The Most Common Questions On Prenatal Exercises, Answered By An Expert

Karen Siah exercise for pregnant women Malaysia

Pregnancy and exercise are two things that aren’t commonly associated with each other. Simply because there exists beliefs and old wives’ tales that any sort of exertion may harm a pregnancy. In reality, the opposite is true. Exercise is actually beneficial for pregnant women, as it helps ensure a fitter pregnancy, smoother delivery, and easier recovery.

To put this matter to rest, we spoke to Malaysian pregnancy fitness coach Karen Siah about what exercise for pregnant women entails. And to help you work your way to a healthier pregnancy, she also shared with us five workouts that are essential for expectant mums. Karen is a mother of two herself and a living testament that you can stay active throughout your pregnancy. She successfully did so in both of hers, and she’s happy to help other ladies do just that.

Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

All You Need To Know About Exercise For Pregnant Women

Karen Siah exercise for pregnant women
Credit: @karensiahfitnesscoach via Instagram

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into pregnancy fitness coaching?

I am a graduate in Sports and Exercise Science and have been a personal trainer for about 10 years. I always wanted to remain active if I became pregnant and get back into sports after giving birth, so I took a course in training pregnant clients a few years ago. With my own pregnancy experiences and the knowledge I have researched, I figured I could be a great help to women who want to remain active and healthy during and after pregnancy.

Are there any misconceptions about exercising while pregnant that you would like to clear up?

The traditional Asian way of thinking is that pregnant women need to rest, do and move very little, and not lift heavy things so as not to jeopardise the pregnancy. However, when pregnant women become sedentary and move very little, their muscles weaken and they become very unfit. These women end up becoming very weak after giving birth. On top of that, they need to take care of a newborn, which is a huge task, especially if it’s their first time.

Let’s put this myth to rest once and for all – is exercise safe for pregnant women?

Yes. So long as there are no other complications to the pregnancy, guided exercise is completely safe for pregnant women.

Why is prenatal exercise so important for pregnant women?

From my extensive research and experience, it is far better for a pregnant woman to continue moving and exercising so she’s able to maintain some muscular strength, stamina, and withstand the growing weight.

Prenatal exercise can also help reduce back pain, muscle cramps, and water retention; improve sleep and blood circulation; and ease the labour process! After giving birth, it will give a mother the fitness and strength to care for her newborn, which possibly helps to reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression too.

Are there instances where exercise is not encouraged for pregnant women?

Yes, if the pregnancy has complications, exercise is not encouraged. Some common complications that may happen are issues with the placenta or amniotic fluid, preeclampsia, eclampsia, ectopic pregnancy, or bleeding.

However, there’s a pregnancy condition called gestational diabetes, where cardio exercises are often encouraged by doctors to bring down blood sugar levels.

For expectant mums who can work out, do you have any safety tips to share?

Expectant mums should always check with their doctors before moving forward with any exercise. If they get the green light, then it’s always good to note that staying hydrated is extremely important. And if they are working up a sweat and getting quite breathless, they should not stay at that intensity for too long.

If a mum becomes short of breath, there’s a high chance that the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen too. We don’t want that, so always exercise within what you’re comfortable with. In other words, don’t try anything new.

Are there any exercises or activities that pregnant women should avoid?

As long as it’s an exercise that she’s used to, a pregnant woman can exercise like anyone else and modify its intensity along the way as her belly grows bigger. I have seen pregnant women continue to do CrossFit, tae kwon do (no sparring, though), weight-lifting, and long-distance running.

However, I would say stay away from abs exercises as we don’t want to compress the abdominals. I also don’t recommend planks because pregnant women should not stay in a prone position for too long.

Karen Siah pregnancy exercises
Credit: @karensiahfitnesscoach via Instagram

Apart from specific pregnancy exercises, what are some activities that can help mums-to-be stay active throughout the nine months?

Walking, running, hiking, swimming, and cycling are good aerobic exercises for pregnant women.

What are some telltale signs that a pregnant woman has pushed herself too far?

