Fitness Celebrity Sara Haley Dishes on Safe Exercise During Pregnancy

by For Two Fitness June 20, 2011

Today we have the honor of introducing Sara Haley, an international fitness expert. (You may have seen her recently with Brooklyn Decker in the Elle “Make Better” DVD series). As a new mom herself, Sara gives us her expert advice (and personal experience) on how to stay healthy, fit, and active during pregnancy.

And of course, while Sara looks amazing in our “body by baby” tank, she hasn’t been compensated for this post and her opinions are solely her own.



A handful of years back I went through basic prenatal/postnatal training offered to personal trainers and group fitness instructors at the gym I was working at. I knew that I would forever have clients who would become mothers, and I didn’t want my lack of knowledge to be a reason that I couldn’t continue training them during their pregnancies. Selfishly, I also knew it wouldn’t be too far down the road that my husband and I would want a child of our own, so I wanted to make sure I knew everything I could about keeping my pregnancy safe while working out.


Since going through that training, I have worked with prenatal and postnatal women, and as many trainers are, was more cautious, than not, in advising them as to what they should or shouldn’t do. My experiences with these women were memorable and wonderful, however, having now been pregnant myself, there are some things I would do differently with pregnant clients in the future.


Here are some things I feel strongly about, based on ALL of my experiences with prenatal/postnatal training (being pregnant myself, working with pre & post natal clients, and going through basic pre/postnatal training).


1. Get in the best shape of your life before you get pregnant.

Fortunately, I did this (not so much because I was thinking about getting pregnant but because I was shooting fitness DVDs). I was very thankful later, as it allowed me to do a lot more during my pregnancy. Most pregnancy guidelines state that you can do what you’ve been doing but at a moderate level. Why? It’s a precaution so that you don’t get overheated or cut off oxygen to the baby by doing something that your body isn’t used to. Prior to being pregnant, I was teaching & training multiple times a day, plus getting in my own workout – anything from running to boxing to dancing to flying through the air teaching Reebok’s JUKARI: Fit to Fly. So modifying for me basically meant doing many of these things at a slower pace, less intensity, or shorter time period. I made sure I didn’t get too hot (as a redhead this was easy – my red face always gives it a way), & I often talked out loud to make sure I was in a place of moderation, in other words, a place I could carry a conversation. Yes, I’m sure many people thought I was a crazy person as I jogged down in Central Park in NYC and along Lake Michigan in Chicago talking to myself (Yes, I lived in NYC, Chicago and LA during my pregnancy – I really am crazy, right?). By the time I made it to LA, running was no longer comfortable because I was carrying so far out in front, but I was still jumping, lifting weights, and dancing in my third trimester. Again, this is because I had trained my body to safely do all of these things prior to being pregnant. So, my advice to all women of child bearing age is not only take your folic acid every day, but workout and get in the best shape of you life! You can potentially avoid so many problems when you are pregnant, like lower back pain, constipation, and boredom!!



2. Educate yourself.

Anyone that’s been pregnant can tell you that you will hear advice from anyone and everyone (My favorite was from a male taxi driver.) Sadly, even trainers don’t necessarily know the realities of working out while pregnant. Some pregnancy recommendations that trainers dish out are because they have simply read them. They don’t necessarily always understand why a pregnant woman should not be doing certain exercises (mostly because they’ve never experienced pregnancy themselves); they basically know the “rules” that apply to keep a pregnant woman safe and comfortable. Since being pregnant, what I’ve realized is that most often certain exercises just become uncomfortable or too challenging, which is why modifications are recommended. That said, there are definitely things that can potentially become unsafe, like lying on your back after 20 weeks, doing crunches, or engaging in activities where you might fall. However, I know pregnant women who have broken all of those rules and have perfectly healthy children. When I was pregnant I became the Queen of Modifications. I loved walking into a group fitness class and finding ways to make exercises work for me. Now, understand that I know how to do this because I’m in the “biz,” but for someone that doesn’t have that background, the best thing you can do is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! If it doesn’t feel good, you probably shouldn’t do it. If it doesn’t look good, you probably shouldn’t do it. So the bigger question then becomes, “What can I do instead?” Here are some of my favorite quick basic recommendations: 1) If the exercise is done flat on your back, take it on an incline instead by building a platform with step risers or pillows. If worse comes to worse, try the exercise standing up. 2) Avoid twisting from the torso. Always rotate from your feet and hips. 3) If your balance feels off, widen your stance, or if it’s an exercise done on one leg – take it to two legs, or find something to hold on to for balance, like a wall, chair or table. Again, listen to what your body tells you and educate yourself! (My favorite references are: and If there is an exercise you love doing and need a modification, shoot me an email at . If I can, I’ll either email you back with a description or send you a video.


3) Remind yourself that pregnancy is like living with an injury.

You have to listen to what your baby and body tell you. Every day is different and every pregnancy is different – just because you could do something yesterday doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it today, and just because you couldn’t do something today doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do it tomorrow. So take advantage of the days where you feel like a rockstar because the next day you may not be able to even get out of bed. Give yourself a break when your baby tells you that you need one. Unlike an injury, you know that in a year or so you will be healed. I say a year because the months following pregnancy you will still be healing and listening to your body.


4) Do your kegels!

I know, I know – it’s so cliche. Sure, I did some kegels while I was pregnant, but I didn’t really understand how important this is until after I had my baby. I’m two and a half months out and kegels are still my biggest hurdle. Trainers always tell you to do kegels when you’re in a squat or a plank or some other isometric hold. The reality is that you really need to be doing these when you are doing cardio because post pregnancy cardio is going to be when you need your kegel muscles the most. For those of you who are not familiar, your kegel muscles are the ones you squeeze to prevent yourself from an accident on the way to the bathroom. As you can imagine, these muscles can be affected during vaginal birth, and if they aren’t strong prior to giving birth, they are going to be even weaker after. So my advice to all my pregnant Mamas (and even those thinking of becoming pregnant): when you’re dancing, or on the elliptical, or going out for a walk/jog/run, squeeze those kegel muscles!!!



5) Prenatal Yoga isn’t enough.

So, when I got pregnant I started doing my research as to what is out there on the fitness market for pregnant women. All I found were prenatal yoga videos and classes. Sure, there were a few prenatal workout videos but they were light cardio or basic weight training, and while I understand the benefit of prenatal yoga for labor, it doesn’t necessarily provide an adequate fitness regiment. Needless to say, I became extremely frustrated. When I talked about this with my “mommy friends,” they agreed that there isn’t anything out there for women who come from a more rigorous workout background (triathletes, dancers, gym rats, P90X & Insanity home workout lovers) and then get pregnant. Since I’ve been pretty involved in the fitness DVD market over the past few years, I decided there was a need for this, and I shot my own pregnancy workout DVD system this past January when I was almost eight months pregnant. They’ll be out in September so if you have pregnant friends looking for something that’s safe, strong & effective, make sure you keep in touch with me!



Sara Haley ( is a Global Reebok Master Trainer and Program Design Consultant. An international fitness presenter, she is certified by ACE and AFFA, and has created and starred in numerous fitness DVDs, most recently Beauty Sculpt, a part of Elle Magazine’s Make Better DVD collection with Brooklyn Decker. Sara is known for her versatility with clients, from teens to prenatal/postnatal women, and for her diverse class formats, such as JUKARI: Fit to FLEX™, JUKARI: Fit to FLY™, Urban Rebounding, Kettlebells, willPower & grace™, and Cycling. This September she will be launching her complete pregnancy workout DVD system for fit & healthy moms-to-be.


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