Barre Exercises During Pregnancy – What To Expect

If just thinking about a high-impact aerobics routine during pregnancy sounds exhausting, you might be interested in barre-inspired workouts: a high-intensity, low-impact fitness technique designed to sculpt a ballerina-like body. Barre workouts involve small, isolated movements that gradually burn out your muscles to develop flattering muscle tone, making it an ideal workout for most expecting women. (No hopping around required!) Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Barre Basics

Luckily you don’t need a dancer’s coordination to do barre — in fact, there’s no choreography involved at all. A standard barre class involves exercises that incorporate a ballet barre for balance; a set of light weights; sometimes, a small inflated ball; a strap, to help you stretch; and a mat. Barre students usually wear yoga-like workout gear and go barefoot or wear grippy socks to allow for maximum flexibility without slipping. You can do many of the moves at home using any sturdy railing, countertop or bed frame in place of the barre.

Benefits of Barre for Pregnant Women

No matter what activity you choose, staying active during pregnancy may help physically prepare you for labor and delivery and can shorten postnatal recovery. In fact, given all of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the group representing American OB-GYNs, released a set of guidelines in 2015 recommending that with a doctor’s OK, pregnant women should be encouraged to exercise regularly throughout all three trimesters.
Compared to other types of exercise (like rock climbing or mountain biking, or even hard-core aerobics), barre is safe — there’s no major risk of falling, so it’s very low-risk for you and your growing baby. In fact, barre is an excellent exercise for pregnant women during any trimester, since it helps maintain muscle tone without putting extra strain on your joints (which already bear the brunt of your pregnancy weight). This means with your doctor’s OK, you can practice barre multiple times per a week throughout your pregnancy without high risk of injury.

Barre Safety Tips for Pregnant Women

If you’re not in a regular workout routine, keep in mind that pregnancy isn’t the time to push your limits or try to become more flexible. Your goal should be to maintain and gradually build mobility and strength through consistent, mindful exercise. In addition to following the best practices for exercise safety in pregnancy, a few tips to help you achieve a safe but effective barre workout:

  • Get your doctor’s approval. While barre is generally considered very safe when you’re expecting, you should never start any new exercise routine during pregnancy without your doctor’s approval first. (In fact, many barre studios require a doctor’s note for pregnant women.)
  • Drink plenty of water. To avoid becoming dehydrated, have a drink before your workout (even if you’re not thirsty), sip throughout class as you feel the need, and follow up with a cup of water after class to replenish any fluids you’ve lost.
  • Make sure your instructor knows you’re pregnant. She’ll help you modify exercises to make you more comfortable and as safe as possible.
  • Avoid lying flat on your back after the first trimester. The weight of the uterus can potentially compress the vena cava, the vein that carries blood from your lower body to your heart, restricting circulation.
  • Keep breathing! Many barre moves involve high-repetitions of low-weight or body weight-baring exercises. While you might be inclined to hold your breath toward the end of a tough set, fight the urge and focus on breathing in and out throughout the exercise. It will help insure that your baby gets plenty of oxygen throughout your workout — and it’s good practice for labor!
  • Don’t overstretch. During pregnancy, your body produces hormones that cause an increase in flexibility, especially in the pelvis, in preparation for labor. Unfortunately, this phenomenon also increases your likelihood of injury induced by overstretching. So don’t push yourself!
  • Avoid cobra/bow pose. These stretching positions put too much strain on your abdomen. Instead, do cat/cow pose (kneeling over on your hands and knees, arch your back down as you breathe in, then arch your back up as you exhale).
  • Don’t use the stall barre. Some barre studios have a stall barre, or a set of vertical barres where students can hang from their hands to stretch the lower back. Due to the potential risk of slipping (and because your growing baby belly will eventually get in the way), you should avoid using the stall barre when you’re expecting.
  • Use props. Your instructor will help you modify positions to make them more comfortable for your changing body — and props like the strap, ball and barre can help enhance and simplify your workout. For example, as your baby belly grows and pushups become more difficult to do on the floor, you can do them standing, leaning forward at a 45-degree angle (or less if that’s too much for you) with your hands wide on the barre. Your instructor can help guide you in what props are best to use.
  • Keep your feet parallel if you’re experiencing sciatica. If you’re experiencing sciatica (a common condition during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester), keep your feet parallel in standing leg strengthening and stretching series — turned-out leg work can aggravate any discomfort you’re experiencing.
  • Keep one foot on the floor during ab exercises. For common ab exercises (either against the wall or out on your mat in the center of the room), be sure to press your back firmly into the ground or wall and keep at least one foot flat on the floor at all times to avoid straining your abdomen.

