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Can you run while pregnant?

Can you run while pregnant? Image shows pregnant runner
(Image credit: Getty)

If you like to keep fit, you might be wondering, can you run while pregnant? Pregnancy can be an amazing and confusing time. Your body is starting to change and you know that you have to make some other changes too. Can you still roll out your yoga mat at the local gym, use weights or sign up for a run? You know that going for a personal best might not be a good idea when you are expecting a baby, but can you still hit the treadmill in the gym or should you skip it and head for the showers?

Is it safe to run while pregnant?

While you're not going to be hitting any personal bests, you can still pull on your training shoes. Prenatal personal trainer Tami Smith of Fit Healthy Momma told Live Science: "Unless your doctor recommends you avoid running, there is nothing wrong with keeping up with your runs during pregnancy, but you might have to modify quite a bit, especially near the end." Although, Smith added, "If you weren't a runner before pregnancy, chances are you should wait until after you've given birth to begin."

Obstetrician-gynecologist and fitness professional Carla DiGirolamo of Boston IVF told Live Science that what you'll be able to do is linked to your baseline level of fitness. "My recommendations for an accomplished triathlete will be different from a sedentary individual. But my general recommendation — assuming an uncomplicated pregnancy — is to stick with her current fitness level at her discretion with an awareness of any pregnancy symptoms she is having," DiGirolamo said. She cautioned that during the second trimester when the body's center of gravity changes, falling is a potential risk. "Another risk is pain in the pelvis as the bones begin to separate and the cartilage between the pelvic bones is more stressed," said DiGirolamo.

Finding the right gear to support your changing body is key, said run coach and pre- and postnatal fitness specialist Christine Nichols. "I recommend that my pregnant runners get fitted for shoes mid-pregnancy as your feet can grow and your gait can change and therefore you may feel more comfortable in a different shoe or shoe size," Nichols said. "Investing in a belly band can also be very helpful with round ligament pain, back pain and for more added support during exercise." For more advice on running shoes, take a look at this feature on what is gait analysis?

Can you run while pregnant? Image shows woman holding pregnant stomach

(Image credit: Getty)

What are the benefits of running through pregnancy?

A runner's high may be rare, but it's clear that exercise gives pregnant women a mental boost. Researchers from the University of Alberta found that mothers-to-be who were physically active in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic had a 30% lower chance of suffering from depression.

While a workout will help with cardiovascular health and weight management, it also comes with an added perk for moms-to-be as it helps to control blood sugar levels. "Insulin resistance worsens in pregnancy due to the production of [the hormone] human placental lactogen," said DiGirolamo. "Movement increases the uptake of blood glucose by the muscles, thereby helping to maintain healthy blood glucose levels."

Can you run while pregnant? Image shows pregnant runner

(Image credit: Getty)

Which exercises should you avoid while pregnant?

Prenatal trainer Tami Smith said that safe and effective exercises for the first trimester include walking, jogging, cycling, resistance training (squats, lunges, bicep curls), yoga and Pilates. Morning sickness may curb some plans, so the key is to listen to your body. "I highly recommend lots of walking and at least three days per week of strength training as you're going to need a strong, capable lower body to deliver your baby and support your pregnancy weight," said Smith. "Avoid intense jarring movements or engaging in activities that put you at risk for falling or getting injured."

The second trimester should be similar in terms of exercise, but with the main precaution being that it's recommended that you not lie flat on your back after about 20 weeks of pregnancy. "During this trimester, your belly will likely start to 'pop' so it's important to be aware of things like where you're resting weights (avoid the pelvic area and belly for things like hip thrusts)," said Smith. "Many pregnant women, especially as they near the end of their second trimester, find that they need to scale their exercise back a bit. This can look like lowering weight selection or scaling back the intensity of running."

For the third trimester, if you're experiencing a normal, healthy pregnancy, you can stick with your regular workouts with modifications. "You should never 'push through' any kind of pain or discomfort," said Smith. "If you wake up feeling sore and overly tired, it might not be the best day to hit the gym for a lifting session. Instead, a long, leisurely walk can be just what your body needs. Your physical fitness before and during pregnancy will determine how much you can do in your third trimester."

Prenatal fitness specialist Christine Nichols confirms that there is no hard and fast rule and what you can do throughout pregnancy depends on the individual. "Some women will be able to continue running, others will not, some women will be able to continue squatting, others may struggle with it," said Nichols. "A good rule of thumb to follow is to do what feels comfortable — if side squats hurt, then don't do them, stick to regular squats and other movements that feel okay and don't cause any pain."

Consult with your doctor or obstetrician-gynecologist about which exercises are suitable for you.

Claire Turrell

Claire Turrell is a freelance journalist based in Singapore. She was the launch editor of SHAPE Middle East. Her work has been published by Nat Geo, Harper’s BAZAAR, Insider and the BBC.