The best rule of thumb for exercising during pregnancy is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! If your body is telling you to slow down, then do it. But if your body is feeling great, then continue to work as hard as you feel comfortable. Instead of focusing on what your heart rate is (which is what doctors used to recommend) it is better to rate how you feel on an exertion scale. If 0 is not moving at all and 10 is going “all out”, you should try to keep your exercise between 5-8. Many women find that they can continue to do the same types of exercising they were doing before they were pregnant throughout most of their pregnancy. There are even pregnant women out there running marathons! But if that puts you over an 8 on the scale, you might want to stay away :)
One group of muscles that is really important to focus on during pregnancy is the upper back and shoulders. With the changes in a pregnant woman’s body structure, the shoulders tend to get rounded and the back hunched over. This only gets worse as the baby is born and you are spending time nursing, rocking, reaching into the crib, etc. These muscles can be strengthened with exercises like rows and pulldowns. Always remember to squeeze your shoulder blades together while doing these exercises in order to really activate those muscles!
Another group of muscles that is often overlooked during pregnancy is the core. The muscles of the abdomen and back are SO important to a new mom that they really should not be inactive throughout pregnancy. There are a lot of different opinions about what women should and should not be doing for core exercises during pregnancy. Many doctors will actually discourage all exercises targeting the core. However, this makes recovery so much harder after baby and can cause permanent lower back damage.
We recommend NOT doing any exercises on your back after the first trimester, which cuts out a lot of commonly used core exercises. And exercises involving a lot twisting should also be limited. But one exercise you can always do is a plank! This is a simple exercise that really targets the innermost layer of core muscles, which is vital to the movements of everyday life. Again - if something does not feel comfortable then make sure you are listening to your body. But most women can successfully exercise their core muscles throughout their pregnancy!