How to Modify Workouts for Pregnancy


Let’s start out with…pregnancy is not a disability.

Yes, later in pregnancy you aren’t going to be able to lay on your back or your stomach…but it isn’t a “I cannot do anything for myself” time period…you are not fragile (unless you have a doctors reason).

You don’t have to stop doing workouts you love until late in your pregnancy (if ever).

There are going to be modifications in your movement due the change in your center of gravity as well as aches and pains that may come later in pregnancy as you grow the baby.

You may also want to spend intentional time on your pelvic floor and posterior chain to help prepare for the changes throughout pregnancy and postpartum.

So let’s talk through how to modify your workouts for pregnancy and give you some times for movement during your 40 weeks.

*DISCLAIMER: I am not pregnant, nor have I ever been pregnant. These tips are coming from research on the internet from reputable sources as well as my certification in Pre- & Postnatal Coaching through Girls Gone Strong. BUT it is important to remember that all pregnancy journeys are different, no two are alike. So do what is going to work best for you.*

Tips for working out while pregnant

Check your energy:

This is the first place to start when working out, especially when growing a small human.

If you are already lacking energy then make sure your workout is going to energize you, and not totally drain you.

That means a high intensity cardio workout probably isn’t going to be the best idea. I would opt for something like a walk or some slow weight lifting.

You have to remember that you need energy and fuel for two bodies, so draining yourself is only going to make matters worse.

So check in, see what you feel like and go from there. The purpose of exercise during pregnancy is to give you more energy and make you feel good, not strive for any kind of goal!

Feel it out:

Let’s reiterate…every pregnancy is going to be different and everyone starts their journey in a different place.

So make sure you are checking in with yourself regularly to see what your body is telling you.

You don’t have to continue doing your same pre-pregnancy exercise routine if you don’t want to. You can focus on other types of movement that make you feel better and safer.

If you are doing an exercise or type of movement that doesn’t feel great, tell your trainer or stop performing it. Discomfort during pregnancy is not something you want to push in your workouts.

Work on Posture & alignment:

During pregnancy, your body obviously starts to change.

Besides seeing your belly and boobs grow, there are some underlying changes.

Things like stretching core muscles, weakened glute muscles, rounded shoulders, tight hip flexors etc.

Make sure you add exercises in to counteract these changes. You have to remember that over the course of 9 months your body is going to add 15-50lbs to your frame, more if you are having twins.

Prioritize your core & pelvic floor:

So you probably know, or have guessed, your core muscles are going to be stretched beyond belief during pregnancy.

This means you want to continue to work on the strength of these muscles and connection within the body so you can recover faster/better after giving birth.

Core strength is going to help protect your hips, back, and pelvis as your belly grows – and the stronger these muscles are, the less pain you might have both during and after delivery.

You want to avoid anything that is going to cause bulging, coning, football shape down your midline.

This is going to also mean you have to learn how to properly engage your core, and control the intra-abdominal pressure to make sure there is not more damage being down while you are “doing abs”.

I wrote a blog post about proper core contraction here!

Strength Training During Pregnancy

Let’s start with the idea that the general guideline of “don’t lift anything more than 15-20lbs” is a bit outdated.

If you have never worked out before, this might be viable information to follow, or working with a trainer so they can help you through the process.

But if you are someone who worked out prior to pregnancy to get into great shape before carrying a child, it likely won’t apply to you.

A few questions to ask yourself before doing an exercise while pregnant:

• Can you keep engagement through your core and pelvic floor well enough to lift a heavy load. Can you maintain good alignment throughout the entire exercise? If you answered no – decrease the weight.

• Do you have to hold your breath during ANY portion of the exercise. If you answered yes – decrease the weight.

• Do you see any coning, doming, or bulging along the midline of your belly, or is your growing belly is getting in the way? If you answered yes – decrease the weight

It is important to remember that we are not chasing strength gains during pregnancy, we just want to ensure we support it as it changes (aka you add more weight to your frame in the form of boobs, a belly and just extra weight in general).

Strength training is going to help you carry that weight a little easier!

Cardio & Running During Pregnancy

You can absolutely keep running/walking and whatever else during pregnancy,  but I would do so with caution.

Notice I said KEEP. If you haven’t been running before pregnancy, this is not the time to start. There are other forms of cardio you can do during this time.

It is INCREDIBLY important to make the health of your core and pelvic floor your top priority during pregnancy.

This is because these muscles are what are holding in your organs, and with adding pressure and expansion, they have to work even harder.

Think of these muscles like a trampoline. They have to expand and recoil in response to pressure changes in the body to prevent you from leaking urine, feces, gas or even your organs…yikes! So with that…

Excess running in the end of your pregnancy can be a bad idea.

This is because the foot strike and “pounding” of the body can actually cause weakness in the core and pelvic floor.

Remember, these muscles are already being stretched, so by adding in the jarring, you are adding more pressure to the already stretched muscles..causing more damage.

It may be smart to shorten the duration of your runs later in pregnancy, or perform a walk/run interval combination to give the pelvic floor time to rest.

You can also use this time to work on other forms of cardio like walking, cycling, swimming, rowing etc.

First Trimester Workout Modifications

There are too many changes that need to be made to workouts during the first trimester.

The belly hasn’t grown too much yet, and there aren’t too many other changes that are happening at this time frame.