If she’s not feeling too well during or immediately after exercising, and if the discomfort continues for a long time, she should definitely check with her doctor.

However, most pregnancy complications are not due to over-exercising. They arise either from consuming something wrong (eg alcohol), or the hormones and/or genes of the mum.

Exercising during pregnancy must come naturally to you, but how would you encourage ladies who are less active to get started?

That is my mission now. I try to share as much information as possible on my social media as well as with my friends, so I can clear up misconceptions, doubts, or worries.

At the end of the day, pregnancy exercises are something that a mother can do for herself. Because once you’re pregnant, that’s the start of when you’re no longer fully yourself. You have to think of the baby and that continues as your child grows older. Prioritising your health is something that you can do for yourself at the very start of this.

Is there anything expectant mums should nourish themselves with before and after their exercise?

Just good, fresh, nutritious whole foods (unprocessed foods). Eating a bit more protein and hydrating well is a good idea.

Essential Prenatal Exercises For Pregnant Women

For mums-to-be who can workout, here are five essential exercises for pregnant women to ensure a fitter pregnancy. Each workout comes with a modified version, so it’s adaptable for when your bump grows bigger. Depending on your ability, Karen recommends doing a minimum of any three exercises.

Squat And Kick

exercise for pregnant women Malaysia
Credit: Shopee Blog

Benefit: Improves lower body muscular strength

Technique: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then squat until your knees are bent to a 90-degree angle. Stand back up, lift your left leg, and kick. Alternate with the right leg.

Modified: Same as above, without the kick

Reps: Three sets of 12

Reverse Lunge

pregnancy exercises Malaysia
Credit: Shopee Blog

Benefit: Improves lower body muscular strength and balance

Technique: Stand with your feet close together, then take a big step backwards with your left foot. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle, and lower your left knee to the same angle. Push yourself back up and raise your left leg up to waist level. Complete five reps on the left leg, then another five on the right.

Modified: Same as above, without the leg raise

Reps: Three sets of 10

Full-Body Push-Up Or Knee Push-Up

push-up pregnancy exercises Malaysia
Credit: Shopee Blog

Benefit: Improves lower body muscular strength and balance

Technique: Get down on all fours on a yoga mat. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width on the ground. Straighten your arms and legs, then lower your body until your chest is close to the ground. Pause then push yourself back up. For knee push-ups, rest your knees and toes on the ground instead of having your legs outstretched.

Modified: Place your palms slightly wider than shoulder-width against a wall, then push against the wall.

Reps: Three sets of 10

Weighted Rows

weighted rows exercise for pregnant women Malaysia
Credit: Shopee Blog

Benefits: Improves arm and back strength

Technique: Stand with your knees slightly bent. Bend your upper body forward, with your back straight. Holding a weight in each hand, pull the weights towards the sides of your abs. Then lower your arms down. You can use dumbbells or anything that weighs up to 5kg per side.

Modified: Same as above, but with lighter weights (1kg or 1.5kg on each side)

Reps: Three sets of 12


deadlift pregnancy exercises Malaysia
Credit: Shopee Blog

Benefit: Improves lower back and glutes strength

Technique: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding a weight of up to 5kg in both hands, bend the upper body downwards with your back straight and knees slightly bent. Lower the weight until it’s below the knee, then slowly stand back up.

Modified: Same as above, but with lighter weights or no weights

Reps: Three sets of 12

Try These Exercises For Pregnant Women For A Fitter Pregnancy

exercise for pregnant women Malaysia
Credit: @karensiahfitnesscoach via Instagram

If you were on the fence about staying active during your pregnancy, we hope Karen’s insight has motivated you to incorporate pregnancy exercises in your daily routine. But before you proceed with any of these exercises for pregnant women, make sure to consult your doctor first. When you do get the go-ahead, remember to start slow, know your limits, and exercise in moderation!

After you’ve given birth, you might want to check out Karen’s advice on postnatal exercises. But if you prefer personal training sessions, feel free to drop Karen a DM on her socials.

Instagram: @karensiahfitnesscoach

Facebook: Karen Siah Fitness Coach

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