Are Your Prenatal Workouts Too Intense?

Oct 13, 2020 | Prenatal Workouts

By:  Natasha Lowe Osho MD, FACOG, NASM CPT

Congratulations on making the commitment to be active during your pregnancy! At the end of your journey, you and your baby will be happy you did. Exercising during pregnancy has many benefits, if it is done safely. The internet has plenty of videos with various regimens and movements, but ideally, our approach to pregnancy fitness should be individualized. Be prepared that each day of your journey can feel different from the last. Yesterday, you may have felt your strongest and powered through your workout with ease, but today your session is a struggle. It is common to have to adjust the intensity of your workout depending on how you feel in the moment. One often quoted rule of thumb is to “listen to your body.” I definitely encourage this approach to anything that you do during pregnancy. However, there is a more objective way to determine if you are over exerting yourself. Let’s talk about it!

There are various ways to measure exercise intensity such as heart rate monitoring, rating of perceived exertion, and the Talk Test. During pregnancy, your heart rate can increase by as much as 15-20% by the time you reach the end of the third trimester. Because of this expected change in heart rate, monitoring it during exercise is not the best way to measure exercise intensity.

Another common method to measure exercise intensity is the rating of perceived exertion. The rating of perceived exertion is a subjective scale where you give yourself a number corresponding to how YOU feel regarding the intensity of your workout. This is an example of a modified scale from the Cleveland Clinic (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17450-rated-perceived-exertion-rpe-scale):
0 – Nothing at all
1 – Very Light
2 – Light
3 – Moderate
4 – Somewhat heavy
5 – Heavy
6 –
7 – Very heavy
8 –
9 –
10 – Very, very heavy
Using this scale, your goal will be the “moderate to somewhat heavy” range.

While it is important that you are able to subjectively measure the intensity of your workout, a good trainer should also be able to objectively measure if you are under or over exerting yourself. This leads us to the Talk Test. Of the methods listed above, it is the best way to measure exercise intensity during pregnancy. It is also a good way for your trainer to make sure your rating of perceived exertion matches the clues we receive from your body language. The American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that a pregnant woman be able to have a conversation while exercising. I counsel my patients to imagine you are on a treadmill and your partner or friend is on the treadmill next to you. You should be able to have a full conversation with them. This may mean adjusting the incline or speed at various points throughout your session to make sure you can converse comfortably. Speaking to your trainer or partner during your session ensures that you are exercising at a safe level. The ability to have a conversation during exercise places you in the moderate intensity range. Once talking becomes difficult and you begin to answer questions with a simple “yes or no” or you don’t answer at all, this is an indication that your intensity should be decreased.

In conclusion, there are three common ways to measure exercise intensity: heart rate monitoring, rating of perceived exertion, and the Talk Test. During pregnancy, the Talk Test is the best and easiest way to monitor the intensity of your workout. The ability to have a conversation while using complete sentences is consistent with moderate intensity exercise. ACOG recommends that you perform 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week during pregnancy. I encourage you to incorporate the Talk Test into each of your workout sessions to measure your intensity level. Remember to always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program during pregnancy.

Natasha Lowe Osho MD is a Board Certified OB/GYN, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer, Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist, and Founder of Bump Fitness Club. I started Bump Fitness Club to help women have healthier pregnancies. Our mission is to provide a safe, supportive, and supervised environment to encourage exercise during pregnancy with the goals of helping women perform their daily activities, build strength and stamina for the physical demands of labor and delivery, and assist with postpartum recovery while building relationships and providing encouragement throughout the pregnancy journey. For more information, visit bumpfitnessclub.com or email natasha@bumpfitnessclub.com.