A Personal Trainer Shares 5 Exercises to Build Strength During Pregnancy

Stephanie Mellinger

Stephanie Mellinger

Medically reviewed by Mark Arredondo, M.D.

Updated on September 13, 2023

brunette pregnant woman working out holding a water bottle
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As a fitness trainer, strength training has always been important to me. Once I found out I was pregnant in 2022, it became even more important, as I knew it would help support my body through its incredible transformation.

I had a great pregnancy, delivery and recovery, and I know a part of that is due to the fitness I prioritized.

Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?

In the past, doctors recommended that pregnant people refrain from physical exercise, but that thinking has changed.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now states that “If you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue or start regular physical activity.”

However, you should always check with your healthcare provider to make sure it is safe for you and your baby.

Health benefits of strength training during pregnancy

Maintaining or gradually improving strength may have many health benefits for pregnant people, such as:

If you want to try exercises to build strength during pregnancy, here are my top 5 favorite strength-training moves.

5 pregnancy-safe strength-training exercises

1. Belly hug

belly hug pregnancy safe exerciseStephanie Mellinger

Proper core engagement is the most important thing to focus on throughout all exercises, especially as your belly grows during pregnancy. This move is great for maintaining core strength to help during birth and assist in recovery to help reduce your risk of diastasis recti (the separation of your abdominal muscles).

I also recommend doing this exercise during the other exercises in this workout to help engage your core, maintain proper form and prevent “coning.” Coning may happen when there’s too much pressure on the connective tissue of your abdominals, which may cause your midline muscles to bulge.

How to do a belly hug:

  1. Take a big inhale.
  2. As you exhale, lift your pelvic floor and squeeze your abdominal muscles as if you’re wrapping your baby in a hug with your abdominal muscles. You should be able to maintain this engagement while you continue breathing.
  3. This may be easiest to practice while slightly reclined. Once you get the hang of breathing this way, you may progress to trying it while doing other exercises.
  4. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

2. Hip thrust and march

hip thrust and march pregnancy safe exerciseStephanie Mellinger

This exercise focuses on your glutes, pelvic floor and core muscles, which all help better support your changing pregnancy body. Plus, strengthening your pelvic floor may help prevent urinary incontinence.

How to do a hip thrust and march:

  1. Rest your shoulders on an elevated surface (such as a chair, couch or bench), and place your feet under your knees hip-distance apart.
  2. Engage your core and your glutes as you hold an elevated position with your glutes raised.
  3. Alternate marching one knee up at a time.
  4. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

3. Deep squats

deep squat pregnancy safe exerciseStephanie Mellinger

Along with strengthening your legs, a deep squat—when your hips are lower than your knees—works on opening the pelvic floor, which helps with childbirth. This move also improves hip mobility, which will help you get up and down from the floor more easily (which will happen a lot with your new little one!).

How to do a deep squat:

  1. Start standing with your feet a little wider than your hips, then slowly lower your hips as low as possible while keeping your chest mostly upright.
  2. If needed, use a table or something sturdy to help keep your balance and help you get back up.
  3. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

4. Side-lying internal rotation (IR) lift

side-lying internal rotation lift pregnancy safe exerciseStephanie Mellinger

In the second half of pregnancy, your hips spend a lot of time in external rotation so your legs can fit around your belly. Practicing internal rotations helps strengthen your less-used hip muscles, and internal rotation also helps open the pelvis to help prep your body for childbirth.

How to do a side-lying internal rotation lift:

  1. Lie on your side and turn your top leg inward. This should look like your toe is pointing toward the floor. Make sure the rotation is happening at your hip so your whole leg is turned.
  2. Maintain this position, and lift your leg toward the ceiling (about a foot) or until you feel engagement slightly in front of the side of your hip.
  3. Hold for a second, then lower.
  4. Do 8-10 reps on one side, then repeat on the other. Do 3 sets total.

5. Wall angel

wall angel pregnancy safe exerciseStephanie Mellinger

This is a great exercise for strengthening your upper back, and I wish I had spent more time on this when I was pregnant. Constantly holding and looking down at your little one, especially if you’re breastfeeding, may create pain and discomfort in your neck and upper back. Strengthening your upper back may help reduce this pain.

How to do a wall angel:

  1. Do a wall sit with your legs slightly bent and your back flat against the wall.
  2. Engage your core and press your lower back against the wall.
  3. Create a “W” with your arms, and try to keep your elbows and hands against the wall as you lift your arms into a “Y” over your head. Slowly lower and repeat.
  4. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): Exercise During Pregnancy.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Effect of Antenatal Exercises, Including Yoga, on the Course of Labor, Delivery and Pregnancy: A Retrospective Study.

Biology: Effects of Exercise during Pregnancy on Postpartum Depression: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses.

Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy: Exercise during pregnancy has a preventative effect on excessive maternal weight gain and gestational diabetes. A randomized controlled trial.

Maturitas: Pelvic floor exercise for urinary incontinence: A systematic literature review.

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