6 Barre Exercises to Try at Home

Before starting any new exercise routine, make sure you have your doctor’s approval. Keep in mind that you’re always safest doing a few classes in a barre studio first, where an instructor can watch and correct your positioning. Doing these exercises in front of a mirror can help you check your alignment. Remember that while a little discomfort is OK (you are working out!), pain is always a sign it’s time to stop. The following exercises are modeled by Elisabeth Halfpapp, Executive Vice President of Mind Body Programming and co-founder of exhale’s Core Fusion class, and Colleen de Bellefonds, former Senior Editor at and a teacher at exhale.

Leg Lifts

What it works: Warms up your whole body! Lubricates the joints and increases circulation to the front and back of the thighs, hip flexors, glutes (a.k.a., your butt), upper and lower back, abs and shoulders.


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  1. Alternately lift each knee toward the chest, swinging opposite arm and leg and pointing through the toes.
  2. If you’re in your third trimester, you’ll need to lift your knees to the side of your hips to avoid pulling your legs into your abdomen.

Wall Plank

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What it works: Another great total-body exercise, this works the muscles responsible for proper posture: your abs and your core.


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  1. Stand a couple of feet away facing a wall with your feet about hips-width apart (that’s about two fists’ distance). Place both forearms flat against the wall about shoulders-width apart, arms parallel and elbows in line with shoulders. Ears should be in line with shoulders, hips and heels.
  2. With abs pulled in, shoulders pressed down and spine in neutral position, hold for about 30 seconds.
  3. Stand away from the wall, rest. Repeat up to four times.
  4. If you’re looking for more of a challenge and are accustomed to standard planks, you can try this position on the floor with the tops of your thighs (just above your knees) on the ground.

Standing Thigh Work (Small V)

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What it works: Your front, back and inner thighs as well as your calves. Your core and your shoulders stabilize the position.


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  1. Stand about an arm’s-length distance away from a countertop or other stable surface that’s about hip-level. Place your hands lightly on top of the surface.
  2. Press your heels together with your toes two to three inches apart. Keep your heels pressed together throughout this exercise.
  3. Soften your knees, then raise your heels two inches off of the floor.
  4. Lower your body 10 inches or so and hold for about 30 to 40 seconds.
  5. Stand back up, then repeat one more time.

Standing Glute Strengthener

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What it works: Your glutes and your outer thighs. Your abs and shoulders stabilize you.


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  1. Stand with your feet about hips-width apart and parallel, your body an inch away from a stable surface (like a countertop). Place your hands lightly on top of the surface.
  2. Soften both knees, tuck your tailbone under.
  3. Extend your right leg behind you on a diagonal behind the hip, flex your foot, straighten your working leg.
  4. Pull your abs in, keep your shoulders and hips squared forward. Ears should be over shoulders and hips.
  5. Press the right leg back an inch at a diagonal, keeping the leg straight and foot flexed, for 20 counts.
  6. Rest. Repeat two to three times on the same side.
  7. Repeat the exercise with your left leg behind you for the same number of reps.

Seated Abs (Flat Back)

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What it works: Your abs and hip flexors.


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  1. Sit on the ground with your back against a wall.
  2. Walk your hips back until there’s no space between your lower back and the wall.
  3. Place your hands by your hips, palms down, and press down.
  4. Press your shoulders away from your ears. Pull in your abs while pressing down with your hands. Lock in your abs and brace the pelvic region.
  5. Lift one foot off of the ground and release without letting the lower back pull away from the wall. Lift the other foot of the ground and release. Alternate for 16 repetitions. Don’t lift both legs off of the ground at the same time, and don’t forget to keep breathing!

Figure 4 Glute Stretch

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What it works: Stretches your glute and outer thigh.


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  1. Sit on the ground with your back straight, shoulders over hips, legs extended out straight in front of you. Place your hands by your hips.
  2. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh with your foot flexed.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds, allowing your right thigh to drop toward the floor.
  4. For a little more stretch (and as long as your third trimester baby belly allows you to), lean forward from the hips, aiming to keep your back straight. Extend your arms out in front of you, placing your hands by your outer legs.
  5. Repeat with the left ankle.

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From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.
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The educational health content on What To Expect is reviewed by our medical review board and team of experts to be up-to-date and in line with the latest evidence-based medical information and accepted health guidelines, including the medically reviewed What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff. This educational content is not medical or diagnostic advice. Use of this site is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy. © 2005-2023 Everyday Health, Inc., a Ziff Davis company.

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