that will stay in place as you pull against it.

Start standing with your legs and feet a comfortable distance apart in slight turn out. The width of your stance is likely to increase as your baby bump grows so remember to pay attention to what feels right. Reach forward to hold the bannister/couch etc and make sure your arms are extended before you start to squat. Slowly descend into a deep squat so it feels like you are hanging from your hands and releasing back down with your spine and pelvis. Then, slowly push back up to standing using your legs and buttocks.

Suggested repetitions: Do 1 deep squat, 3-5 times a day and hold the position for 20-30 seconds

4) Calf pumps (lower legs and feet)

To help with any calf swelling and cramping you may experience, pump your heels up and down in a standing position. This both stretches and conditions the calf while increasing venous return and movement of the lymph.

Stand with your hands holding a wall, chair or counter. Place your feet and knees hip distance apart. Lift and lower your heels slowly or quickly.

Suggested repetitions: 3 sets, 10 reps, 5-10 min

5) Arm glides up and down the wall (neck and shoulders)

“Sit” against a wall so you are positioned in a slight squat. Place your arms back on the wall in a “W” position with palms turned to face each other. Slide your arms upward into a “V” shape and the reverse, back down to the “W”. This exercise helps open your chest and support and strengthen your upper back and shoulders. Bonus: You will feel your legs working as you move your arms.

Suggested repetitions: 3 sets, 5-10 reps, 5-10 min

Watch the full video below.


Margot McKinnon (B.Ed., M.Ed.) is a Pilates and Movement Specialist dedicated to helping train teachers and the general public to move with ease and integrity. The Body Harmonics approach is science-driven and based on meeting people’s true needs. Over the last two decades Margot has become a leader in her field, developing an international Teacher Training program, 3 Specialist programs for Movement Educators  and 45 Continuing Education Workshops. She also presents at International Conferences annually and teaches across Canada, in Europe and Brazil. She has been featured in Canadian Living Magazine and is the founder and president of Body Harmonics Studios/Clinics in downtown Toronto. Margot is passionate about helping people move well, teach well and be well, cultivating confident and competent teachers that have subsequently helped thousands of people transform their lives and careers through Body Harmonics’ unique whole-person approach to movement, health and well-being. 

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