Amy Saunders guides a participant in the pre-natal fitness class at Urban Energy, a Dubai fitness club that focuses on pregnancy fitness Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Glued to the remote control, chocolate ice-cream on double chocolate ice-cream, pickles with just about anything, sleeping during the day: a pregnant woman can never be judged — or so the saying goes.

While growing another person inside of you, the “it’s-ok-she’s-pregnant factor” trumps any amount of judgement the world can throw your way.

One exception, however, is exercise. When it come to working out while expecting, there’s still a taboo.

I experienced it firsthand.

“I do hope you’re planning on being more responsible once your baby is born,” came a voice from over my shoulder as I took on a slow 3.5km jog around Safa Park.

An initial hormonal burst brought tears, quickly replaced by rage. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A better understanding

Once upon a time, exercise was one of the things on the taboo list for pregnant women, but not anymore.

The effect of exercise on pregnant women has been the subject of comprehensive research over the years. According to the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, studies show that, in most cases, exercise is safe for both mother and foetus during pregnancy and they support recommendations to initiate or continue exercise in most pregnancies to derive the health benefits associated with such activities.

As someone who has trained hard most of my life, falling pregnant, while the most wonderful news, has applied the brakes on my usual regime. That said, with the OK from my obstetrician, it hasn’t meant a one-way ticket couchside.

Smashing taboos from here to Timbuktu is Paul Watson, 23, a level three advanced personal trainer and instructor at Flywheel Sports Dubai, who specialises in pre-and post-natal exercise. “The main reason is fear of injury to mother or baby, and what the effects of injury could mean to the pregnancy,” said Watson. “However with a doctor’s clearance, the right knowledge and support, you can create a much healthier body for your baby to grow in.”

Given the choice, most obstetricians would prefer to see their patients remain in great shape too.

Expert’s ecouragement

Dr Ekaterina Kaloyanova is a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the United Kingdom, now working at Infinity Clinic Dubai. Kaloyanova, who has worked in Dubai for more than 20 years, said, where possible, she encourages her mums-to-be to exercise.

“Many common complaints of pregnancy, including fatigue, varicosities and swelling of extremities are reduced in women who exercise. Active women experience less insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. There is some evidence that weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy can reduce the length of labour and decrease delivery complications. A sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy may contribute to loss of muscular and cardiovascular fitness, excessive maternal weight gain, raised risk of gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.”

“I am in better shape now than before I was pregnant,” said Joanne Cumming.

Cumming, who is originally from the UK, has lived in Dubai for three years. “I developed gestational diabetes but was able to manage it through diet and exercise. I was exercising on my own until four months and then as I got bigger I got nervous and started with a professional. I work in banking and fitness was never a priority for me. For the first time in my life I made it my priority and went at least twice a week. I am certain I bounced back quicker after my pregnancy compared to friends who didn’t exercise. You can’t just sit around, you’re not ill.”

Watson explains how due to negative publicity, stereotypical beliefs are rampant. “In my experience [press] is rare and often vastly exaggerated and positive press is never as striking. I view childbirth as an event, such as a marathon; your body is going to be under stress, strain and exertion, thus with specific training you will better prepare yourself.”

Ease into the routine

Start by consulting a doctor and a qualified trainer, before starting exercise because if exercises are performed or prescribed incorrectly, it could harm the mother or the baby.

“If you haven’t exercised leading up to the pregnancy, exercise should most definitely be taken lightly, to avoid any injuries,” advised Watson. Once you receive the go-ahead from the doctor, the workout intensity should decrease as get closer to the birth.

“Fitness levels leading up to pregnancy will determine the intensity of workouts; the exercise should maintain your core and postural strength endurance with cardio to help maintain energy levels in preparation for the birth.”

And what do we need to be careful about?

“Diastasis recti is a partition in the linea alba (connective tissue) at the centre of the abdominals, causing it to stretch sideways during pregnancy and can sometimes remain present post pregnancy. This partition causes a weakness in the core and exercises will need to be adjusted if this happens.”

Once the baby arrives, Watson advises to return to your earlier routine slowly.

“Once you have clearance from your doctor to exercise, I would advise to start gently, working progressively on slow, controlled movements focusing on rebuilding and redefining the stomach muscles. Add some medium intensity cardio work through one or more of walking, jogging, swimming and cycling,” said Watson.

“For the first four to six weeks I would recommend avoiding high-impact exercises as this could cause injury, due to weakness in the abdominal area and also as hormone levels will still be unbalanced, including relaxin, a hormone which allows the female body to loosen and helps during child birth,” he added.

 The all-important benefits, according to the doc

As with exercise recommendations for women who have any medical condition, those for pregnant women must balance the benefits and risks to mother and foetus. Dr Etakerina Kaloyanova lists a few benefits of exercising during pregnancy.

• Alleviates some of the more uncomfortable symptoms, including back pain, insomnia, joint pain and constipation.

• May help you better handle the mood swings common in pregnant women.

• Helps avoid gaining too much weight during pregnancy, which can lead to complications.

• Allows development of muscle strength and stamina, making things easier when you’re ready to give birth.

• Some studies show babies of women who exercise throughout pregnancy are more focused and better stimulated after birth.

• Babies of women who exercised regularly throughout pregnancy cope better with any unexpected distress during the birth.


The best tip I was given to limit exercise intensity was the “talk test”. Exercise should take place at a comfortable intensity, allowing you to maintain a conversation during exercise. If you can’t hold a conversation (even with yourself) without puffing and panting then you’re doing too much.


Amy Saunders is the director and lead fitness instructor at Urban Energy Fitness, a workout company which specialises in pre-natal exercise. Ladies from 2-39 weeks can attend classes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi which focus on low-impact cardio and adapted strength training.

These are just a few of the ladies she trains and their stories.

Hannah Brooks has lived in Dubai for five years and is originally from Oxford, UK. The now-mother-of-two trained with friend Caroline Bayly early post-natal, then through pregnancy number two and post-natal.

Brooks said: “I trained for about an hour, three times a week, and I felt great. It wasn’t only about the exercise but about the mental benefit of taking some time out to do something for myself. I did resistance and low-impact weights as well as some cardio and I know I bounced back quicker.”

Caroline Brewer, from New Zealand, has lived in Dubai for almost four years and was active before she fell pregnant. At 39 weeks, her baby is due next week and Brewer has every intention of going to a class on Tuesday morning (if baby hasn’t made an appearance).

“I did yoga and circuit training and would say I was pretty active. But after 14 weeks I started exercising while pregnant and the benefits are many. I’ve gained 8kg but better than that I’ve retained muscle tone in my arms, legs and core. I didn’t want to just let everything go and work extra hard afterwards. The days I missed training were the days I felt my heaviest and most uncomfortable.”


For more information on Urban Energy Fitness visit or call 055 3695664.

Paul Watson will be running Pre Natal and Mother & Baby classes from November at Appleseeds Childcare Center, Golden & Diamond Park, Dubai. For more information visit