Exercise is so important during pregnancy.
It helps your health and your babies health, but it also helps strengthen the body to prepare for the demands of late pregnancy and delivery.
Exercise can decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia and more.
It may not 100% get rid of the risk of these, but if it can reduce the risk…wouldn’t you participate?
Now, if you are new to exercise it may sound daunting to just start during pregnancy when it is already an uncertain time.
So let’s go trimester by trimester and break down exercise that is safe for each so that you can feel confident and at ease.
Pregnancy safe exercises for the first trimester below!
The most important thing to do when starting to exercise during pregnancy is to find your fitness level.
Don’t start doing extreme exercise if you have never done it before – like running or crossfit.
This can be too challenging and cause too much stress on the body during pregnancy.
Any exercise program should include strength training, as well as cardio. This creates a well rounded program for the best benefits.
If you are a beginner to exercise (strength training) it is ideal to start with 2-3 days per week doing full body workouts with a rest day in between each workout.
If you are intermediate (have been working out for 2-6 months for 2-3 times per week already), it is ideal to start with workouts 2-4 times per week using a full body or upper/lower split.
If you are advanced (working out for a year at least 3 times per week), it is best to workout 3-5 times per week with a split that works best for you.
It is also important to remember that your energy levels are going to fluctuate a lot during pregnancy.
So take it one day at a time and if you feel good/have energy, try out a workout. That way you can use your days wisely rather than following a schedule and then realizing you are tired on the days you are supposed to workout.
If energy levels dip, exercising even 2 days per week can help maintain strength, retain physical fitness and feel great. So don’t ever feel like you aren’t doing enough…this time period is temporary.
Sample Workout Schedule:
Sunday – Rest
Monday – Full body
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – Full body
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Full body
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
Monday – Lower body
Tuesday – Upper body
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Lower body
Friday – Upper body
Saturday – Rest
Both are great options depending on the amount of days you are able to exercise.
There aren’t any exercises that you need to avoid in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Since the baby is still so small for the first trimester, you likely don’t have a belly.
That means you don’t have to modify exercises because of your size or comfort.
You likely will want to avoid contact sports during the entirety of your pregnancy to keep your baby safe.
It’s important to have a well rounded program during pregnancy (and any time).
And in order to do that, you have to include specific exercises and movement patterns into your workouts.
Every week, all 6 movement patterns should be done in your workouts:
Push – vertical push like a shoulder press & horizontal push like a bench press.
Pull – vertical pull like a pull up & horizontal pull like a bent over row.
Squat – like a goblet squat or back squat.
Hinge/hip dominant – like a deadlift or a hip thrust.
Lunge – like a reverse lunge.
Carry – like a farmers carry.
There are obviously different types of exercises in these categories, but it is important to add all of these into your training each week.
There are also other core exercises that are important as well, such as stabilizing exercises and core movement.
Stabilizing exercises are:
Anti-rotation (like a pallof press)
Anti-extension (like a front plank)
Anti-lateral flexion (like a side plank)
Hip flexion with neutral spine (like a slow mountain climber).
Core exercises with movement:
Spinal extension (like a superman)
Spinal flexion (like a sit up)
Rotation (like a wood chop)
Again, all of these different categories are here for a reason – because our bodies typically move in these directions and we want to make sure we are strong in all directions/movements.
We always need to have some sort of cardio in our workout routine, but especially during pregnancy.
This is because your body is going to be providing oxygen to two living organisms, rather than just one.
Improving aerobic fitness can also increase the bodies ability to handle stress and improves sleep quality.
So when people tell you that you can lose weight or “get fit” without cardio, that may be true but you are missing out on a lot of other health benefits that come with actual cardiovascular training.
It is recommended by ACSM to do 3-5 days or cardio training per week at a moderate intensity for 15-20 minutes.
During “moderate intensity” exercise, you should be able to talk and carry a conversation without gasping during your cardio.
You can do more/less cardio based on your current fitness level and what you schedule allows for.
Doing something is always better than doing nothing, so keep that in mind.
You want to remember that unless you have been training at high intensities before getting pregnant, you do not want to start now.
So if you haven’t been running, don’t start marathon training.
If you haven’t been doing HIIT, don’t start doing sprints.
The body doesn’t want to do any more knew things besides grow a baby, so let it do it’s thing.
With strength training – you want to keep your RPE (rate of perceived exertion, or effort level) at a 5-7 out of 10.
This means you can sustain it for hours but your breathing is heavy and it’s difficult to hold a conversation.
When it comes to cardio – you want to keep it at a 4-6 out of 10 making sure you can still hold a conversation and you aren’t totally out of breath struggling.
If you are a well conditioned person/athlete that has been participating in high intensity effort exercise prior to pregnancy, you can continue with that higher intensity. Keeping RPE at a 6-8 out of 10.
This should leave you with all of the training information you need for trimester 1.
Like I said, your body isn’t going through too many changes yet so exercise modification isn’t necessary.
Just make sure you are working more in a maintenance situation and not trying to get a personal record on any of your lifts.
Pregnancy is an incredible time, so take care of yourself and your body with a little bit of movement when you can.
If you are ready to plan ahead to postpartum, I have a postpartum workout plan with your name on it!