Exercising while pregnant can do wonders for your growing body and mind. Performing low impact physical activity like indoor cycling most days of the week not only keeps you fit and strong but also boosts your mood and energy. Plus, it benefits baby!
That said, before you clip in, there are some general guidelines and precautions to consider. And of course, you should always consult your healthcare provider prior to starting any exercise program while pregnant.
“Yes, it’s safe to cycle indoors while pregnant, provided you’ve gotten the OK from your doctor first,” says OB-GYN and certified personal trainer, Brittany Robles, MD.
Furthermore, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists stationary cycling as one of the types of exercises that are safe during pregnancy.
While cycling indoors, Robles says there are three key things to make sure you’re doing:
- staying well hydrated
- pacing yourself and avoiding overexertion
- avoiding getting too hot, as this can compromise your circulation
The ACOG defines a safe exercise intensity during pregnancy as less than 60 to 80 percent of your age-predicted maximum heart rate. In general, this is usually not greater than 140 beats per minute.
Taking your cycling to the street or trails is a bit more dicey than exercising indoors. That’s because there are variables you can’t control, including:
- the weather
- bumps and holes in the road or trail
- other riders or pedestrians
- fumes or toxins in the air
Any one of these can cause you to lose balance and fall off the bike.
Given the potential dangers, Robles advises against cycling outdoors while pregnant. “There’s just too much of a risk of falling, which can compromise your pregnancy,” she says.
Physical therapist Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, agrees. “The biggest risk with cycling outdoors is the risk of falling, leading to abdominal trauma,” she says. That’s why she advises her patients to stop cycling after their first trimester.
Taking a spin class is similar to cycling on an upright bike at home or the gym. Still, the instructor sets the pace and difficulty, so you’ll need to adjust accordingly. Modifications will likely be necessary when taking a group spin class, especially as you progress through pregnancy.
After getting the green light from your OB-GYN, take a few minutes to talk to the spin instructor. Let them know you’re pregnant (if it’s not obvious!), and ask whether they have experience with pregnant participants.
Ideally, you should take a class from an instructor who has prenatal exercise training. If that’s not possible, try to take classes from the same teacher so they can get to know you. This may allow them to identify any signs of distress.
Consider staying in the saddle for the majority of the class. Early on, it may feel OK to stand up and ride, but as your belly grows, your center of gravity shifts, making it more challenging to maintain a standing position.
Also, you may notice more pain in your lower back and joints if you stand while riding. Staying seated is safer and will feel a lot more comfortable.
Jeffcoat says when doing jumps and standing maneuvers in a spin class, make sure there’s enough resistance on the “road” to avoid hyperextending your knees.
“This needs to be taken into account even in the first trimester, where the hormone relaxin is at one of its peaks, before it falls off and rises again closer to delivery,” Jeffcoat says.
During the first trimester, Jeffcoat says to make sure to avoid knee hyperextension with all jumps and standing positions. “The first relaxin peak occurs around 8 to 12 weeks, and this is especially vulnerable for a pregnant women’s ligaments,” she says.
If you have a history of pubic symphysis dysfunction, also known as pelvic girdle pain, Jeffcoat says you should avoid quick maneuvers, such as 2-count jumps, as they will put additional strain over this area.
During the second trimester, Jeffcoat says that as long as there’s no pain, you can generally feel unrestricted on the bike — but always keep enough resistance to avoid hyperextension.
As your body changes and baby grows, especially during the third trimester, Jeffcoat says you’ll likely need to raise the handlebars to reduce the amount of spinal flexion and load to the neck and middle and lower back.
“With the growing weight of the baby, the center of gravity is already pulling forward and down, so we don’t need to accentuate this with handlebars that are too low,” she says.
In addition to following cycling-specific safety recommendations while working out, you should adhere to the general precautions and safety guidelines from the ACOG. These include:
- talking to your OB-GYN early on about exercise (let them know what activities you plan to participate in)
- aiming for 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week
- drinking water throughout the day and always having water with you while exercising
- not participating in activities that may cause you to overheat, especially during the first trimester
- modifying or avoiding activities or exercises that require you to lie on your back, especially during the third trimester
- not participating in any contact or high intensity sports
Stop exercising and call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising:
- painful or regular contractions
- dizziness or fainting
- shortness of breath (both before exercise or that does not subside after exercise)
- chest pain
- unusual or new pain
- bleeding or leaking from the vagina
- swelling, especially in your calf muscles
- muscle weakness affecting your balance
“Cycling is a pretty low-risk activity, but you should avoid it if it causes you any pain or discomfort in your low back, pelvis, or hips,” Robles says.
Additionally, your healthcare provider may advise you to avoid exercise if you have a high-risk condition, such as placenta previa, a short cervix, or history of preterm delivery.
You should begin to slow down and take it easy if you aren’t able to maintain a conversation while cycling. If you’re feeling short of breath, you should stop.
If you’re experiencing pelvic girdle pain or sacroiliac joint pain, Jeffcoat says you may not have enough core stability to participate in cycling.
“Especially at higher resistance, the load through the pedal creates a shearing force through the pelvis that can increase pain. If you have low back or neck pain, sometimes a simple bike adjustment will do, or using a general pregnancy support,” she says.
Talking to your OB-GYN about any questions or concerns you have is key to staying safe while cycling. With that in mind, here are some questions to consider asking at an early prenatal appointment.
- Can I follow the ACOG recommended guidelines for exercise during pregnancy?
- Is there any reason I should modify their recommendations?
- What types of physical activity should I avoid?
- Should I change how I exercise each trimester?
Clocking a few miles on an indoor bike is an excellent form of exercise during pregnancy.
That said, heading outdoors to ride on the road or trail is generally not recommended. If you’re an avid outdoor cyclist and would like to continue riding, you need to get the green light from your healthcare provider.
As your due date approaches, you may need to make some adjustments to the bike and turn down the intensity, but you should be able to cycle indoors all three trimesters. As always, if anything causes pain or discomfort, stop immediately.