One of the most common questions women ask when they become pregnant is, “Is it okay to exercise?” In most cases, the resounding answer is yes! As long as there are no pre-existing conditions keeping you from safe and controlled exercise (make sure you discuss this with your doctor), here are some important areas you should focus on and reasons for you to stay fit.

Core Strength: Over the last few years, core muscles have moved front and centre in the awareness stakes, thanks to Pilates, Fitballs and other disciplines which focus on building a strong centre. For pregnant women, strengthening core muscles and your pelvic floor are even more important. Back ache, postural problems and recovery after birth can all be made far more manageable by keeping both your core and pelvic floor strong. Exercises on a Fitball, taking pre-natal Pilates classes, or hiring a personal trainer to guide you through the correct movements can all help with core strength.

Take note: Because controversy about Supine Hypotensive Syndrome persists, during pregnancy you should be cautious if you choose to exercise while lying on your back after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Exercise on the back for short durations only, watch out for feelings of dizziness, and if you experience dizziness cease exercising on your back. Lying on your side after 20 weeks is OK, but the left side is preferable for long periods.

Lower Body Strength: Being pregnant means your body is going to get heavier – by the end of the last trimester, average (and healthy) weight gain is 12.5kg (approx 25 pounds). Your legs, lower back and gluteal muscles will all get more of a workout sitting down, standing up and just moving around on a day to day level. Also bear in mind once your baby arrives, you’ll be doing lots of lifting from awkward angles, so along with a strong core, you’ll need to learn to lift with your legs to protect your back. There are many versions of body weight squats, Fitball squats, and lunges you can do to increase strength during this time.

Upper Body Strength: As your body changes, and bust line starts to increase, so does the pressure on your postural muscles. Once your baby arrives, holding, breastfeeding and lifting use a surprising amount of upper body strength. If you’re not up to the task you can experience a lot of neck and upper back pain. To avoid this, postural work with hand weights like press ups, bicep curls, seated rows, and challenging movements incorporating a Fitball can really help make you more able to cope.

Controlling Weight Gain: Remember you are meant to gain weight during pregnancy, so don’t stress about every kilo! But keeping a healthy weight is important for your health and the baby’s and the less you put on the easier it is to lose post birth. By walking for at least 30 minutes every day you’ll be doing your body a huge favour. Try to use this time not only for exercise, but to also let your mind relax, and focus on yourself. As you get towards the end of your pregnancy, it can be very easy(understandably so) to get stressed out by the idea of upcoming event. As you walk, try to breathe deeply, and enjoy the benefits – you’ll feel much better.

All of these things can help keep you feeling energetic, sleeping more easily, and coping better with your changing body. It’s a great idea to get professional guidance, either in a class situation, or one on one from a personal trainer – even if it’s just for one session – to help guide you in the right direction and make sure your technique is correct and safe.

The exercise program prescribed here is only a guide and may not help if done incorrectly or if the training program is inappropriate.