5 Pre Pregnancy Workouts: How to Prepare Your Body when TTC
It’s no secret that pregnancy takes a toll on your body, but did you know that growing a baby is akin to running an endurance race like a marathon or IronMan? Physical exertion and major changes over 9 months means your body is working harder than ever and pre-pregnancy workouts can help it perform at its best.
From your heart needing to pump more blood to your growing belly, you will experience major physical changes as your body adjusts to the task at hand. Exercising when your TTC is a great way to set the stage for conception and prepare your body for it’s very own marathon.
In this post, we’ll explore 5 of our favorite pre-pregnancy workouts, the benefits of each, and where to start if you’re just getting into the exercise game.
5 pre pregnancy workouts
Setting the foundation for good health through exercise is one of the best ways you can prepare your body for pregnancy. However, not all exercises are the same and you’ll want to focus on specific movement patterns that will prepare your body for conception, pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.
Workouts that help you feel supported, energized, and strong should be your priority as you start prepping your body for pregnancy and setting your baby up for a healthy start.
Named after the gynecologist who pioneered research into the pelvic floor, women have long been told to do kegels to strengthen their pelvic muscles. And while most women are familiar with the advice to squeeze and release, there are actually several variations of the exercise that serve to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor and vagina when done properly.
To perform a basic kegel:
- Identify the right muscles by stopping urination midstream
- Once you know which muscles to contract, make sure your bladder is empty and sit or lie down to perform the exercise
- Contract and hold these muscles for 3-5 seconds, then release for the same amount of time. Repeat 10 times at least 3 times a day.
Variations of this exercise exist but are best learned through a pelvic floor therapist or other specialty resource.
Squats are one of the best exercises for developing lower body strength, good alignment, and core stability. In addition to cultivating hip strength and mobility, they can be done without weights and are one of the best pre-pregnancy exercises when learned correctly. Done with proper form, squats can save you from future knee, hip, and back pain that are all common in pregnancy and postpartum recovery.
These movements help build strength in your entire lower body and can be an effective position for both labour and delivery. While in a squat position, the pelvic floor is able to open and relax, helping to move baby down and in the right direction.
Squats are a great pre pregnancy exercise that can be done at home throughout your entire pregnancy and several variations exist that can be done with or without weights.
To complete a squat:
- Stand with both feet apart at hip width (or a bit wider to make it easier)
- Inhale and hinge your hips as if you were going to sit down in a chair
- Bend at the knees as you lower into the imaginary chair and exhale
- To stand back up, push through your feet while focusing on lifting your pelvic floor. If you need help, you can put your arms or hold onto a table or chair. Try and do 3 sets of 5 and increase the number of reps over time.
Developing lower body strength and proper alignment before getting pregnant will ensure a strong and healthy pregnancy and serve you well in your postpartum recovery.
Hinging exercises start by engaging from the hips, rather than the knees, and can help with both body awareness and balance. Similar to squats, hinging helps boost your hip flexibility and mobility without weights and are relatively easy to learn.
The key to performing hip hinging exercises correctly is to focus on form. To practice this foundational movement:
- Stand against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart
- Begin by pressing down through your heels and pushing your hips back into the wall while hinging forward. Your spine should stay straight – don’t round or arch your back
- Lower your upper torso until it’s parallel to the floor and then push back through the heels as you reverse the movement
- Use a dowel or broom stick as a guide to keep your back straight. You can do this by using your right hand to hold the stick at your neck, while your left holds it in the small of your back. It should stay in contact with your spine for the duration of the hinge. Try and do 3 sets of 5 and increase the number of reps over time.
The great thing about hinges is that in addition to helping with your hips, they are excellent for learning how to move your pelvis and take the strain off your back. Like squats, hinge exercises help reduce pregnancy related pain and prepare your body for birth.
Push-ups are an effective functional exercise that help build your upper body muscles as well as strengthen your core. You’ll need to strengthen your chest, core, shoulders, and triceps to help you prepare for after birth and picking up baby.
Performing a simple push-up is easy to learn and the exercise can be modified during pregnancy to account for your growing body. They can also be learned with progressions so if you’re not able to do a full push-up yet, don’t despair.
Remember that when performing a push up, your body moves as a whole unit.
- Begin by placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart on the floor or an elevated platform. You can even start by using a wall to get the movement right.
- Form a straight line from your shoulders through your hips and knees with your head in a natural position.
- Inhale and lower your body as one natural unit, then exhale as you push up to return to the starting position.
- Make sure to lock your arms out at the top and try and keep your body rigid (don’t arch or bend your back, dip your butt, etc). Try and do 3 sets of 3 and increase the number of reps over time.
Some great modifications include:
- Stand facing the wall and perform a vertical push up – try and push yourself back with enough force where your hands come off the wall a bit.
- Do a traditional push up but start from your knees – this method puts less stress on your body and reduces the amount of weight you have to lift.
- Do a traditional or knee-based pushup to something elevated like a bed or trunk – this will reduce the strain and weight placed on your body as you get comfortable with the movement.
Because pregnancy affects your mid section more than any other area of your body, it’s no surprise that many of the recommended pre pregnancy exercises focus on strengthening your core. Planks are no expectation and learning how to do them correctly sets you up for the core strength needed to not only deliver your baby, but bounce back after birth.
To execute a plank:
- Begin by getting on all fours with your hands in line with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips.
- Your elbows should be slightly bent to activate the muscles as you walk your knees back so your body is parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your butt, abs, and shoulder blades as you raise your knees off the floor into position, and hold.
