Pregnancy Cardio Modifications

Cardiorespiratory exercise is very important during pregnancy.  Aerobic conditioning has many benefits for mom and baby, and even higher intensity interval training is fantastic preparation for managing the (VERY HIGH intensity) contraction intervals during stage 1 labor.  That said, many traditional cardio movements are inappropriate for the later stages of pregnancy due to the increased intra-abdominal pressure they create, or the level of impact involved. Try these modifications below to reap the benefits of these cardio moves, without the risk.

1. High Knee Runs

Instead of lightly jogging or marching in place, safely amp up the cardio and core work by doing these High Knee Marches instead.  Raising the arms overhead, and knees way up, gets the heart going.  Watch for neutral alignment (no rounding in back, standing tall and lifted with shoulders pulled away from ears), and cue her to exhale every time she lifts her knee.  This coordination of breath to movement adds great core activation that she won’t get by just doing a light jog or march.

2. Jumping Jacks

Instead of regressing these by doing the common half-jack (which often makes women feel like they’re in a 1980s aerobic class), try doing these Stepping Jack Squats.  They remove the impact, while still allowing women to get their heart pumping.  It’s also easy to modify the intensity level.  For higher intensity, increase the range of motion — going deeper into the squat.  For lower intensity, keep the squat shallower. Coordinate breath by inhaling on the step out, and exhaling on the push back in.  Be sure she stays in neutral alignment with rib cage closed.

3. Jump Squats

To take the impact out, but still reap all the benefits of this great cardio + strength movement, try these Squats with Overhead Reach.  This is a wonderful exercise because it is so easy to modify as pregnancy progresses (moving from doing full range with an added heel lift, to doing half range with hands to thighs instead of ground).  Be sure she stays in neutral (no rounding forward to get hands lower), inhaling on the way down, and exhaling on the way up.

4. Jump Lunges

These are definitely inappropriate for pregnancy – not just because they are high-impact, but also because we have to be very careful with unilateral lower body movements due to the effects of relaxin (the hormone that decreases her stability).  Here we offer two different regressions.  Regression #1 is to do a Reverse Lunges (inhaling on the step back, exhaling on the push back in).  Another great alternative, especially if she struggles with stability on the reverse lunges, are these Knee Repeaters.  They allow women to get a great cardio + strength benefit, and are highly modifiable.  To increase intensity, bend lower on the supporting leg.  To decrease intensity, stay up higher.  Just be sure she stays in neutral, and exhales every time the knee comes in.

5. Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers can be a great cardio and core movement, but the downward facing plank position and the impact from the running motion creates far too much intra-abdominal pressure as a woman develops a belly.  Instead, perform the High Knee Marches from tip #1.  This is a wonderful cardio + core movement alternative!  While you may be tempted to give her a high plank with slow knee lifts as an alternative, we do not recommend this, as even the plank position creates too much intra-abdominal pressure when the belly is larger.

6. Burpees

Of course we end with everyone’s FAVORITE movement!  As much as we all love burpees, they are not appropriate for women after they start developing more of a belly.  Many times, fitness professionals offer step-out burpees as a regression (stepping the feet back one at a time to plank, and avoiding touching the belly to the ground).  However, even this is inappropriate for later stages of pregnancy, as the plank position creates too much intra-abdominal pressure.  In addition, many women can’t maintain neutral alignment as they lower down to put their hands on the ground (and end up hunching over to place their hands down….a big nooo-nooo!).  For a great cardio+strength alternative, try the Squats with Overhead Reach from #3.

In summary, you can still help your pregnant clients reap all the benefits of cardio training by removing impact and providing movement modifications that allow them to vary their intensity by varying their range of motion.  Not sure when exactly to start these modifications?  Typically whenever you begin to see a belly.  Sure, there may be some women who could potentially do some of these movements slightly longer into their pregnancies if their form and breathing is 100% perfect (though never into third trimester), but it’s not worth the risk.  These modifications still allow women to accomplish the same objectives of the traditional cardio moves without the risk.

Interested in other pregnancy-safe modifications?  Check our our Group Instructor Workshop, which provides everything you need to know to safely (and easily) modify for the pregnant and postpartum clients who attend your classes.