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Is Cardio Safe During Pregnancy?

Is Cardio Safe During Pregnancy?

Sara Haley: Pre/postnatal Specialist

As a pre/postnatal exercise specialist I get asked a lot of questions about cardio workouts during pregnancy - “Can I do cardio when I’m pregnant? What kinds of cardio is the best and safest? How hard can I work?” And most often and most specifically, “Can I get my heart rate above 140 BPM (beats per minute)?” 

Cardio and Pregnancy

The quick and easy answer is yes, you can do cardio! In fact, I encourage you to do it as often as you feel up to it because trust me, there are plenty of days when you won’t feel up to it! And on the days you don’t feel like it, give yourself permission to rest. Your body and your baby need it. 

But . . . on the days where you can muster up the energy, go for it! Do any kind of cardio that feels good. Just be sure it doesn’t put you at risk of falling. Skiing, box jumps, or running on slippery pavement should be avoided. I also do not recommend any rowing after the 2nd trimester, as it can be a lot of pressure on the core muscles. 

Please remember this is going to be different for everyone and different for each pregnancy, so do not compare yourself to anyone else.  You do you! I’ve had 4 full-term pregnancies and each one was different. Just to give you some perspective, with my first child, I ran up until I was 6 months pregnant and did a lot of aerobics, such as cardio dance. 

With my second, I didn’t run at all but did a lot of interval training and cycling. When I was pregnant with my third and my only girl, cardio didn’t feel that great, so I spent most of my time doing shorter intervals on a bike or elliptical and incorporating a lot of strength training to get my heart rate up. 

With my fourth and final baby, I mixed things up, but my workouts were much much shorter (not due to my pregnancy but more due to having three kids in tow and not a lot of time)! I hope this gives you an idea of how things can vary but you can still get a good workout in. 

Debunking the Myth: 140 BPMs

You can get sweaty, and you can work hard when you’re pregnant. And yes, you can get your heart rate above 140 BPM. Here’s the story behind the rumor “If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t get your heart rate above 140 BPM.”

In the 1980s, the rule of thumb was that pregnant women should aim to keep their heart rate below 140 BPM. False! That advice was debunked in the ’90s by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Here’s why: Your max heart rate during pregnancy will vary based on a number of factors such as fitness level, type of exercise, what you ate, or how you slept the night before. This is why we do not encourage you to use your heart rate monitor for MYX workouts while you’re pregnant. So forget the 140 BPM and use the talk test (a.k.a. rate of perceived exertion) instead.

The Talk Test

Here’s how the talk test works: While working out, you are now going to be the crazy person who talks out loud (better crazy than unsafe, right?). If you’re working out at home, who cares? If you are around other people, still who cares? Your goal is to keep you and your baby safe! So while you are exercising, I recommend having a little conversation to ensure that you are not overdoing it. 

If you are talking out loud and your voice sounds labored, dial back the intensity. The goal is to be able to talk out loud comfortably. You can work out, get sweaty, and challenge yourself, but you need to do it in a way that keeps you and your baby safe.

If you want to use MYX zones, think of it like this: Zone 1 = normal conversation, Zone 2 = breathy conversation like you’re walking up lots of stairs, and Zone 3 = out of breath and need to stop to catch your breath. During pregnancy, I recommend spending some time in zone 1, lots of time in zone 2, and minimal time in zone 3. If you are conditioned and used to going to zone 3, you can probably go there more often, but I do not recommend staying there for very long or as often as you used to. 

Avoid getting overheated

Another recommendation during cardio workouts, or any workouts while you’re pregnant, is to avoid getting overheated. Studies have shown that when a pregnant woman’s body temperature exceeds 102 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 10 minutes, the baby can be negatively affected. So, in my opinion, let's just make sure you are not getting too hot.

You can avoid getting overheated by dressing in layers and removing them as you start to feel too hot. Perhaps keep a wet washcloth close by to cool yourself off. Remember that sweat is a good thing because it helps the body cool itself down. And due to increased blood flow, higher metabolism during pregnancy, and the fact that you are working for two, you will sweat while you're pregnant! 

Just ask yourself if you are sweating because you are pregnant or because you are working too hard. If you are working too hard and feel uncomfortable, back off and remember that you are pregnant. 

Finally, just a reminder to stay hydrated! You and your baby need water, so drink it all day long, and especially before, during, and after you exercise. 

If you have any other questions, you can message MYX, or reach out to me on social media @sarahaleyfit.

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