Cassandra McCoy Physical Health

The Top 5 Functional Exercises You Should Be Doing During Your Pregnancy

By Cassandra McCoy MAT, ATC, LAT, RYT

Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program during pregnancy.

I know I have stated that these are the top prenatal exercises; however, anyone can benefit from these simple, yet effective exercises to help pain in your hips, strengthen the deep core and improve breathing! 

Let’s dive into my top 5 exercises that every soon to be mama needs:


     I can’t think of anyone who can’t benefit from this one. A pregnant woman can begin to naturally default to a chest breath, as baby fills her central cavity and presses into the diaphragm. That makes breathing just plain uncomfortable. This is an exercise you should try first on your back with your legs up, and as you get a better connection between inhale and exhale, you can do this anywhere! My favorite time to practice this breath is on my car rides!

  1. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower tummy. Take a deep breath in and try to send the air all the way down to your lower hand. Feel that area exhale and grow. And then as you exhale, send all the air up and out your mouth. Feel your lower abdominal fall back down steadily to its resting state.

   I would love for you to also build to adding the pelvic floor engagement; however, I HIGHLY recommend you go see a pelvic floor physio or a women’s health specialist, because if you happen to have what is called a hypertonic pelvic floor, you will need to be given a specific action to do during breath that will help to lengthen the pelvic floor.

 Bridge into Thrust

This exercise can be done until you feel laying on your back is uncomfortable. Then this exercise can be swapped out for a thrust with your back elevated on a couch. 

    Who doesn’t love the bridge. It is just so adaptable, easy to explain and to do on your own, and its progressable and beneficial for the body. Lay on your back with both knees bent and walk your feet back towards your hips then let them rest on the floor hips width apart. a) Press your ribs down towards your hips and engage your lower abdominal muscles called the transverse abdominals by giving yourself a little cough.  b) Squeeze your glutes (booty muscles) and press through the feet to lift your hips high in line with your knee and shoulders. c) Slowly lower back down to start and relax your muscles. Start with 2 sets of 10 repetitions and go up from there!

     Here are just a few favorite variations that help to stabilize the lumbopelvic area as well as work pelvic floor without you even realizing it.

Here as a great video showing a way to progress from a pelvic tilt into a glute bridge:

    Pillow Squeeze: place a pillow between your legs and squeeze it as you move.

    Band pulse: put an exercise band around your legs just above your knees. 


   Who doesn’t love a good squat? Well if you are pregnant (even if you aren’t), squats are essential for prehabbing the pelvic floor. Doing squats is also working the whole hip muscular through your maintainable range of motion, while working balance and low impact cardio depending on how you execute the exercise. One key thing to remember is that you need to be breathing throughout the movement.

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Toes can turn out slightly depending on what feels comfortable to you. Press your ribs down and give that little couch precontraction of your lower abs. Pretend like you are sitting back into a seat behind you while keeping your chest proud, ribs down, glutes engaged and knees pressing out in line with your toes. Sit down as low as you feel comfortable while maintaining the engagement.
  2. Press through your feet while maintaining engagement of your core and glutes and c) come back to standing

Hinge (deadlift)

   You do not have to have a barbell or special weight to do this exercise throughout the day or during your workout. We need to make sure we have an understanding of what a deadlift (hinge moment) is versus what a squat movement is. This is good prehab for life PRE AND POST baby. Picking up things off the floor has never been such a reality than it is now.

  1. Stand tall with no weight to start with and then add the weights resting on your thighs. Keep your chest wide and ribs down throughout the movement. Pretending like you have a string around your waist that pulls you straight back, send your hips back towards the wall behind you and allow your knees to soften and bend. b)Remember to send the hips back, not down. You might feel tension in your hamstrings.

C )Engage your hips and send them forward to come back to standing.

Farmer’s carries

    No mom goes a day without grabbing a car seat out with one hand while reaching for a bag with the other. Or maybe holding your baby at the hip while grabbing grocery bags out of the trunk for the famous “one trip into the house”.  Also, during pregnancy, our core training strategies need to change, as we move into focusing on proper breathing and engagement while not front loading the abdominal wall at all.

   As we begin our prehab for pregnancy we always need to think about those everyday activities we will need to be strong in, post birth. So working the body with multiple different loads.

With farmers carries, try to carry a weight on one or both sides (maybe pull out that carseat for a test run). Everything from the waist up stays engaged and does not move at all. Be sure you are firmly gripping whatever you are holding to improve shoulder health. Now begin to walk as normally as possible around your home or down the hallway, again keep the upper body nice and tight. 

Don’t forget to start light and slowly progress up as you feel comfortable. Contact your local pelvic floor physical therapist, women’s health athletic trainer or pregnancy exercise specialist to help you dial in these exercises as you need!

Next up: Top 5 Functional Exercises You Should Be Doing After  Baby