Safe Pregnancy Exercises To Strengthen Upper Body

A good posture during pregnancy is essential for proper alignment of the body and to ease neck pain. Include these workouts in your daily routine to feel strong throughout your prenatal journey.

25 Jan 2023

During pregnancy, you may feel more tired than usual from carrying extra weight (foetus). Exercising during pregnancy can help prevent pains and boost endurance, while toning and strengthening muscles.

Dr. Vinodha Vunnam, a pre and post-natal physiotherapist, birthing therapist, lactation consultant, and co-founder of Happy Mom, says, “Most women experience rounded shoulders or curved necks, pain in the pelvic area, abdomen, and lower back muscles as these areas are most affected over the course of pregnancy.

But the strength of your arms and posture of your shoulders is unduly important. Exercise can help you feel better and hinder some of the discomforts that can happen later in pregnancy.” A growing pregnancy belly can often cause an expecting mom’s shoulders to droop. This mainly happens because pregnancy hormones (relaxin and hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) cause the ligaments to relax. As breasts grow during pregnancy, the strain on the neck, shoulders, and thoracic spine increases, altering the overall posture.

To get rid of the slumping shoulders, try incorporating prenatal upper-body workouts that target important back muscles and help realign the backbone, and shoulders, ward off hunching and also prevent posture problems.


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We spoke to Dr. Vinodha about pregnancy exercises for the upper body. She says, “Pregnancy arm workouts are functional moves that will support your upper body and help you gain more stability and stamina to move easily through life with a baby.”

Further, Dr. Vinodha recommends checking in with a doctor prior to beginning a new exercise. The activity level of the mother, general health, medical conditions, and muscle strength of the mother should be assessed by physiotherapists before incorporating weights. Also, she shared some tips to follow before commencing pregnancy exercises with a dumbbell.


Related story: 5 Easy Pregnancy Exercises To Ease Back Pain


Tips To Use Dumbbells During Pregnancy

These exercises make use of dumbbells, so you need to be extra cautious to ensure your safety.

  • There is the chance of a weight making contact with your baby bump, so make sure to choose only very light weights that you find comfortable to lift.
  • Dumbbells usually come in sets ranging from 1kg to 5kg, so you can start with the lightest and gradually work your way up.
  • Avoid lifting weights above your head as there’s a greater risk of injury if they’re dropped (unintentionally).
  • Do as many as reps you feel comfortable with. If you start to feel uneasy, stop immediately.


Related story: Beginners Full Body Barbell Workout


Here are some upper body exercises to perform during pregnancy.

1. Upright Row



Strengthens shoulder muscles and upper back.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed, arms by your side with a dumbbell in each hand, and palms facing back.
  • Simply pull your elbows up so they’re at shoulder height, and then lower them back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat in 3 sets and 10 repetitions.


Related story: Pregnancy Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk


2. Reverse Fly With Single Arm



Strengthens Rhomboids (shoulder muscles just below the neck).

  • Grasp a dumbbell with a neutral grip (palm facing in) with your left hand and standing with your feet around shoulder width apart.
  • Bend slightly at the knees and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist. Rest your non-working forearm on your right knee for stability.
  • Raise your left arm in a semi-circular motion, keeping your arm parallel to the floor. Bend elbow throughout the movement.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for desired reps and then repeat with your right arm.


Related story: 20 Minutes Low-Impact Bodyweight Exercises To Burn Fats


3. Modified Side Plank



Targets arms and core strength.

  • Get into a side-lying position with your legs straight out, and hips extended.
  • Brace yourself up on your forearm. Position the bottom knee on the ground for convenience.
  • Engage your core and squeeze your glute muscles as you lift your hips off the floor.
  • Stack one foot on top of the other while keeping a neutral spine.
  • The only points of contact with the ground should be your feet and forearm.


Related story: 4 Easy Steps To Perfect The Plank


4. Seated Overhead Triceps



Strengthens biceps, forearms and shoulders.

  • Sit on a chair, feet slightly apart and firmly planted on the ground.
  • Hold one lightweight dumbbell vertically between your hands and bring the dumbbell behind your head, bending elbows to a 90-degree angle,
  • Keeping your elbows close to the sides of your head, slowly lower the dumbbell(s) behind your head until elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds and then slowly exhale and press the weights back up until arms are in the starting position, straight above your head.


Related story: Energising Prenatal Yoga Flow For Second And Third Trimester


5. Standing Biceps Curls



Strengthens biceps muscles at the front of the upper arm and the muscles of the lower arm.

  • Stand on a mat and hold the dumbbells at arm’s length down by your thighs with your fists facing towards you.
  • Slowly lift the dumbbells, keeping them close to the body with your elbows driving the motion. Your elbows should be higher than your forearms through the lift.
  • Once the dumbbells are level with your collarbone (nearly touching your chin), pause for a second at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to your thighs and repeat for the desired amount of reps.


Related story: Easy Guide To Injury-Free Yoga Practice


6. Standing Wall Push Ups



Strengthens muscles in chest, triceps, and shoulders.

  • Place your hands shoulder-width apart on a wall or elevated surface.
  • Step your feet back so your body is in an inclined (45 degree angle), plank position.
  • Slowly lower your chest, keeping your body in alignment. Exhale as you press back to the starting plank position.
  • Repeat in 3 sets and 10 reps.


Related story: 6 Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk To Ease Shoulder Pain


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