A Guide to Exercise During Fertility Treatment: Do’s and Don’ts

Fast facts:

  • Moderation is the key to staying active during IVF treatment, and you may need to modify your routine.
  • Avoid high-impact exercises like weightlifting, running, and interval training.
  • Opt for gentle, low-impact exercises including brisk walking and swimming as well as simple at-home exercises (see our recommendations below!)
  • Always consult with your care team about your exercise habits. You may be advised to avoid exercise completely at some points of your IVF cycle.

Given that physical activity is a big component of healthy living, it’s natural to assume that the more exercise the better when trying to conceive. In truth, the relationship between fitness and fertility is a nuanced one, with no shortage of conflicting information on the topic. (Surprise, surprise, right?)

While we shouldn’t overly generalize about exercise during fertility treatment — each body is unique — some types of exercise are more compatible with IVF than others.

Below, our friends at Ruth Health share simple and impactful ways to stay active during an IVF cycle.

Ruth Health is a nationwide wrap-around virtual care hub for pregnant and postpartum patients. They provide crucial services accessibly and affordably to supplement the doctor, including Pelvic Training and Recovery, Lactation Support, C-Section Recovery, and text message support from doulas (in a subscription membership called Ask A Doula). 

How does exercise affect fertility?

When it comes to exercise and reproductive health, moderation is the key word. Although research has yielded mixed and even conflicting results, there is evidence that too much exercise during IVF cycle can negatively impact the outcome of treatment.

A 2006 study found that women who exercised four hours or more per week while undergoing IVF were 40% less likely to have a live birth and twice as likely to experience unsuccessful embryo implantation or pregnancy loss, in comparison to those who exercised less frequently. The study also found a correlation between exercising four hours or more per week and IVF cycle cancellation.

At the same time, mild to moderate exercise can be beneficial for fertility. A 2019 analysis of multiple research studies found that exercise can increase an individual’s chances of conceiving, especially those affected by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance, and several other health conditions.

Additionally, appropriately intense exercise during IVF can help maintain blood flow to the uterus. This can help thicken the uterine lining, which is important for successful embryo implantation.

So, what does this mean for your exercise routine during IVF? Stay active, but take necessary precautions. If your week typically includes rigorous exercise, you will likely need to scale back a bit throughout the cycle, replacing more intense workouts with gentler activities. Your doctor may also advise you to avoid exercise completely during certain stages of IVF treatment.

Exercises to avoid during IVF

It’s best to avoid high-impact exercises during fertility treatment. They can potentially redirect blood circulation to your muscles rather than to the uterus, ovaries, and eggs.

High-impact exercise can also increase the rare but serious risk of ovarian torsion during an IVF cycle. This complication occurs when an ovary twists around the ligaments that support it. (The enlargement of the ovaries during an IVF cycle can increase the risk, but occurrences are rare.)

Activities like heavy weightlifting, running, and interval training are all a no-go during IVF, but fortunately you’ve got many alternatives to consider.

Exercises to focus on

Low-impact exercises can support your mental and physical wellness during an IVF cycle without stressing the body. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking it easy. You’re still free to get the heart pumping, just be sure to go gentle on your joints.

Your options go beyond walking, yoga, and swimming. Try the following at-home exercises, recommended by Ruth Health’s Head of Birthwork, Kimberly McFerron.

1. Diaphragmatic breathing with pelvic tilts

  • Lie on your back with bent knees and flat feet. Place a core ball or pillow between your inner thighs. Be sure to keep the ball or pillow close to your pubic bone rather than between your knees.
  • Inhale into your belly, stretching it toward the ceiling, while gently arching your lower back.
  • As you exhale, gently hug your ribs inward, tucking your pelvis beneath you and squeezing the ball or pillow. Your pelvis should not lift off the floor.
  • Repeat for 2-3 minutes, deepening your breath as you go. Try to use a count of four for both inhales and exhales.

2. All fours criss cross

  • Get into a tabletop position with hands under your chest and knees under your hips, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Inhale to lengthen your spine and exhale to gently engage your core, hugging your rib cage around your spine.
  • Lift one leg behind you, slowly and with control, keeping the knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Your thigh should be parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale and cross your lifted knee behind the other, shifting your hips back toward your heels. Extend your arms while keeping your hands in place.
  • Shift back to a tabletop position, then inhale as you lift the same leg.
  • Exhale while lowering the leg, returning to tabletop. Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat the above steps for a total of eight times on each side.

3. Pike to plank with push-up at the counter

  • Fold into a flat back at counter height. Position your feet hip-width apart, with a soft bend in the knees and your torso parallel to the floor. Place your hands shoulder-width apart or wider on the counter.
  • Come into a plank position at the counter, lifting your heels, pressing into your palms, and drawing your chest up through your arms.
  • With heels lifted, lower your chest toward the counter while drawing your elbows in toward your ribs.
  • Pause at the bottom of your push-up, lowering your shoulders from your ears.
  • Press into your palms to return to plank. Then, let your heels drop as you hinge from your waist to return to a flat back foldover.
  • Repeat slowly with control for 1-2 minutes.

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