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Five Great Resistance Exercises During Pregnancy

One of my specialties (and passions) is prenatal nutrition and I’ve worked extensively with women who have gestational diabetes, where even in conventional medicine, nutrition is the primary treatment.

(Boy, our healthcare world would be a different place if doctors suggested real food first for more conditions, wouldn’t it?)

Now in addition to eating really good food, getting the right amount and kind of exercise is key to a healthy pregnancy.

Today Jennifer Johnson, a prenatal fitness expert, is sharing five great resistance exercises during pregnancy.  She and I both agree that most expecting moms don’t get enough resistance exercise and part of the challenge is finding specific movements that are safe for mom and baby.

The last thing you want to do is engage in an activity that can put your pregnancy at risk, so she’s breaking down some of her faves that kept her fit throughout her pregnancy.

(Can you believe she was pregnant only 5 months ago?! In the video below, you can tell she truly practices what she preaches!)

Pregnant or not, these are great moves to tone up that don’t require complicated choreography or silly equipment.

Five Great Resistance Exercises During Pregnancy

by Jennifer Johnson

Exercising regularly during pregnancy is beneficial for both mom and baby. The sad reality is that 3 out of 4 pregnant women don’t exercise enough.

Most pregnant women fall into one of these categories:

  1. No exercise at all
  2. Prenatal yoga only
  3. Sporadic exercise mostly during the second trimester

The recommendation is for pregnant women to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week.

Research tells us that weight-bearing aerobic and resistance exercise have the most impact on critical health factors for mom and baby. By not engaging in weight-bearing aerobic and resistance exercise, you’re missing out on some of the most important health benefits that exercise provides, such as: reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, reduced risk of preterm delivery, reduced need for medical intervention during labor and delivery, baby with improved neurological development and reduced risk of baby developing weight problems throughout his or her life.

Not sure where to start?

The weight-bearing aerobic exercise part is pretty simple – walk.  While there are many other types of weight-bearing aerobic exercise, walking is one of the best.

Since resistance exercise seems to be more confusing for many pregnant women, I’m sharing five great exercises to incorporate into your prenatal exercise routine.

Watch the video below for demonstrations of each exercise…

YouTube video

1. Plie Squat

The plie squat is the squat variation that is typically most comfortable for pregnant women. Depending on your strength/fitness level, you can do this exercise using only your body weight or you can hold onto an external weight such as a pair of dumbbells. If you need additional support, you can hold onto a sturdy couch or door handle. 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.

2. IYT Raise

IYT raises target your upper back muscles which are critical to strengthen during and after pregnancy. Depending on your strength/fitness level, you can do this exercise with or without external resistance. If you don’t use external resistance, it’s tempting to move quickly through the exercise, so make sure you slow down the movement and really focus on contracting the upper back muscles as you raise your arms. 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.

3. Three Position Row

The row is another great exercise to strengthen your back muscles. Unlike the regular row, this variation mixes things up by changing the position of your hands. This exercise can also be done with or without external resistance. Dumbbells and resistance bands work very well as external resistance. 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.

4. Functional Lunge

This lunge variation is great during pregnancy because it strengthens your lower body and also provides functional training for real life situations that you’ll encounter during and after pregnancy (think about all of the times you’ll be picking up the baby and his/her toys from the floor). The key with this exercise is to move slowly. Slowing down the movement increases the challenge, which helps prepare your body for real life situations and challenges. 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.

5. Bird Dog

The bird dog exercise helps to strengthen and stabilize your core, which is important during pregnancy for many reasons, including preventing and relieving back pain. Unfortunately many women experience back pain during pregnancy, so this exercise is definitely one that you’ll want to add to your routine. 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Jennifer Johnson is a personal trainer, perinatal exercise specialist and founder of Fit for Expecting ( Jennifer’s practice focuses exclusively on safe and effective exercise for women before, during and after pregnancy. In addition to providing one-on-one and group training, Jennifer is also committed to educating women and support professionals about perinatal exercise through writing and speaking engagements. On a personal level, Jennifer is a new mother to a baby boy born 5 months ago.

Now that you have these 5 simple strengthening moves, you have a solid foundation to build your prenatal workout routine.

Of course in addition to exercise, having a healthy pregnancy requires the right foods. And having the right snacks on hand can help with managing cravings, preventing excessive weight gain, and if you have gestational diabetes, keeping your blood sugar at normal levels. I’ve compiled 33 health pregnancy snacks in my free guide, which you can get your hands on below.

Until next week,


PS – I’m presenting another webinar on Nutrition for Gestational Diabetes this Wednesday, 6/11 at 11am PST. If you want to listen in live, go here. It’s 100% free and geared towards non-nutrition healthcare professionals, like doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


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  1. I’ve been struggling to find reliable information about what resistance exercises I can do while pregnant. This is just what I was looking for! My doctor suggested strength exercise as well as aerobics and I’ve got the walking down, but needed to add to it. I love that I can do these in my living room without equipment (I just use water bottles instead of weights).

    • Hi Joselyn, I’m happy to hear the information on prenatal exercise came to you at just the right time. Walking is a great low-impact exercise, so it’s wonderful that it’s already part of your routine. Cheers to a healthy pregnancy!

  2. Hi Lily Nichols, pregnancy exercise is important for new moms. You right said,” it helps gestational diabetes, keeping blood sugar at normal levels”. Because of healthy mother give up a healthy child. So thank you for sharing these topics.

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