Safe cardio workouts for pregnancy – hit the cross trainer today

For the uninitiated, going to the gym can be an off-putting and daunting experience – all those super-fit people who seem to know exactly what they’re doing and those huge blokes lifting massive weights.

When you’re expecting, this sense of trepidation can be made far worse, and, if you’re a newcomer, it’s totally normal to feel unsure about what machines are suitable to use and how much activity you should be doing on them.

But making good use of cardio machines when you’re pregnant is a great way of staying healthy.

Basic health reminders for you and your baby at the gym

  • A bottle of water should be first on your list of gym essentials, even before your sportswear and trainers. You need to keep you and your baby hydrated at all times during exercise. The gym should also have water coolers around so that you can refill when needed.
  • It’s important to stretch before each session, but don’t overdo it. Thanks to relaxin, a hormone produced by the placenta to relax the ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for childbirth, your body is a lot more vulnerable to injury. Before stretching you should do a light warm up, and if you feel any pain while you stretch, stop immediately. If a stretch is too uncomfortable for you, don’t do it.
  • Provide your bump with some extra support – a belly band can help relieve the strain on your lower back and abdomen as you exercise.
  • Dizziness, feeling faint, and shortness of breath are all warning signals that you need to stop and have a rest.

Which cardio machines are the best to use?

So, you’ve just stepped through the doors of your gym for the first time and, as a beginner, you’re unsure which machines are beneficial to you as a mum-to-be and which could be harmful. Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular machines to give you an effective cardiovascular workout during your pregnancy.

The treadmill
Getting on the treadmill at a slow walking pace can be a great way to warm up before going onto other machines, or it can also act as your main workout.

The treadmill should have the option to add an incline, which will raise the platform so it feels like you’re walking uphill, providing you with a more strenuous workout. If you feel that walking at a moderate pace on a flat level is not giving you a challenge, then slightly increase the incline of the treadmill. Adding an incline is perfectly safe as long as you hold onto the railings for support.

Just like with walking outside, you shouldn’t feel the need to pick up the speed if you are not an experienced runner. The major problem in raising the intensity on a treadmill is that if you suddenly need to stop, you don’t have instant control, because you first have to reduce the levels on the machine. Add to this the danger of pulling or straining muscles while running – remember your ligaments, muscles and joints are more susceptible to injury while pregnant – and you could have a high-risk situation. At higher speeds, your chances of tripping up are greatly increased, and the fall is likely to be on your front. Keeping at a manageable pace, on the other hand, will make it much easier for you to stay in control.

The cross trainer
The cross trainer, or the elliptical trainer, is a great low-impact machine for pregnant women. It is so low-impact that it’s suitable to use throughout your whole pregnancy. Maintaining a strong upright posture is important, so remember to keep your shoulders back, head held high, and your spine straight.

There is likely to be a resistance setting that you can raise if you want to make the workout more challenging. Find a level that isn’t too leisurely but at the same time doesn’t cause you to strain your muscles too hard.

Despite the support the cross trainer offers you, there is still a slight risk of falling. Keep hold of the handles at all times during use and be careful when mounting and dismounting.

The rowing machine
Even though you are starting to get more of a bump in your second trimester, it is still possible to use a rowing machine comfortably. As your abdomen continues to get larger, however, you might have to alter your position to stay comfortable. When you get to the stage where your thighs are continuously hitting your tummy when you stroke, then it could be time to take your workout in a different direction.

The rowing machine will have a resistance setting. If you don’t have too much upper body strength, set the machine’s resistance to a low setting. Again, experiment a bit with different settings until you find one that is right for you (i.e. one that doesn’t cause you any discomfort). The more you use the machine, you may find that you’re able to gradually raise the resistance setting.

Stationary exercise bike
Riding a stationary bike is much less risky than riding a bicycle outside, where the chances of losing you balance and having a nasty fall are quite high. Instead, the stability of an exercise bike almost entirely eliminates fall hazards, but you still must be cautious of pushing yourself too hard and be careful when mounting and dismounting the machine.

Start at a slow pace for a short five-minute warm-up period and then gradually build up speed.

In terms of your overall workout, the main drawback of stationary exercise bikes is that they only provide a lower body workout. If your gym is equipped with bikes that have dual action arms, then try to use these as they will give a more complete workout.

As your pregnancy progresses, it might be easier to use a recumbent exercise bike. These machines allow you to cycle in a laid-back, reclining position and will offer extra support as your bump gets bigger and bigger.

Further considerations

There is, of course, some general safety information which applies to the use of all gym machines – stay in tune with your body and know your limits. As your doctor or midwife may have already told you, your pregnancy is not the time to greatly increase your fitness levels but rather to maintain a healthy level of activity. So, if you have not previously exercised or have only done very little at irregular intervals, then you needn’t aim for any more than 20-30 minutes of mild-to-moderate exercise three or four times a week.

Of course, if you’re a regular at your local gym, then there probably isn’t any reason why you can’t continue with your routine – your labour will hopefully be all the easier for it. But, again, check with your doctor beforehand and keep your regime at a comfortable level. Don’t try to have any record-breaking sessions until after you give birth.

Although going to the gym can be a solo experience, it may be good for you to introduce some company, especially if you’re unsure about using any of the machines. You could try convincing a friend to join the gym and go around with you, or perhaps another expectant mother. Or you could try and tag along with a friend who is already gym-savvy.

You could also hire a personal trainer to go around with you. They can monitor you and help you devise a workout plan that benefits both you and your bump, but find out a bit about your trainer and explain carefully about your pregnancy – while a personal trainer might be an expert in the health benefits of a gym workout, they may not be experts in antenatal care. Always consult your GP or midwife about whether, as a pregnant woman, keeping up with your gym workouts or venturing there for the first time is the best thing for your health.

However you choose to go about your routine, you can be sure that your confidence using the equipment will slowly build as you keep going – and you will be a maestro on the machines in no time!

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.