A good percentage of women have morning sickness (or all sickness) during the first trimester, so this may be a time frame that you are just moving/doing what you can to get through the days.

Don’t get discouraged at this. Do the best you can and know that this is usually temporary and will subside.

Things you want to work on during the first trimester:

• focus on posture and alignment – making sure the body is stacked well with hips under the shoulders, no pelvic tilt forward or backward, no rounded shoulders etc. Adding pulling movements (rows, pull-ups (with good core contraction), pull-downs), knee dominant movements (squat, step up, lunges) and hip dominant movements (glute bridges, deadlifts).

• increase strength and muscle mass – prepare for a growing belly and body changes by strengthening the glutes, upper back and core. The focus here should be on general strength, not trying to max out or huge heavy weight numbers. Keep your RPE (rate of perceived exertion) under an 8 so that the pressure in the abdominal cavity does not increase.

• develop solid aerobic foundation – this is going to help you prepare for the stresses that come with pregnancy and delivery. It is recommended that you do not follow a general heart rate guideline here because it will be different for trained/untrained individuals. Instead, focus on an exertion scale like strength training. Untrained individuals shouldn’t go beyond a 4-6 on the RPE scale (out of 10). While trained individuals can continue to work at higher intensities of 6-8 and working based off of how you are feeling. There is no need to jump into circuit or HIIT training if you don’t feel comfortable. Again, this is not a time you need to be pushing yourself to see how “good” you are.

Second Trimester Workout Modifications

The belly is going to really start to pop and grow during this trimester, so pay attention to how you are feeling during your training sessions so that you don’t over do it.

At this time you are going to want to:

• reduce back/pelvic pain

• continue working on strength and relaxation of pelvic floor

• encourage good posture/alignment

• maintain strength and cardio fitness

Again, this is a time to really ride it out and make yourself as comfortable as you can. Working on supporting pregnancy rather than trying to fight it or continue doing “what you used to do”.

Focus on the time and energy you have during this time to train. Doing something is always better than doing nothing, so just move your body as much as you can.

Breathing may start getting harder during the second trimester, and the extra weight on the pelvic floor muscles might make the connection breath a little more challenging.

It’s important to continue working on these components to help with incontinence and endurance as pregnancy progresses.

Exercises that need modifications:

• Barbell exercises – if the bar path is affected by the belly, it would be smart to stop these during this time. Things like cleans, snatches, deadlifts etc. You can still front/back load exercises if comfortable and the core/pelvic floor is still strong enough.

• Weights lifted – if an exercise/weight is causing you to hold your breath, decrease the load or omit the exercise. An increase in pressure can weaken the pelvic floor, so be sure to breath through the sticking point and evaluate as you proceed through the exercise.

• Check abdominals – this means during any exercise there should not be any coning or bulging along the midline of the core. So front loaded exercises like a plank and pushup may beed a modification.

• Supine position – symptoms of lightheadedness, nausea, or breathlessness while lying on your back then exercise needs to be modified. You can add a slight incline or change the exercise all together.

• Cardio & HIIT training- HIIT should only be done by those who were doing it before pregnancy or who are able to train at an intensity of 6-8 out of 10 on the RPE scale.

Always be smart about your training and what feels “right”. Don’t push it if you don’t feel better when you are done, or feel comfortable during the workout.

Third Trimester Workout Modifications

The final leg of pregnancy is the toughest.

You are going to start getting uncomfortable and looking to evict baby as the final days approach.

Workouts will definitely start to shift in these final weeks, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop moving.

Now is the time to just do what feels right/good, and start working to prepare for labor and delivery.

The focus on this trimester:

• maintain comfortable level of activity

• reduce discomfort related to body changes

• incorporate birth-preparation exercises

• minimize doming/bulging along the core midline

• minimize downward pressure on the pelvic floor

Again, it is all about comfort and preparation during the final trimester.

Here are the training modifications:

• Connection breath – continue working on the connection breath with the core and pelvic floor. This is going to get more challenging as the belly grows, but strength through the core is top priority. You also want to make sure you are taking time to relax the pelvic floor and prep for delivery.

• Front loading – no doming or bulging along the midline. This means exercises like planks, crunches, mountain climbers etc are likely out of rotation.

• Hip hinging- most of these exercises are going to cause discomfort at this stage. Things like weighted hip thrusts/bridges, deadlifts, RDL’s etc.

• Avoid twisting, crunching, sit-ups, jack-knifes, hanging leg raises etc.

• Avoid exercises that cause leaking

• Avoid exercises that cause pain or discomfort

• High impact work if it causes pain or leaking. You should not be jumping, running, bounding if you are leaking – because IT’S NOT NORMAL no matter how many times people say it is because they had babies. This is 100% due to not healing the pelvic floor.

Hopefully this information helps you through your pregnancy fitness journey.

Just remember that the body is going to change, you are growing a human.

This is just a season of life, and it doesn’t have to change everything for you moving forward.

Be smart, train with intension and eat well.

Remember that pregnancy is incredible individualized!

What one person can do, another might not be able to…and that is okay.


Just make sure that the number one priority you have is fueling your body for both you and baby, and that you are supporting yourself in every way that you can.

This just makes for an even better reason to workout at home.

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Haley Rowe March 1, 2022