- Your back should be flat and your core engaged for proper form. Start with 3 holds of 15 second and add time as you get comfortable.
This exercise not only works your core, but your shoulders and upper body too, making it a great addition to the other pre pregnancy workouts.
What else can you do to prepare your body for having a baby?
Getting your body in “baby shape” is about more than just what exercises to perform. Developing healthy habits and routines now means it’s easier to keep the momentum going once you are pregnant, not to mention modeling good habits once the baby arrives.
In addition to the pre pregnancy exercises, experts also recommend restorative and aerobic activities. Restorative exercises like walking, yoga, pilates, and swimming help combat stress and allow your body to heal from more strenuous exercises. And since your heart is going to have to work that much harder during pregnancy, preparing it now through aerobic activity helps reduce the stress placed on it from the increased blood volume. Aiming for at least 30 minutes, 3 or more times a week should do the trick.
More walking, running, and cycling
Walking is not only safe right up until delivery, but it’s recommended as well. And while you may not be winning many races while pregnant, experienced runners can safely exercise throughout pregnancy if their body allows it. Indoor cycling is also a safe, low-impact alternative for activity both leading up to pregnancy and throughout.
Yoga and pilates
Yoga and pilates both help mothers-to-be with relaxation, strength, and flexibility. Even better is that both disciplines help keep your core muscles strong while supporting your posture and poses can easily be modified to accommodate the changing needs of your body during pregnancy.
In addition to relieving stress, yoga has even been shown to boost fertility. While it can’t improve the quality of your eggs, it can be an important part of a fertility-promoting lifestyle. Helping you manage stress and maintain a healthy body weight, yoga can also help with specific body functions, like opening the hips and pelvis, to support your body as it prepares for pregnancy.
Swimming is considered one of the safest forms of exercise during pregnancy, but this low impact cardiovascular activity has benefits before conception too. Without placing a high amount of stress on the body, swimming builds both strength and endurance while supporting your weight so you avoid injury and strain.
Water is soothing for your bodies aches and pains, and once pregnant it’s safe to carry on right up until delivery. Bonus points for making you feel weightless at a time in your life when weight gain is sure to come.
Why is it important to train your body before pregnancy?
You wouldn’t show up to run a marathon without training and pre-pregnancy exercises help with everything from fertility to preparing your body.
In fact, the WHO has a list of preconception priorities that includes physical activity to benefit physical, mental, and psychosocial health. Exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits, and for those TTC, regular exercise can get your body in baby making shape while also reducing stress (a well known conception blocker).
How much do you need to exercise when trying to conceive?
Experts recommend moderate exercise (up to 30 minutes per day) most days of the week if you are TTC. Once pregnant, your heart will need to pump up to 50% more volume than normal, so getting your heart in shape before you conceive is a good idea. Preparing for that change now can help your body deal with the rigors of pregnancy and a mix of strength training and aerobic exercise will help prepare your body for pregnancy and motherhood!
If you’re active and exercise regularly then it’s a good time to check in with your doctor. An overly strenuous routine may be great for your fitness goals, but isn’t recommended for those trying to conceive and can even delay conception. Your doctor can assess your personal needs to make sure you’re getting the proper nutrition and not putting too much stress on your body.
Can you overdo it?
Most women don’t come anywhere near what would be considered “overdoing it” but strenuous training can deplete your body of baby making nutrients and the recovery it needs. More than that, there is a relationship between exercise and ovulation.
Although experts aren’t clear on what the limit should be, heavy exercise can delay or disrupt ovulation, effectively throwing a wrench into your TTC plans. Any pre pregnancy workout program should take this into account and be designed accordingly. Checking in with your doctor and having them review your routine is a good place to start if you’re worried you might be overdoing it with exercise.
Where to start with your pre-pregnancy workout program
Starting a workout routine and being active is a step in the right direction if you are TTC. But if you’re new to exercise, or don’t know where to begin, it’s always best to consult with your doctor first. Once you have their input, you’ll have more guidance on what’s right for you personally.
Experts recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75-150 minutes of vigorous (think high intensity) aerobic physical activity weekly, not just to realize the benefits of exercise but also to solidify the habit.
Go slowly at first, adding more as your body adapts. Try and find exercises you enjoy as dreading your workout is a surefire way to fail. Don’t be afraid to incorporate non-traditional workouts into your routine when building the habit – anything that gets your heart pumping and your body working, like gardening or housework, counts.
Pregnancy might just be the ultimate endurance event for your body. Adopting a regular exercise habit before you conceive can help set your body up for success, and prepare you for the marathon ahead.
✔️ Medically Reviewed by Katerina Shkodzik, M.D., OB-GYN
Dr. Katerina Shkodzik is a certified OB-GYN with a special focus on reproductive endocrinology and infertility issues. She has been practising since 2015.
Dr. Shkodzik completed her residency program in the Department of OB/GYN at the Belarusian State Medical University and fellowship program in the Department of Gynecological Surgery at the Medical University of Bialystok, Poland.
Dr. Shkodzik is extensively involved in digital health projects providing her medical expertise and integrating of cutting edge technologies in medical science and clinical practice since 2018.
Dr. Shkodzik has participated in several studies focused on PCOS, endometriosis, menstrual cycle characteristics and their abnormalities based on big data of digital health in collaboration with leading universities.
She believes that paying special attention to women's health is a crucial step to improving the world we live in.